As any teacher who has taken a whole class or small group of children outdoors to learn knows, the best classrooms can be those without a roof. The benefits of outdoor learning and play are well-documented, from improving behaviour and increasing physical activity, confidence and self-esteem to improving teamwork, social and communication skills, and concentration levels.
The member companies of play industry trade body the Association of Play Industries (API) believe schools should be incentivised to adopt a ‘why not outside?’ approach to all aspects of the early years foundation stage and national curriculum so that activity-based learning takes place outdoors as much as possible.
The association’s members are experienced manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. Abiding by a professional code of conduct, they provide help to schools across the country on how to improve and transform their outdoor areas into engaging and stimulating places for learning and play, including high-quality play equipment, structures, playgrounds and facilities.
Whether schools are looking to increase children’s physical activity levels during the school day, to create more opportunities to free flow between indoor and outdoor spaces or provide more access to nature, API member companies are increasingly being asked by headteachers to help make better use of their school’s outdoor areas. Outdoor classrooms come in a wide array of designs, variations and sizes, from timbered buildings and paneled shelters to themed zones and activity areas. Even the smallest outdoor area can be transformed into an engaging space for learning and play.
From mark-making, literacy and numeracy to science, music, art and drama, whole class or small group activities, the sky’s the limit when it comes to taking learning experiences outside. Members of the API work in close consultation with headteachers, teaching staff and, often, school councils to get an understanding of the outcomes a school is looking to achieve. They then brief their design teams to create a bespoke solution that will achieve those requirements. This enables outdoor classrooms, shelters and learning and play spaces to be designed, built and installed to a high standard so that children and teaching staff alike will enjoy using them for many years to come.
Timber-framed buildings and shelters, popular amongst many schools wanting more natural solutions, can provide some of the best outdoor classrooms, offering hard-wearing dry space for outdoor learning and play in any weather, even when it’s wet or windy. Seating, tables, and themed or textured panels can be added to provide additional value for practical art, mark-making or science learning activities, or social space for break times. For warmer weather, open-sided timber shelters with timber or polycarbonate roofs provide UV protection, while sails, parasols and nets offer shade when needed. Depending on what activities and equipment an outdoor classroom space will be used for, surfacing may also be necessary. Again this is something API members can advise a school about.
Last but not least, it is vitally important to ensure any outdoor classroom, shelter, surfacing, play equipment and playground is properly maintained and inspected by an accredited RPII inspector to ensure safety and fitness for purpose.
Whatever the weather, outside classrooms offer a taste of the great outdoors and have proved popular all year round.