We’ve talked to quite a few educators now with different confidence levels when it comes to taking curriculum learning outdoors, and we hear a lot of misconceptions about how much ‘stuff’ you need to get started, or how much knowledge you need to be successful outdoors. The truth is, when it comes to whole-class curriculum outdoor learning, just taking the step outside with your children is the best way to start and build up your confidence. Then, after a few short sessions you’ll soon get into the rhythm of it and know which resources you’ll need to develop the potential for learning further.
Today’s blog post is the perfect read for anyone just starting their outdoor learning journey, or for outdoor learning leads looking to inspire their staff and answer their questions about how it all works. Below, we’ve outlined 10 of the most common worries we hear, that might be stopping you from making the move to outdoor learning. Perhaps they’re the things you worry about in the back of your mind when outside because you’re not fully confident yet. Or maybe, these are the things your staff tell you as an outdoor learning leader, as reasons why they don’t feel comfortable going outside. Either way, here’s our take on them to hopefully give you that boost of confidence and inspiration you need to know that it’s not as scary as it may seem and you are absolutely ready to do this!
That’s okay! Outdoor learning comes in a wide range of forms and if you’re not doing den building or fire lighting, that doesn’t mean children aren’t benefiting from the outdoor learning you are doing. Equally, although you will need to recognise at least the plants in your own outdoor space for risk assessment purposes, you don’t need to be a world class biologist to take your children outdoors to observe and identify flora and fauna. If there’s something you come across in your outdoor space that you’re really not sure about, turn it into a learning experience for all of you (just make sure children don’t touch any plants you can’t identify in case they are toxic).
It’s easy to get drawn into thinking that for successful outdoor learning you need to have a vast amount of large scale outdoor resources and installations. While these types of resources can be useful in a continuous provision outdoor space, they are not needed to start your whole class curriculum outdoor learning journey. That’s not to say they’re unnecessary, indeed, having a natural seating space, a storytelling chair and an outdoor shed/classroom space are all wonderful additions to your grounds – it’s just a reminder to not get hung up about not having them before you start taking learning outdoors. That way, you’ll develop the space in line with what’s needed for your setting, once you’ve been out a few times.
Okay, so this is definitely something we hear from outdoor learning leads a lot! How to measure the impact of outdoor learning and how to assess it in relation to data. Now, let’s be clear, this is different to evidencing outdoor learning (something we have a teacher guide for in our planning hub). This is about how to assess the progress children are making through taking learning outdoors, rather than teaching the same thing inside. When you’re talking about curriculum learning, this is simply using the same assessment system as you would usually use for lessons, as you’re assessing the National Curriculum objectives in the same way. If you’re wanting to measure the impact of outdoor learning on other aspects of children’s well-being to showcase its benefits, e.g. their behaviour, confidence, soft skills etc. Then using a grid sheet with these skills listed to fill out both before and after any prolonged amount of repeated outdoor learning will highlight some of the ways it has benefited your children, useful if trying to prove the benefits of outdoor learning to your SLT.
Absolutely not! In fact, outdoor learning has so many benefits for our children that it’s vital they can learn outdoors across the whole of the primary age range and beyond! With social media posts usually focusing heavily on outdoor learning for children in EYFS and KS1, it can be easy to think there is little opportunity for KS2 to get outside. In actual fact the outdoors can provide a great environment for putting KS2 learning into context and for cross-curricular opportunities, so if you’re in Years 3, 4, 5, & 6, why not give it a go!
Outdoor learning doesn’t have to be an ‘all singing, all dancing’ lesson every time. If you’re unsure of what activities to do outside, start with something practical and something short. Chalk is a fantastic first resource to use because your lesson will be a large-scale active version of ‘whiteboard work’, something that will be second nature to you and therefore will make you feel more at ease during your first outdoor lesson. Your outdoor learning lead (if you have one) can also support you with identifying where in the curriculum links can be made with the outdoors.
Having been teachers ourselves, we know that when there’s an opportunity for a new way of teaching and learning, it can quickly feel like another job on the to-do-list that will be impossible to find the time for and you might be thinking what needs to give to be able to implement it. Our advice…outdoor learning is something that can be weaved into your curriculum teaching into everyday lessons and subjects, essentially to replace an indoor lesson on the same objective rather than in addition to it. You might find our Outdoor Planning Hub helpful for planning your outdoor curriculum lessons if you’re unsure of how to cover National Curriculum objectives outside.
If you’re the outdoor learning lead for your school, timetabling outdoor learning can seem like the only option. But, as the outdoor environment is ever changing, this can mean that it’s actually harder to try and incorporate outdoor learning into your curriculum as you’ll be trying to squeeze in lessons that might not fit with the current flow of learning. Instead, think about how you could utilise the different areas of your outdoor space. Sure, the garden might work best for Science lessons focusing on wildlife, but equally the playground might suit Maths lessons and the field might work best for History and Geography, and so on. This means that multiple staff will be able to go outdoors at once and are not limited to a time slot, encouraging even more outdoor learning for your children!
Getting parents on board with taking children outside can be challenging, but instead of seeing it as a barrier, try to think of it as an opportunity to involve them in this journey you’re on. Talking to parents about the benefits of outdoor learning so they understand why you’re doing it can be useful, and as for muddy clothing, understand this can be a nightmare for a parent who doesn’t have time to wash the uniform that same night for school tomorrow. Making parents aware of when you’ll be going outside (especially if this isn’t something you do often) and perhaps suggesting to bring in wellies and separate clothing if you know the lesson will be particularly muddy can be an easy way to not add to parent’s washing load!
The first thing we’ll say about this is when starting to take your class outside, it is really important to establish that they are there for learning and not for playtime. Making this distinction clear through the use of boundary games (to make clear the area they are working in) and being firm on your expectations can ensure that managing behaviour outdoors is no different to an indoor lesson. Also, because the outdoors lends itself to children having more freedom to move and talk to their peers when learning, you’ll find that children who can be particularly energetic indoors will thrive in this environment.
You don’t need one! Sure if you’re looking to do fire lighting and use tools you’ll likely want to go on some training for school insurance purposes, but for everyday curriculum outdoor learning (when you’re likely using natural resources, chalk and possibly a few other items) you don’t need to have any extra qualifications. Educators are some of the most creative people out there, so don’t let this worry stop you from taking your children outside! If you want a bit more confidence and reassurance in the practicalities of doing this with a whole class, take a look at our staff training, designed to empower you with the toolkit you need to utilise your existing education knowledge and use it for outdoors!