Under the stars

Editor Stephanie Broad looks at the facilities that can inspire students outside the traditional classroom environment

With the end of the Easter holidays comes the summer term and hopes of warmer weather and the chance to spend more time in the great outdoors. Coupled with a growing pressure on capacity in schools, there’s never been a better time to bring the classroom outside.

The great outdoors

The Institute for Outdoor Learning aims to recognise and improve the quality of outdoor education in the UK, by providing professional development opportunities and lobbying government. The institute carried out research in 2015 to measure evidence of the impact of outdoor learning. Its report, published in October, found that all participants cited outdoor learning as having a positive effect on attitudes, social skills, academic skills, behaviour and self-image. Activities observed in the study included field studies, nature visits, residentials, forest schools, bushcraft and using the school grounds. Find out more about their work at www.outdoor-learning.org.

In the summertime

With schools facing a squeeze on places, the warmer months present an opportunity to expand quickly via an eco-friendly outdoor classroom. Solardome’s glasshouses complemented science lessons at Watford Grammar School and even helped to increase uptake at a higher level. Managing Director of Solardome Industries, Pippa Bailey, says: “Creating unique outdoor classrooms such as the Science Classroom at Watford Grammar School helps schools offer the best facilities and gives pupils a chance to experience learning in a special and inspiring environment.  We have also seen that it’s a great way to encourage the uptake of science at a higher level.

“Not only do our dome outdoor classrooms deliver an inspiring environment for teaching, they also help forward thinking schools stand out and demonstrate to their pupils that they are offering so much more than just traditional learning.  

“We love to see the unique and inspiring ways forward thinking schools use our dome classrooms from high end Science facilities, roof top classrooms to eco clubs and drama facilities.” 

Proactive playtime

Outside of lessons, playground equipment can also supplement learning, says provider Sutcliffe Play. Its creative play equipment range Snug is based on a fifteen-year process of research and evaluation into the way that children behave, react and play in specific environments.

In previous projects the designers of the kit, Snug & Outdoor, had observed common elements in imaginative play. They noticed that children used props to create arenas (places to perform), pathways (leading to journeys and explorations), obstacles (barriers to overcome), territories (places of belonging, which may need defending), thresholds (gateways to other worlds), destinations (places to go to) and sanctuaries (private places or homes). 

These observations helped to inform the development of the objects that make up the Snug range.

Funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), Arts Council and the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Foundation enabled Snug & Outdoor to join forces with the Design Laboratory at Central St Martin’s College of Art and the Institute of Education at London University to research and test the Snug design.

An in depth independent evaluation carried out by Fiona Godfrey, an education consultant specialising in arts and creativity, concluded: “At all key stages, Snug was seen to have a particular contribution to make to the social and emotional aspects of children’s development and learning… (Snug) was observed to facilitate children’s own creativity; with children seen exercising their curiosity, exploring possibilities, making connections between different objects and between objects and ideas, experimenting, trying things out, taking risks, testing and reviewing, using and showing their creations and being motivated to solve problems.” 

Find out more

Solardome: www.solardome.co.uk, Sutcliffe Play: www.sutcliffeplay.co.uk

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