Getting outdoors can pay dividends in academic performance - but it also improves pupils' concentration and confidence.
Three years ago teacher Simon Poote spotted a disused strip of land on the grounds of Long Crendon school in Aylesbury. Instead of giving over the 15-metre square lawn to recreational use, or simply ignoring it, Poote saw potential for creating an outdoor learning space for the primary’s year 1 to 6 students. The only snag was how to pay for the plot’s transformation.
“We have lots of space but not much money,” says headteacher Sue Stamp. The school therefore appealed to parents, local businesses and the community to donate everything from landfill material to create small hills, to unwanted play equipment to build a trim trail and tunnels for the children to explore. Help came thick and fast, and the area now boasts a fully equipped thatched mud kitchen and a system of pipes and pulleys to transport water around the site.
Stamp insists outdoor learning has become more than just a project for the school, “it’s a way of life” she explains. The whole ethos of the school is to be outdoors as much as possible, rain or shine, so that students of all ages also take part in forest school activities in a wooded area alongside the playing field two days a week, learning skills such as fire lighting and making charcoal, as well as being allowed to climb trees, all under supervision.
Many of the outdoor activities they undertake are linked to curriculum subjects, and complement classroom lessons rather than detract from them. A factor which Stamp believes has played a part in the school’s continuing exam success. But outdoor learning is far more than an academic exercise – the head claims the impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing is undeniable.
“We have seen an amazing difference in some children,” she says. “Children who just didn’t engage in the classroom suddenly come into their own when they get outside.” Students who are less academically inclined gain in confidence and Stamp claims she has seen them step up as leaders in practical group activities for the first time.