Children reap benefits of outdoor learning

A new study has revealed the positive gains of al fresco teaching for a child’s academic development

Scientists say lessons in the outdoor environment lead to students being more engaged, attentive, self-motivated and disciplined.

And outdoor learning is something that Ipswich High School strives to include in its curriculum, thanks to its Forest School and Beach School.

The Woolverstone school boasts 84-acre grounds, in which pre-prep school pupils can play, learn and work.

Headteacher, Oona Carlin, said: “Our Forest School and Beach School classes capture our pupils’ curiosity, stimulate their senses and nurture their wellbeing.

Natural settings seem to foster warmer, more cooperative relations

“The sessions allow us all to explore and investigation the woodland in our grounds,” she added, “and nearby beach on the shoreline of the River Orwell.

“Not all classrooms have four walls and, as well as the health and wellbeing benefits of being out in the fresh air, it also leads to improved behaviour, improved concentration and increased motivation levels.”

Carlin said skills such as problem-solving, independence, enquiry and perseverance skills are all promoted through outdoor lessons.

Students through Years 7-13 are encouraged to carry out scientific research, open air theatre productions, and art lessons outside. The schools also has an outdoor classroom and conservation area.

Speaking to the London Economic about the latest research, lead author, Professor Ming Kuo, of the department of natural resources and environmental sciences at Illinois University, said: “It’s time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning. In fact, the trend of increasing indoor instruction, in hopes of maximising standardised test performance, may be doing more harm than good.”

The research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that there is a cause and effect principle, in which improvements in education resulted directly from being outside more often.


Key findings from Professor Ming Kuo’s research

  • Nature may boost learning via direct effects on learners
  • Student motivation, enjoyment, and engagement are better in natural settings
  • Time outdoors is tied to higher levels of physical activity and fitness
  • Nature has rejuvenating effects on attention
  • Contact with nature boosts self-discipline
  • Nature may boost learning by providing a more supportive context for learning
  • Vegetated settings tend to provide calmer, quieter, safer contexts for learning
  • Natural settings seem to foster warmer, more cooperative relations
  • Natural settings may afford “loose parts,” autonomy, and distinctly beneficial forms of play

Click here to read the full Frontiers in Psychology article


Professor Ming added: “We found strong evidence time in nature has a rejuvenating effect on attention; relieves stress; boosts self-discipline; increases physical activity and fitness; and promotes student self-motivation, enjoyment and engagement.

“All of these have been shown to improve learning. It’s time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning, particularly for students not effectively reached by traditional instruction.”


From the archive: Jane Prescott, headmistress of Portsmouth High School, on why every child should experience an outdoor education