In our final article on learning outside the classroom, we look at the opportunities to take learning beyond the school grounds. Adventurous and residential experiences are what many associate with and understand by outdoor learning, and they do offer opportunities for students to acquire, develop and enhance a wide range of knowledge and skills.
However outdoor education is at its most potent when its strands are interwoven with the formal school curriculum rather than being undertaken as isolated windows within a child’s education. School day trips and overnight residentials have wide-ranging and significant benefits. Such benefits can only be enhanced by ensuring they are planned and integrated into the whole school curriculum.
There are many organisations who support off-site and residential trips for schools. However, staff and student involvement in the planning and delivery of these will maximise their benefits and learning opportunities. Brilliant Residentials, an action research project from Learning Away, worked with 60 schools over 5 years to collect and explore a wide range of residential experiences. Gathering evidence supporting multiple benefits, such as improvements to attainment, engagement, confidence and relationships, the project also identifies a range of factors that contribute to a brilliant residential, including:
- Planning for specific learning goals
- Curriculum integration
- Staff and student involvement and inclusion
- Progressive programmes
- A wide range of new and memorable experiences
- Senior leadership and governor support
Further information on each can be found at www.learningaway.org.uk.
Developing a whole school approach can take time, but small changes can have a big impact. At Maximising Learning (www.maximisinglearning.com)we work with schools to build the confidence and capacity of staff to develop an Outdoor Learning Curriculum. Working with Oasis International School, Cairo we created a bespoke programme of support to:
- understand the philosophy and benefits of outdoor learning;
- explore opportunities for outdoor learning within the formal and informal curricula, both on- and off-site;
- integrate outdoor learning across the curriculum and throughout the school;
- support school staff in developing their outdoor learning practice;
including working with:
- Kindergarten staff through a programme of practical activities and case studies, exploring potential barriers to outdoor learning and focussing on achievable solutions;
- Primary (PYP) staff within the school grounds and beyond to experience outdoor learning activities and explore the practicalities of managing groups on and off-site.
- Senior staff to explore the philosophy, benefits and practicalities of outdoor and adventure learning through facilitated workshops.
Site visits were also undertaken to scope potential off-site opportunities for pupils, to complement and enhance the school’s approach.
Follow up training allowed staff to evaluate and build on good practice:
- Kindergarten, with limited outdoor space, turned their end of term ‘Carnival Day’ into an outdoor camping event, with each class creating their own camp and taking part in outdoor and seasonal activities;
- PYP teachers took over 400 children to the Al Azhar Park in Cairo. Activities linked to Language, Maths, Science and Art were introduced to representative teachers on a pre-visit training day and shared with the rest of the staff, encouraging peer training and support, and considering logistical aspects;
- MYP teachers faced a range of challenges when planning an outdoor learning day at a nearby Wadi, which was overcome by imaginative teaching and careful logistical planning. Such ‘on-the-job’ training, allowed teachers to explore how to deliver their own curriculum outdoors and find ways of overcoming potential barriers. They also saw the benefits of experiential learning, in terms of understanding curriculum content and broader enquiry and group skills;
- Diploma staff and students spent 3 days camping further up Wadi Degla, with students taking responsibility to organise the camp, while staff developed subject-specific activities. The trip was fully evaluated, with the specific thought being given to how to extend this type of provision using all the readily available resources – human, physical and environmental.
The benefits of these outdoor learning experiences are clear and are fundamental in helping to create happy, balanced people. Such programmes also demonstrate how progression through the years is possible – from making a den or camp in the school playground for Nursery children to 3 days of desert camping at Diploma level, thus supporting the aim of schools to integrate outdoor learning into the whole curriculum throughout a child’s lifetime at the school.
Remember, “Outdoor Learning isn’t a subject or topic; it’s a powerful way of teaching”. So let’s get outside and see the difference it makes.
By: Anita Foster