Outdoor Learning

When emerging from lockdown we need to take the opportunity to do things differently – in our personal lives and in our education system. Learning for Sustainability and connecting young people to nature and their local environment should become a priority - it always should have been a priority but we’d become too focused on attainment and exam results. If nothing else we need to remember how important our outdoor spaces have become, how good they make us feel and what a rich and varied learning environment they are.
When planning to reopen our schools Outdoor Learning needs to be at the heart of those plans. Using school grounds, local green spaces and the wider local environment for learning, will not only allow groups of children to social distance more easily, but will provide opportunities for rich, varied and meaningful learning.

Why the contribution is important

It's vital to connect our children to nature and the outdoor environment - we need them to value and protect it.

by JJackson on May 08, 2020 at 11:13AM

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.7
Based on: 36 votes


  • Posted by GMGTL May 08, 2020 at 15:51

    Absolutely agree! My youngest daughter thrived at an outdoor nursery and has been really enjoying the lockdown away from school because she revels in being outside learning in her own way from nature. She has said in her own words she doesn't want to go back to how school was before - and she's only 6.
  • Posted by Telselvester May 08, 2020 at 17:23

    If this could be extended to enable every school to have specific grounds for allotments that’d also expand children’s opportunity for outdoor learning including STEM and community working.
  • Posted by Slaurand May 09, 2020 at 08:46

    This would be a good way to get younger children back to 'school' while increasing space and fresh air between them.
  • Posted by DGirling May 09, 2020 at 09:08

    Considering the requirements of education whilst medical advances are created relating to Covid 19. Education establishments require:

    *Physical distancing measures
    *No detriment to learning
    *Reduction of pupils in the school building
    *Healthy pupils
    *Low cost solutions

    We in Scotland are already ahead of the curve with Outdoor Learning (OL) embedded in CfE -Health and Wellbeing and Learning for Sustainability agenda.

    OL offers us:

    * low cost implementation and on costs
    *Low number of pupils in one space (physical distancing)
    *low resource / low infrastructure change
    * Maintain capacity
    * No detriment
    * Healthy students

    This could be through
    Sit spots in school grounds , trails, outdoor bubbles in svhopl grounds / local woodland / outdoor space for example. Tipi’s for shelter or a large outdoor tarp. Education are already doing a lot of this, especially in early years nurseries, largely through play. Why not extend this to primary and secondary? So much of our 5 levels within the CfE can be taught through learning outdoors in a practical experiential learning form. My students on the BA (Hons) Outdoor Education & Learning degree are studying this daily and finding practical ways to teach all of the curriculum. We have a workforce ready to support. You just need to press the button.

    DGirling - Programme Leader BA (Hons) Outdoor Education & Learning UHI
  • Posted by KieranT May 10, 2020 at 20:26

    I support this idea. Agree with what DGirling said too.

    There are several Outdoor Learning / Outdoor Education ideas on this site, if you look at all of them and add up the comments and votes it'll give a better indication of the scale of the opportunity.
  • Posted by TLF May 10, 2020 at 23:26

    Super idea. It might be helpful to somehow support new adopters; learning communities doing outdoor learning for the first time. Peer to peer advice and encouragement, breaking experiences into simple steps, support through the School Improvement Plans. And positive feedback
  • Posted by alidreyer May 11, 2020 at 09:46

    This comment has been removed by a moderator.

  • Posted by NatalieWhite May 11, 2020 at 11:59

    Outdoor Learning provides pupils the opportunity to engage in meaningful and relevant learning in their school grounds, natural greenspaces and wider communities. When undertaken properly using sound pedagogical approaches, pupils can connect with self, others and the environment. There are health benefits of being more physically active, better mental health as well as better eyesight (research to support all these can be found :
    https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/[…]/ )
    They develop deep learning and a wealth of skills in addition to the learning of facts and figures.

    Approximately 75% of school estates are outdoor spaces, these can be adapted to include growing areas in addition to learning spaces for ALL curriculum areas. There is local greenspace within 500m of every school in Scotland so with very little resourcing pupils can be accessing and utilising these spaces to learn. Learning for Sustainability and a greater understanding and working knowledge of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is easily taught when in the outdoor environment, links to our impact on the world around us is embedded in the very essence of being outside.

    The research, policy and support for Outdoor Learning is available, there are many great partners, local authorities and networks who can assist in making OL a real solution to returning pupils and teachers to schools. The Curriculum Outdoors Attainment Challenge funded by Scottish Attainment Challenge has been in place for four years in East Ayrshire, it teaches curriculum outcomes and experiences outdoors, all day, every day.

  • Posted by Rothera92 May 11, 2020 at 12:20

    Any plans to open schools should make full use of outdoor learning as an approach to doing this.
    The benefits of outdoor learning in ordinary circumstances are well proven - in these extraordinary circumstances they can be even more beneficial.
    A number of outdoor learning nursery and early years facilities such as Earthtime in Moray and Stramash across the Highlands have already been in use for children of key workers.
    The outdoor setting for learning is well suited to implementing social distancing measures, avoiding contact and transmission of germs.
    The outdoors setting can be viewed as an ideal transitionary step towards full opening of educational establishments and outdoor learning is well proven as a means of improving understanding, behaviour and health.
    As an ongoing benefit to improving physical and mental health and recuperation from lockdown outdoor learning should be use more extensively in Scotland's schools.
    I fully endorse the statement released by SAPOE today 11th May and would also add that there are many trained professionals and teachers experienced in the delivery of outdoor learning that would be willing to help local authorities and schools in a safe return to learning.
    If this pandemic has shown us anything it is that we need to look at different ways to do things and particularly focus on approaches that benefit people's wellbeing and outdoor learning is such an approach.
    Alan Smith
    Outdoor Learning Officer
    Cairngorms National P:ark Authority
  • Posted by Longcroft May 11, 2020 at 13:02

    I fully agree with Rothera92.
    I fully endorse the statement from Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education (SAPOE) on 11 May.
    There is nothing new about learning outdoors and yet it has all the benefits required in a COVD 19 world. Teachers can teach ( was in the GTCS standards for registration at all levels about using learning outdoors ) - there is much online in CfE documents, GLOW and many other websites plus each LA has education professionals who can help their colleagues take the learning outside and move it back in etc.
  • Posted by Longcroft May 11, 2020 at 13:05

    Ps agree with all the comments in this thread actually. There are several outdoor learning professionals who are already doing work to help make this happen, including me. Use us to help roll this out.
  • Posted by Callish May 11, 2020 at 15:18

    the Traditional model of teaching is imparting the maximum content with the minimum resource to the maximum numbers; room of 30:1. As all schools have structured in this way for 150yrs our models of outdoor learning developed to take these 30 pupils outside. We currently have opportunity to modify OL starting from all the great home/garden learning, joining up in small numbers, focused on where children live and what is useful to learn in context and setting. Then combining into larger gatherings and community settings or schools. Whilst OL can help socially distance numbers in playgrounds, a return to schools as they were looses the amazing parental engagement and localised contextual learning that has developed during lockdown.
  • Posted by AlyC May 11, 2020 at 15:43

    Outdoor learning played a large part in teaching and learning in Scotland before lockdown and before COVID-19 and should continue to during and after lockdown, and I believe it should in fact play a more integral role. It was expected through the GTCS standards and the Curriculum for Excellence that teachers teach outdoor prior to the arrival of COVID-19 and so, teacher should be able to incorporate this into their practice going forward, given the right support and CLPL. This can be provided by a wide range of professionals working in the sector across LAs in Scotland.
    As has been mentioned before in this thread, there is a wide range of evidence that supports outdoor learning as a method of teaching, not just for the positive impact it can have on learning but the positive impact it can have on physical and mental wellbeing. Throughout this unprecedented time and beyond, caring for our young people's physical and mental wellbeing should be paramount and outdoor learning gives us the perfect medium to do this, as well as teaching the curriculum. Additionally, outdoor learning can be a beneficial method for engaging some children with ASNs or behavioural issues and therefore, could be a useful medium to reengage these pupils in 'going to school' when it is safe to return.
    Outdoor learning also provides opportunities to learn in real life contexts and to learn real skills which will be more important than ever as we move into a 'new normal' as lockdown restrictions ease. It supports and encourages an engagement with nature and the world around us, which I think will be vital as our country moves forward.
    In terms of the logistics of getting back to school, again as mentioned here before, the outdoors gives us more opportunity to physically distance pupils and staff, while still being able to teach 'face to face' in schools as opposed to virtually with every one at home.
    Along with my thoughts, I do agree with the points posted above by others and I also support the statement posted by SAPOE today (11th May) on how Outdoor Learning can support the reopening of schools in Scotland.
  • Posted by CarolynM May 11, 2020 at 21:15

    Outdoor Learning as a Short Term Strategy to Facilitate the Reopening of Schools
    and as a Long Term Strategy to Reduce Lack of Equity

    I endorse JJackson’s ideas on the role of Outdoor Learning in helping us emerge from lockdown.
    I am likewise concerned that Outdoor Learning may be seen only as a useful tool in the short term. Lockdown has given us time to pause and consider what we want the new ‘normal’ to look like. We should plan now in order to take full advantage of what Outdoor Learning can offer.
    An Outdoor Learning approach to learning and teaching can provide
    • Improved attainment – evidenced, for example, by the research carried out as part of the SAC Curriculum Outdoors Attainment Challenge programme in East Ayrshire and the Natural Connections research programme
    • Real World experience and relevant/meaningful learning for pupils learning within and beyond their own communities
    • Contexts for Learning for Sustainability and a chance to think global and act local
    • Greater pupil and family engagement
    • Improved health and wellbeing.

    Above all, Outdoor Learning is a means to address lack of equity in our schools and communities.

    During lockdown many online resources have been produced for families and teachers learning and teaching at home (indoors and outdoors). Not everyone had the means to access these and we are all aware that there should be improvements to digital inclusion. At the same time, many households do not have easy access to good quality outdoor spaces. For some, there have been aspects of lockdown that have been very positive (as evidenced by the response to an ‘alternative residential’ for pupils and families, for example). Families, carers and young people who previously had less equitable access to technology and to outdoor spaces for learning and exercise have had the lack of equity magnified by lockdown.

    After lockdown OL should of course be used to help in the process of reopening schools but regular, frequent, progressive and good quality Outdoor Learning should be embedded in practice long term and used to raise attainment, improve engagement etc and reduce a lack of equity in our schools and communities. Existing outdoor spaces – within all school grounds and local greenspaces – should be recognised and developed to the benefit of schools and communities. Afterhours access to good quality, interesting school grounds should become the norm as should be the protection and development of good quality local greenspaces. The value of our outdoor space should be recognised in our planning regulations and practice so that easy, safe access to greenspaces and the built environment is a reality for everyone (see the work of the Arup Group on accessible and inclusive environments and designing Cities for Independent and Healthy Children, in particular).

    In summary, Outdoor Learning has a role to play in facilitating the reopening of schools (a way to provide meaningful, engaging learning while maintaining social distancing). In addition, Outdoor learning has much to offer all learners but for some Outdoor Learning may provide the only opportunity to connect with nature, engage with LfS in the context of the Real World and develop a deep understanding and appreciation of their communities and their place in the world. In Scotland we have a wealth of expertise and good practice in Outdoor Learning. Making use of an OL pedagogy and developing it further could have a huge part to play in creating our post Covid world.
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