Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Walk on the Wild Side

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Walk on the Wild Side

Article excerpt

The case for outdoor learning has been consistently made, so why are so many schools not listening, asks Ryan Walsh

Getting children to spend more time outdoors is very "in". "Rewilding" is one of several buzzwords being used in the media - "nature deficit disorder" didn't exist 11 years ago, and now everybody has it. It's also big business.

A well-known laundry brand is telling us that "dirt is good" and we should get our children outside so that they can roll around in it (but don't forget to buy the washing powder). And then there's Pokémon Go, which encourages children to go outside - as long as they promise not to look up from their tablet or phone.

This isn't rocket science. It's a fairly well-known fact that fresh air, being active and spending time outdoors are all great for both mental and physical health. Indeed, the Department of Health recommends that children are active for at least an hour a day.

The same is also true when it comes to outdoor learning at school, where almost any subject can be taught in an outdoor setting. Numerous studies have demonstrated that it can make lessons more enjoyable and engaging, and improve pupils' social skills, health, wellbeing and behaviour. It also leads to a better understanding of the natural world.

As well as the quantifiable benefits, there is so much more to outdoor learning that cannot be measured on a scale or given a level. It can help children to be more resilient, more cooperative - more aware of the world around them. It offers pupils the opportunity to work for the good of their school, their friends, their local community.

So, in the light of such evidence, why is outdoor learning not being experienced by children on a regular basis? One survey suggests that in an average month during 2013-15, only 8 per cent of school-aged children in England visited the natural environment with their schools.

There are, however, some positive signs.

Forest branches out

The Forest School movement is growing - but mostly in nursery settings. Children in the early years are encouraged to explore the outdoors as part of their curriculum. Such opportunities, however, diminish very quickly as children progress through the education system.

One of the main stumbling blocks is the lack (or complete absence) of timetabled outdoor learning time.

There are many reasons why this is the case: Ofsted, targets, an over-emphasis on results, unrealistic expectations for literacy and numeracy (and the resultant squeezing out of other subjects). …

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