The push towards an ‘outdoors’ philosophy has been well-documented, backed by charities and in the wake of warnings over a generation of children fixated on technology. Now, as classrooms begin to appear in playing fields across Yorkshire, the benefits they bring, say headteachers, cannot be underestimated.
“While we want to see our children adopt skills, such as resilience, there’s evidence to suggest that pupils retain more information after lessons spent in nature,” said Kerry Howes, headmistress at Bradford Grammar Junior School. “Some pupils, who might find it difficult to concentrate in a classroom environment, will find they’re more able to engage in the next lesson if they’ve studied outdoors.”
A range of subjects is now being taught at the independent school’s new outdoor classroom, which comes with wooden seating and a fire pit. Working with Outdoor Learning company (SOuL), school staff have been looking to adopt outdoor learning into the school’s curriculum and to ‘make it their own.’
“We’ve had some great outdoor education days so far,” said Ms Howes. “The children seem to love learning in nature and we’re busy planning further lessons.”
Deep in the Yorkshire Dales, a new outdoors classroom has just opened for pupils, serving a federation of four Upper Wharfedale schools, Cracoe, Grassington, Burnsall and Kettlewell.
The school had sought grant funding for a forest school but, when that failed, it was local charities that had stepped in, including the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group (YDMG), the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Woodland Trust.
“We saw the schools had put in for a grant, but weren’t successful,” said Sonya Wiggins, coordinator of the YDMG . “We took it upon ourselves to raise the funds.
“It’s their landscape, and it’s fantastic for the children that go to the schools here to be able to access that. It’s another aspect of furthering education.
“Children seem to engage better when they are not cooped up inside, and they enjoy being outside.”
Studies, funded by DEFRA and Natural England, have found that 95 per cent of teachers and pupils said outdoor learning made subjects more enjoyable, while 92 per cent said it improved pupils’ health and wellbeing.
At Pool in Wharfedale Primary, in North Leeds, research has been carried out into the impact of the school’s own ‘peace garden’.
More than four fifths of Key Stage 2 students, when asked to compare learning in the classroom versus outdoors, had said they could concentrate well and do their best when working outside.
Headteachers here had been confident there would be benefits to implementing the philosophy, but said it has since become apparent how much of a positive impact it is having on behaviour and attitudes.
And Mike Hargreaves, operations manager with Soul, said this was reflective of what they are seeing nationwide.
“Children thrive when being able to move while learning,” he said. “This is partly why we’re seeing a surge of interest in schools adopting this philosophy of education, which underpins everything we teach at school.”
Head of charity Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, Kim Somerville, said: “Learning outside the classroom plays such an important role in helping young people to achieve their potential by providing hands-on practical experiences that bring learning to life.
“We believe that every child should be given the opportunity to experience life and lessons beyond the classroom walls as a regular part of growing up.
“These experiences expand the horizons of young people, opening their eyes to the wonders of areas such as art, heritage, culture, adventure and the natural world.”