Monday, 1 December 2014

The Outdoor learning environment

"Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them."

- (The Audubon Nature Preschool 2012)

Early years Foundation Stage framework (2008) firmly places outdoor provision and outdoor play at the heart of under-fives educational provision. Exploring outdoors provides the children with the confidence to experiement with new things in a safe yet challenging new environment.

"Children seem to be naturally drawn to outdoor learning" - (Bilton, H. 2010)

Outdoor learning is multifaceted, and the ultimate learning environment. It caters for all of a childs' learning requirements, including those that are cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social and physical.
Working outside of the classroom allows children to actively learn, providing the freedom to explore and investigate new territories. I think that lessons outside of the classroom are a good attribute to learning. Children are less likely to see activities as 'work', whilst outside. Attitudes towards learning are likely to improve and behavioural problems may be more manageable, as children are likely to take on leadership roles during activities and view tasks as 'fun'. Outdoor learning is more likely to grasp the attention of its learners as subjects become more vivid and interesting to enhance understanding. Creativity and imagination is nurtured, and personal, social and emotional developments are all seen to improve. This 'informal' way of learning allows a small element of risk; keeping the interest of its learners. Outdoor learning is seen to combat under-development, and improve academic achievements, improving skills as well as independence.
The Government has also shown greater interest in outdoor play through such documents as the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto. (DFES 2006)

"In the outdoors, children can explore the world first hand, experience natural phenomena such as the weather, the changing seasons and shadows and the increased space allows them to construct on a bigger scale and move around freely"
(Ouvry 2003)

Young children learn best through social interaction, care situations and play. These elements can easily be introduced into daily activities conducted outdoors. We need to ensure that teaching is developmentally appropriate for the pupils in order for it to be effective. 
Stephenson (2002) provided a table to show the difference between inside and outside behaviours: 
Both indoor and outdoor learning have benefits. However, learning outside is a part of life, and benefit us physically, socially and psychologically; positively effecting the mind and body. Outside children are able to learn in a comfortable and non-threatening environment, and are able to learn through movement, investigation and play. 

In relation to outdoor learning, Cook and Heseltine (1999) state that "It' is essential to their growth and development. Children need to know about risk, about their own capabilities, to develop the mechanism for judging it in a controlled setting." Children need to be self-regulated in their safety so that they can, for themselves learn what is safe, and what is not; preparing them for future life. 

David Yearly, play safety manager of RoSpa, argues that judging risk comes through exposure to it. (Jones 2007) 

Outdoor learning can provide the 'space to move freely; something which is restricted when indoors. Children are able to use their entire bodies in role play and other imaginative activities. However, outdoor environments; like any environment comes with an element of hazard and risk. But, children need to experience this for themselves, and rise about the challenges and problems they are faced with, in order to developmentally progress. Adults should give children the space to learn for themselves without interfering too much. 

An outdoor learning programme that has been introduced in schools, and represents all the benefits that I have spoken of, is called 'Forrest schools'. This programme allows children to go into the environment and freely experiment and experience the outdoor environment safely. Broadening opportunity for the pupils that undertake it.  I have had first hand experience of this programme, as I assisted a few lessons, taking pupils out from my old primary school. Here are a few photographs of the children I worked alongside, enjoying their outdoor lesson.

"Children and young people are given encouragement to direct their own learning - this often requires catalysing on the part of the Forest School leader either through stimulating play in the outdoors or through 'scaffolding' a child's learning, but mostly through simply observing how children are in the outdoors."
 - Forest School training

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