Outdoor learning gains new prominence amid pandemic

Schools and educational settings across Wales are taking to the outdoors to deliver the curriculum and improve health and well-being as educators continue to adapt their ways of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senedd Cymru has advocated that outdoor learning should play a central role in minimising the risk of transmission in education settings. It’s ‘Keep Education Safe’ post-lockdown guidance for schools and settings as they reopened, recommended that the time learners spend outdoors should be maximised.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which supports and facilitates outdoor learning, has seen a surge of interest and demand for training and resources. Enrolment on NRW’s professional learning courses has gone up six fold this year, with over 400 educators trained on-line in October and November alone..

Sue Williams, NRW’s Lead Specialist Advisor for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills said:

“It is really promising to see such an increase in the number of teachers and other educators wanting to embrace the benefits that outdoor learning has to offer.
“Our courses are there to support learning groups to deliver cross curricula learning outdoors. The feedback from teachers and educators has been really positive.”

She added:

“More than ever before, outdoor learning is playing a massive role in engaging learners and supporting positive health and wellbeing for them and their teachers.
“As well as the immediate benefits, it’s proven that learning in, about and for the natural environment helps learners of all ages develop a stronger connection with nature. This, in turn, enhances environmental awareness which leads to positive behaviours in the long term.”

Rebecca Shone is a Year 2 teacher at Sychdyn Primary School, Flintshire and attended one of NRW’s recent courses. She says that outdoor learning is significantly helping her adjust to a new way of teaching:

“School life has changed dramatically, and classroom teaching can be quite stressful with masks and social distancing. Delivering lessons in the open air is far easier and more enjoyable and offers a nicer environment to engage the children.
“I try to take the class outdoors as much as possible, whatever the weather. We learn a whole range of subjects outdoors, from maths and science to language and art. Every Friday, we use woodland opposite the school for story reading, den building and drama.
“The children absolutely love it, and I can see the huge difference it makes in terms of how they interact during the lessons. There’s also a big improvement in team working, problem solving and communication skills when we go outside.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of being outdoors so being able to teach in the open air makes my job even better. It’s definitely helped boost my morale and motivation over the past few months.”

Pre-school children are also being taught in the natural environment. Come rain or shine, the 17 children who attend Cylch Meithrin Sarnau & Llandderfel near Bala, spend every session exploring, and learning in and about nature.  

Leader, Lisa Jones says:

“Being outdoors is a great way to engage children in early years education. We do all kinds of activities – from painting and creating patterns with leaves, to treasure hunts using letters and numbers.
“There are so many brilliant ideas, courses and resources out there to help with planning the sessions and keeping them varied.
“The kids love being outdoors, and the parents are very supportive of our approach. It does help that we have a good stock of waterproof clothing too!
“I’d really encourage other pre-school groups to give outdoor learning a go. Introducing youngsters to the natural world at a young age puts them in good stead to become environmentally responsible in the future.”

More outdoor learning resources and information can be found on the Education, Learning and Skills pages on the NRW website: naturalresources.wales/learning

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