Anna Thompson, Education and Activities Manager at Nene Park Trust explains the benefits of taking learning outside the classroom.

I don’t like classrooms. There, I’ve said it! I am a teacher who doesn’t like classrooms. And it’s not just because of that very distinctive smell that comes from 30+ bodies, all slightly in need of a wash crammed together in a space that is, probably, a bit too small. I just find a traditional classroom a bit confining, claustrophobic even. When I used to teach science in a Derbyshire secondary school I was forever gazing out of the window, looking for excuses to take my class outside. My colleagues got used to seeing my students being electrons running round a giant electrical circuit chalked on to the playground or roleplaying water molecules in a block of ice gradually “melting” in the sun on the field. When a job came up to develop an outdoor learning programme for Nene Park Trust I leaped at the opportunity and haven’t looked back since.

So it will come as no surprise that I am an enthusiastic advocate for the benefits of outdoor learning. However, I appreciate that not all of my ex-colleagues in schools feel the same way and, particularly at this time of year, it can be a challenge to convince teachers to take their students outside. After all, why should they? Why leave their classrooms with their central heating, interactive whiteboards and carefully prepared seating plans (essential to someone like me who cannot remember names and faces and once spent ten minutes in a parents evening talking about the wrong student!) and take their students into the cold, wild and unpredictable world outside? The answer “Because it is good for your students” sounds a bit trite, but it is no less true because of that. Numerous studies over recent years have demonstrated that there are huge and wide ranging benefits to taking learning outside. As well as the primary benefit of curriculum delivery (and all curriculum areas can be delivered outside with a bit of imagination!), outdoor learning has many secondary benefits. These include increased engagement, leading to better academic achievement for pupils who favour this learning environment over the traditional classroom setting, improved physical health, improved mental health, opportunities for personal and social development and a greater appreciation of the environment.

At Nene Park Trust we are hugely proud of our Outdoor Learning Programme and the impact we have on all the children who visit Ferry Meadows, to take part in learning activities delivered by our team.  But outdoor learning is at its most effective when it becomes embedded in teaching on a daily basis.  As I write this, teachers and students have cautiously returned to the classroom after months spent home schooling.  They will be dealing with challenges of social distancing and working out how to manage their classroom space to keep a suitable distance between students and keep surfaces and “frequent contact points” sanitised, yet the government has advised that “schools should make use of outdoor spaces in the local area to support delivery of the curriculum”.   So go on all you teachers out there, why not make 2020 and 2021 the years to get your students learning outside? And if you are not sure where to start, look out for our online “Introduction to Outdoor Learning” CPD courses coming soon!