For most schools, the past two years have brought a complicated weighing of the risks of being in a classroom: in-person versus virtual learning, masks, class sizes, ventilation. But a growing number of schools around the world have sidestepped many of those concerns by leaving the classroom behind.
Outdoor Learning intends to complement traditional learning, and typically take place in woodlands or a natural environment: viewed as a safer, more Covid-proof option compared to the confines of a classroom.
Sessions might include bushcraft, mud play, den building and games such as hide and seek. And while many young people had little choice but to turn to social media and technology to communicate with their peers, Outdoor Learning offers a chance to refresh emotional and social skills through face-to-face play.
Swansea University researchers analyzed the learning outcomes for three primary schools in the south of Wales where classes were held in a natural environment for at least an hour a week.
“We found that the pupils felt a sense of freedom when outside the restricting walls of the classroom. They felt more able to express themselves and enjoyed being able to move about more too. They also said they felt more engaged and were more positive about the learning experience. We also heard many say that their well-being and memory were better, and teachers told us how it helped engage all types of learners,” Emily Marchant, a Ph.D. researcher in Medical Studies at Swansea University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Although they were initially skeptical of this pilot program, the teachers found that outdoor learning improved their job satisfaction and personal wellbeing. That’s quite important since all too often the focus of research on education is on the student, with teachers and educators receiving little attention.
“This is a really important finding given the current concerns around teacher retention rates. Overall, our findings highlight the potential of outdoor learning as a curriculum tool in improving school engagement and the health, wellbeing, and education outcomes of children,” Marchant added.
Another study, published in 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, reached similar conclusions, finding that the “nature effect” of outdoor learning made 9-10 year-olds more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork. Teachers could teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long as during a subsequent indoor lesson, the study found.
Some teachers may be reluctant at the notion of holding some classes outdoors, at least from time to time, as they might think the environment would overexcite the children and reduce concentration. But the scientific literature actually points to the contrary.