A Miracle on 34th Street? The true meaning of learning in natural environments

This festive post comes to us from Sue Waite, Project lead for the Natural Connections Demonstration Project and Associate Professor (Reader), Plymouth Institute of Education

Christmas is coming and the John Lewis advert has some of us dabbing tears from our eyes as a little girl shows intergenerational empathy for a lonely man on the moon. As the tinsel and trees begin to multiply, I think it is worth thinking about what we might wish for our children this Christmas.

Karen Malone and I have been busily compiling the Learning in the Natural Environment Pathways to Impact report[1] following the highly successful Lessons from Near and Far international conference on outdoor learning in July. From reviews of outdoor learning research and the presentations made on the day, we discerned the following aspirations for children of the 21st century in a rapidly changing world that demands flexibility and creativity:

  • a healthy and happy body and mind
  • a sociable confident person
  • a self-directed creative learner
  • an effective contributor
  • an active global citizen

All these attributes are linked through research to various forms of outdoor learning and the benefits that accrue from children becoming re-connected with nature. The report sets out some evidence for how specific outcomes can be supported through outdoor learning but we hope it will also provide a framework to direct, gather and collate further research findings, especially where few currently exist. This report and a recent systematic review for the Institute for Outdoor Learning emphasise the demonstrated value of increasing access to outdoor learning for children and young people. Continue reading

What did Ofsted ever do for us?

This week’s blog comes to us from Juno Hollyhock, Executive Director at Learning Through Landscapes.

One of the repetitive messages that circulate within our sector is the refrain that says if Ofsted were more supportive of learning in the natural environment then schools would find it easier to engage.

Many times we have been told by schools that this would make all the difference.

Many of us have sighed over our coffee and wished that Ofsted understood how good the benefits were.

I suspect quite a lot of research has been commissioned to try to prove the positive impact on educational attainment in the hope that it might make Ofsted listen and better promote the use of teaching and learning outside.

Well here’s the thing.

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A Special Place to Learn

This week’s blog comes to us all the way from down under, from Clarice Lisle, Year 4 coordinator at Ballarat and Queen’s Anglican Grammar School, Victoria, Australia.

 This is the story of a unique place-based learning program we have for our Year 4 students at Ballarat Grammar in Victoria, Australia. Located on the School farm of 120 acres, this purpose built campus is home to 65 students.

The Year 4 Mount Rowan experience, aligns with an important developmental stage in our students’ lives, marking a memorable moment that will last a life time. Stepping beyond the mainstream classroom, ‘Caring for Life’ is an underlying theme that encompasses this program through self, others and place.  Aiming to develop ecological understanding as a way of seeing and being, this place-based context enables students to experience life first hand; to appreciate, value and understand their birthright and the natural way of things through guided inquiry.clarice 2

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Embedding LOtC into school curriculum and policies: Pokesdown Primary School

This week’s blog comes to us from Elaine Skates, Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. More information about CLOtC and a link to their newsletters can be found here


There is a wealth of research, including Ofsted guidance, which demonstrates that learning outside the classroom (LOtC) has a greater impact on young people’s learning and development if it is integrated into the curriculum. Pokesdown Primary School in Dorset has put this theory into practice, creating an integrated and engaging LOtC curriculum for its pupils. In recognition of its good practice, the school has received LOtC Mark, the only national accreditation which recognises good practice in learning outside the classroom across the whole curriculum.

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A School Open Evening with a Spotlight on Outdoor Learning


This week’s blog comes to us straight from a school. Becky Baldwin, from Castle Manor Academy in Suffolk recently discovered this blog and decided that she would like to write for us and her experiences of embedding outdoor learning in a school. Becky is the Outdoor learning and community engagement coordinator as well as Teacher of Art, DT, Eco schools and DofE coordinator – so we are delighted that she found the time to become our latest guest blogger.

Last night was our open evening for prospective parents at Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill, Suffolk.

At 8pm the evening was drawing to a close but we still had parents and children engaged in Outdoor learning tasks. New recruits to my Eco Team were enthusiastically helping children to make bird feeders from recycled Plastic bottles. A horticulture student was showing the school rabbits to a small child and telling them that we also had chickens and sheep. A member of the Eco Committee greeted parents at the classroom door, sharing apples from our orchard and inviting them to a community litter pick .

The door to outside was open, but nobody mentions the cold or seems in a rush to go home. They are drawn outside into the kitchen garden to see what’s going on in the dark.

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Launching Countryside Classroom

This week’s post comes to us from Dan Corlett, Chief Executive of FACE (Farming and Countryside Education), just as a brand new initiative, Countryside Classroom officially launches. In this article Dan tells us all about how Countryside Classroom came to be – make sure you visit countrysideclassroom.org.uk and check it out. 

As we launch Countryside Classroom (www.countrysideclassroom.org.uk) this week, it is worth reminding ourselves of why and how we came to this point. I get asked frequently why we created another web site, and it’s a good question, especially since ‘duplication’ is one of the criticisms that fuelled its very existence.

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Anaesthetized by screen. Energized by green

This is the second post written for us by Dr Tonia Gray, for more about Tonia please see her last post here.

At a recent School Principals’ Conference in Australia, a tweet went out:

 Students need technology to thrive, “home is where the wifi is” #SPCConf15

The tweet rang alarm bells as it was at odds with what I hear parents and teachers report. Many of them are increasingly concerned about technology’s broader impact on their children, in both dramatic and subtle ways.

Before I give the wrong impression, I am no Luddite. Like so many academics, I am heavily reliant on Wi-Fi and connectivity for my day-to-day work and even my social life; however, my concern arises from a convergence of factors. To illustrate, I’d like to share three recent stories that suggest technology is not an unmitigated benefit, no matter what a tweet might tell us.

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Look! Look! Taking Tiny Ant Steps and Making Big Strides…

This week’s blog comes to us from Louise Graham,  who works with collaborations of schools across North Devon as hub leader for the Naturally Healthy Devon Schools project.  www.naturallearning.org.uk/NHDSP. Louise is a primary school teacher and forest school leader working near the source of the River Tamar on the North Devon – Cornwall border. She  supports school groups, teachers and childcare professionals to take their learning outside. www.naturallearning.org.uk for details about training, forest school training, research projects and consultancy with the Natural Learning team.


I love the autumn, there’s a whole school year ahead to get stuck into. Everything is possible in September and everyone is fresh and bright-eyed for a new academic year. We have great plans for where we will have reached by next summer (a lifetime away) and the strides we’ll take to get there. It’s all about looking ahead and reaching high.

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