Education: Does outside learning have the edge?
14th June 2019
This month we debate the concept of forest schools and find out what some of our local educational establishments think of them
Rebecca Reid, Head of Forest School
Marlborough House School
A common misconception is that outdoor learning is simply about children getting fresh air and exercise in between lessons. However, the invigorating woodland setting of forest school provides the perfect stimulus for creative and self-motivated learning with the children developing confidence in their ability to overcome natural obstacles and tinker towards solutions.
Learning opportunities are all around us and should not be confined to the classroom. Geographers can experiment with pebbles and water to understand riverbed formations and Archimedes principles of displacement can be seen first-hand by young scientists. Den builders in forest school learn that the forces of nature and gravity must be overcome if you are to succeed in creating a safe, sturdy structure.
There are many forms of outdoor learning but our forest school at Marlborough House School has a distinct approach based on collaborative work between pupils and teachers. Children are passionately encouraged to explore and discover, experience appropriate risk and challenge and choose, initiate and drive individual learning and development.
Nature ignites passion, inspiration, curiosity and purpose and it plays a crucial role in the cognitive, emotional and physical development of children. Our forest school has become a truly valuable compliment to the traditional school curriculum and we firmly believe that the holistic approach of forest school results in our children being independent, creative and resilient learners.
Kate Rignall, Year 4 MiSP Qualified Teacher of Mindfulness
Holmewood House School
There are myriad positive reasons why forest schools can enhance the education of children and their learning potential, not to mention mental health. Research backs up what the Scandinavians began to implement in the 1950s.
Young people are stimulated by the outdoors and over time can exhibit an increase in self-belief, confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills – not forgetting emotional well-being.
Studies have also shown that children who have the opportunities to explore outside learning become more independent and self-aware and gain confidence in their own abilities, thus improving self- esteem.
All these factors can only positively enhance learning within the classroom environment as they are building up a toolbox of valuable skills that can be implemented into all aspects of their education.
There is also an incredible opportunity for cross-curricular links in an outdoor classroom environment; creative writing, science and maths for example – who wouldn’t love to learn how to add using pine cones?
In this situation it enables children who may initially find it challenging within a classroom situation to explore other avenues of learning styles and gain such a sense of achievement and also providing a connection between the theory and ‘the real world’.
The health benefit of being in the open air speaks for itself. It has been researched that regular times spent in the outdoors have a definite effect on the amount of sick days the children take from school.
Time outside, away from the lure of screen time, and experiencing the world on the outside can only be a good thing. I believe that the main benefit to children learning outside is the positive effect that it has on their mental health, which is ultimately the most important aspect.
Emma Neville, Head Teacher
Rose Hill School
Rose Hill was established in 1832; looking back at the school photographic archives, lessons predominately took place in the beautiful school gardens. The school moved to its present site in 1966 with an already matured woodland which we have continued to make use of.
At Rose Hill School pupils from Kindergarten to Year 8 spend time with our specialist gardening teacher, woodland activity and grounds staff so that they can meet wildlife and name plants and trees. Pupils also spend time applying specific scientific skills to identify species and carry out a range of environmental measures.
Across the 15-acre site there is lots for our pupils to explore: they have access to fun activities and outdoor learning opportunities in our forest. On Friday evenings the beautiful smell of toasting marshmallows over a campfire wafts across the campus.
Using our woodland help, our children learn about the natural environment, how to handle risks and, most importantly, how to use their own initiative to solve problems while co-operating with others.
Along with increasing each child’s appreciation and knowledge of the natural world, the outdoor learning supports our character education programme, helping pupils to develop leadership skills, resilience and taking risks, exploring, and working together.
The Creative Curriculum is an integral part of our curriculum, and we seize every opportunity to take the learning outdoors. Being flexible in our approach to learning is one of the great joys of the independent sector as we have freedom from the constraints of the National Curriculum, and the opportunities this affords us are immeasurable.
The Creative Curriculum allows us to develop children’s imaginations by providing exciting stimuli and then allowing children to explore themselves. It is so exciting for the adults to share and celebrate the children’s ideas and enthusiasm, and with guidance they are able to make tremendous progress.