Outdoor learning and learning outside the classroom is intended to offer children experiences that are not easily achieved indoors, in the day-to-day environment. It is intended to provide sensory stimuli, lead to greater levels of creativity and allow children to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding without the constraints of the traditional classroom.
There is convincing research that suggests good quality learning outside the classroom adds significant value to students’ learning. In 2004, Michael Reiss (a Science professor) and Martin Braund (an honorary fellow at the University of York and an adjunct professor in Cape Town, South Africa) published a book about the importance of out-of-school learning called Learning Outside the Classroom. Research from the book was later published in the International Journal of Science in 2006, which highlights several arguments on why science classes should go on meaningful field trips. More information can be found on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website.
In a more recent study conducted by Play in Balance and commissioned by Persil, 45% of the 12000 parents polled stated that they wanted their child to have activities outside. Furthermore, three-quarters of 6 to 11 years-olds spend less time outside (in non-school time) than the daily hour recommended for prison inmates by the UN. In fact, yesterday (Friday 17th June) was Empty Classroom Day! A 2005 study by the American Medical Association found that “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.” There is also some scientific evidence that the wilderness can reduce hyperactivity and has a soothing effect on children, especially those suffering from attention deficit disorder.
Sir Ken Robinson, a leading educator, educational researcher and a big advocate of bringing creativity into the curriculum (see his famous TED talk ‘Schools Kill Creativity’), has pointed out how important it is for human beings to be outside, playing and engaging with nature. TV presenter and author Ben Fogle has encouraged the British government to focus on student wellbeing and connecting children with the natural world, instead of pumping valuable time and money into exams. Juliet Robertson, author of Dirty Teaching points out how activities away from the classroom gives pupils freedom to make decisions about their own learning and is incredibly empowering for them.
Some schools, such as Long Crendon School in England have gone further and created a curriculum that revolves around outdoor education. The Headteacher Sue Stamp claims outdoor learning is “a way of life”. The whole ethos of Long Crendon is to be outdoors as much as possible, despite the English weather!
The research (Trost 2009: Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance and Active Living Research in 2015) around the importance of physical education and sports cannot be understated. Some of the conclusions include:
● Physically active and fit children tend to have better academic achievement, better school attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.
● Allocating time for daily physical education does not hurt academic performance, and regular exercise may improve students’ concentration and cognitive functioning.
● Physical activity breaks can improve cognitive performance and classroom behaviour.
● In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardised test scores.
● Regular participation in physical activity has academic performance benefits.
● Single sessions of physical activity can enhance attention and memory.
● The effects of physical activity on brain health may explain improvements in academic performance.
Schools should look into ways of enriching the curriculum for students which involves taking learning outdoors, increasing physical education and sport. This could be a simple lesson outside or a full week away in another country. High Effort? Yes, Effective? Yes, High Impact? Yes, Memorable? Definitely!