Outdoor learning helps children build ‘invaluable life skills’

The benefits of pupils learning outside of the classroom are becoming increasingly publicised, but many teachers still shy away for fear of exposing children to too many risks. Here, Alex Alves, forest school leader at Fairfield Prep School, explains why outdoor learning is essential for early learning

In 2018, Project Dirt and Learning Through Landscapes carried out a report which highlighted that 81% of UK teachers involved with the Outdoor Classroom Day wanted more time to take children outside to learn.

Health and safety has always been a barrier for outdoor learning with 17% of teachers expressing their fears of risks, but forest schools, which began to emerge in the UK in the 1990s, enable children to play in a risk-assessed environment. This means youngsters can explore and learn in a controlled environment, while under constant supervision from a fully trained member of staff.

Forest schools encourage children to learn outside at their own pace, setting goals and targets tailored to their individual needs, so they never feel under pressure. As a result, outdoor learning has been proven to:

  • Develop early approaches to problem-solving
  • Encourage a healthy, active lifestyle
  • Boost self-awareness, independence and confidence
  • Develop communication skills through collaborative-working
  • Help children easily identify common risks in the ‘real’ world
“Children are natural born adventurers”

Encouraging explorers

Any parent will be able to tell you that a child’s favourite words are ‘what?’ and ‘why?’. Children are natural born adventurers and want to learn anything and everything about the world around them, so it is important as educators that we help them do this. Forest schools place children in the perfect environment for this, allowing them to discover and get hands-on experience with nature.

Natural spaces can sometimes be inaccessible to families who live in urban areas, thus limiting children’s opportunities to explore nature outside of school hours, so these classes allow them to try new activities and develop new skills. They can learn how to build dens, ‘hunt’ through the woods or bird watch. The best part about forest schools is that every child is placed on an equal playing field. There are no winners or losers, just children working together to have fun and learn in their own way.

At our forest school, we have experienced how well children of all ages engage with the motivating and achievable tasks we deliver. They expand their knowledge past the curriculum-based topics learnt in the classroom, increase their confidence and find new hobbies to be passionate about. This new knowledge then lends itself to classroom learning as they apply new skills like resilience, creativity and leadership to their daily studies – skills that are vital to learn more effectively.

At forest school, children “find new hobbies to be passionate about”

Developing life skills

By committing to learning both inside and outside of the classroom, schools can instil a passion for learning in all environments. By beginning to adapt their skill set to their surrounding environment, children can take what they learn inside the classroom outside, and vice versa.

Learning to take on the risks around us helps children build invaluable life skills, like critical problem solving, empathy and teamwork. Outdoor learning also helps boost pupils’ creative mindset by placing them in an open environment where they can let their imagination run wild.

In my experience, there is a distinct change in children’s behaviour once you take away the physical walls of the classroom. They often go home feeling inspired, encouraging their parents to help gather materials for their next lesson and sharing their experiences with them.

Immersive outdoor teaching has become more popular as schools try to push the boundaries of traditional learning styles. By using exciting and fun activities, like interacting with nature, children benefit from being challenged in a creative, open environment.

Perhaps most importantly, strengthening younger generations’ relationship with the outdoors is highly likely to encourage active lifestyles and a positive approach to the environment, creating a more respectful generation that will aim to be more green and sustainable.