The benefits of outdoor learning
There is a wealth of research advocating the benefits of outdoor learning but one of the most useful, I’ve found, is the research project carried out by Plymouth University, on behalf of Natural England, which ran from 2012-2016.
This was an initiative to help school children – particularly those from disadvantaged areas – experience the benefits of the natural environment by encouraging teachers to use the outdoors to support everyday learning. It took place in 125 schools across the South West of England, helping more than 40,000 primary and secondary school pupils to learn outside of the classroom.
Responses to questionnaires from school leaders, teaching staff and pupils involved in the project were overwhelmingly positive. Interestingly, the vast majority of responders, across all groups, said that learning outside had a positive effect on health and well-being. This is particularly important given growing concerns about mental health which is impacting on children and adding to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
Conclusion from questionnaires
Responses from children
95 % said outdoor learning makes lessons more enjoyable
90 % said they felt happier and healthier
72 % said they got on better with others
Responses from schools
93 % said outdoor learning improves pupils’ social skills
92 % said it improves pupils’ health and wellbeing and engages them with learning
85 % saw a positive impact on behaviour
72 % of schools reported that outdoor learning had a positive impact on teachers’ health and wellbeing
Responses from staff
90 % of staff surveyed found outdoor learning to be useful for curriculum delivery
79 % of teachers surveyed said outdoor learning had a positive impact on their teaching practice
69 % said it had a positive impact on their professional development
72 % said outdoor learning improved their health and wellbeing
69 % said it had a positive impact on their job satisfaction
Improved levels of engagement, behaviour and social interaction are often cited by proponents of learning outside the classroom. Schools that have installed PlayPods, for example, have seen a reduction in behavioural incidents at lunchtime, resulting in less teaching and learning time being lost on return to the classroom, after lunch.
I introduced a PlayPod to a school several years ago and monitored its impact by comparing lunchtime behaviour logs, one year after introduction. The outcome was overwhelmingly positive as behavioural incidents had fallen dramatically (ranging from 86% – 92% over a 3 month period) which backed up the anecdotal evidence I was receiving from lunchtime supervisors. Teachers too were exceedingly positive on the impact on social interaction and behaviour and reported that children were coming back to class eager, ready to learn and with fewer incidents that required a follow-up.
At a time when many early years teachers are struggling to hold on to what they know to be good practice, or for teachers further up the school who would like to embrace outdoor learning experiences but are facing lack of interest or refusal, this report is invaluable. It provides quantifiable data which can be used to reinforce the benefits of learning outside the classroom, not only for curriculum delivery but also for well-being, engagement in the learning process and the positive impact it has on social interaction and behaviour.