Outdoor based learning … does it really make a difference?

A new analysis by Tes of Department for Education data shows that:


English, maths and science now take up more than half (51 per cent) of key stage 4 teaching time in secondaries, up from 44.5 per cent in 2011.


More time is being spent on core subjects and less time is being spent on creative subjects which include: art, music and drama. All of which can improve emotional well-being of students.

Schools are under immense pressure and have to prioritise subjects to ensure that students make progress and attainment in core subjects while trying to ensure that all students have access to a broad and balanced curriculum.

As practitioners, we need to ensure that we are restoring the balance and providing opportunities for students to improve their emotional well-being in other ways. Learning outside the classroom is just one strategy that can help do this.


Outdoor based learning


Outdoor based learning … does it really make a difference?


Research suggests that yes - outdoor based learning really can make a difference; have a positive impact on students and improve emotional well-being.

The Council for Learning Outside of the Classroom 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.”

Louise Chawla, an Environmental psychologist, found that:


Frequent contact with nature can reduce symptoms of attention-deficit disorder and increase memory; it’s also associated with lower rates of depression.


Schools have an opportunity to improve the emotional wellbeing and mental health of young people; develop students creativity and improve their attention and focus by creating opportunities to spend more time outdoors.

How can I introduce my class to outdoor based learning?


Start small 

Use the spaces in and around the school site. Start small. Plan a lesson and think about the space available and check that you can use it first. Complete a Risk Assessment and add it to your lesson plan before going outdoors. Teaching outside may feel a bit odd at first. However, the more you do it, the more confident you become and the students will soon adjust to it too! Some of your students may feel stressed and anxious in the classroom environment so being outdoors provides a change of scenery and can be a calmer and relaxing environment for those students. Consider using the playground or the school field as your extended classroom (weather permitting…of course!). 


Outdoor focus 

So, you have tried teaching a lesson outdoors. Now, try teaching a lesson, or a series of lessons, with an outdoor focus. This could be: science, geography, art, English, drama, music…the opportunities are endless! This could range from a ‘Sound Walk’ with Key Stage One to painting pebbles with Key Stage Two. 


You may have access to a playground, a designated allotment, a school garden or have your own forest school. Do not underestimate the learning that could take place in these settings. Could a timetable be created so that every child in every year group has the opportunity to explore the space throughout the academic year? Growing plants; maintaining gardens and using various gardening tools is a fantastic way to develop life skills in young people!


Off-site visits 

Many schools like to enhance the learning beyond the classroom through off-site visits. Of course, the planning and preparation does need to be done in advance so that the necessary risk assessments can be completed and signed off. Schools often book off-site visits or a residential when the school wants to provide a unique or specific experience which cannot be delivered on site in school.


Make every visit count! Plan school visits carefully based on the age of the students and your school topics. Check across the year groups to ensure that there is no duplication. Providing new and exciting experiences for students is key.


Reap the benefits! 

Leah Shafer says that Outdoor Education has its own benefits:


The overall impact of time spent outdoors is clear: better physical health and wellness; increased environmental stewardship; enhanced creativity, concentration, and self-confidence; and stronger collaboration and relationship skills.


For some students, it will give them the opportunity to take ownership of their learning while building resilience and developing their problem solving skills. These skills are transferable across all areas of their life.


Be brave and have a go!

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On this day, thousands of schools do their lessons outdoors. Outdoor Classroom Day (UK and Ireland) is celebrated twice a year to allow lots of schools to participate. The next Outdoor Classroom Day will take place on:

  Thursday 23rd May 2019

Get involved! Go to the following site for ideas and inspiration:



If you are keen to enhance the opportunities for learning outside the classroom for your students or would like to find out more information about what Squirrel Learning can offer you and your school - please get in contact: info@squirrellearning.co.uk

Emma KinghornComment