Challenges to Learning in Natural Environments in Schools

This article has kindly been written by Juno Hollyhock, Executive Director of Learning Through Landscapes.

I don’t think that there are many folk who would question the fact that going outside is a good thing.

We all know and understand the physical health benefits and many people also recognise the benefits to mental and emotional health.

Some would go further and extol the virtues of reconnecting with nature from a sustainability and environmental perspective – look after nature and nature will look after you.

But when it comes to learning in the natural environment (LINE) at school it is not always so straightforward.

There are some perceived barriers to LINE in schools and these can get bigger as we move up the age ranges.

Schools face huge challenges every day. They have to make sure that every pupil makes the appropriate levels of progress from whatever starting point, they have to manage behaviour for learning and they have to differentiate effectively so that every learner is able to achieve their educational outcomes.

Set against this backdrop it is understandable that some teachers can be a little reluctant to add the great outdoors into the mix.

Often, when working with schools early in their LINE journey, it is not the big learning outcomes related barriers that are so much of an issue. It is the smaller ones that can get in the way.

I was interviewing in a school recently trying to get to the bottom of why there was not more LINE going on.  Without fail every teacher responded in the beginning by saying that with the necessity for a strong curriculum focus and improved attainment it was not appropriate to digress from this by going outside.

When I suggested that the richness of the natural environment from a teaching and learning perspective was a huge opportunity and that resources in the outdoors were plentiful and exciting and that Maths and Literacy could be proven to be delivered just as effectively outside as inside they were quick to agree.

So just what was it that was actually getting in the way.

When we drilled down to the lowest levels of reluctance we uncovered some interesting problems.

  • For secondary schools the issue of uniform is important, there are many very good reasons why uniform neatness is encouraged but there is no doubt that a spell outside can lead to some slightly more ruffled pupils.
  • Transition spaces – where there are well managed spaces for getting boots on and off and for hanging coats, getting outside was much more common practice. These also tend to be spaces where cleaning is easy and there will be no angry eyed maintenance person frustrated with mud and grass on their newly polished floor. Poor transition space or no space is in itself a barrier.
  • The weather – inevitably this is a concern in our climate and yet do we really need to be so put off by rain – or does rain bring with it some even more exciting opportunities for measuring, calculating, exploring.
  • Less experienced teachers reported that they very thought of lining their pupils up and getting them from the top floor of the school down three flights of stairs to the outside door was enough of a barrier to LINE without anything else. Held safely in the classroom behaviour was more manageable and no time was lost from the lesson.

Confidence and competence to deliver effective teaching and learning in the natural environment is essential.

But we also need to pay close attention to strategies to help solve the less obvious barriers.

Juno joined Learning through Landscapes in January 2012. She came to LTL from the academy sponsor Oasis where she was National Communications Manager focussing on the delivery of internal and external communications, events, marketing strategies and brand development across the organisation as well as supporting the delivery of 14 academies.

Juno’s background is in working with organisations that support children and young people in both the statutory and 1324050123Juno-compressedvoluntary sectors at local, national and international levels. Her experience includes strategic development, fundraising and income generation, project management and evaluation and charitable governance.

Juno remains involved in a voluntary capacity with a number of charitable organisations including the YMCA movement and the Global Rock Challenge as well as being the Chair of Governors at Oasis Academy Mayfield, a secondary school in Southampton.

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