Time and time again we hear the biggest barrier to regular outdoor learning in schools is rooted in a lack of staff confidence. Teachers often feel unprepared or too inexperienced to teach in an outdoor setting. There is a good amount of validity here since teacher training and traditional school schedules largely fail teachers in the outdoors. There is limited time, if any, dedicated to it for most. Conversely, some of the things that worry teachers most about teaching outside aren’t actually the case. Let’s look at the most common misconceptions about outdoor learning and do some much needed myth busting!
Myth 1: Behaviour management is more challenging outside of the classroom
Teachers worry about how they will manage pupil behaviour when the class steps out of their familiar four walls. Now, there are never any guarantees, we are talking about human beings with all of our inevitable unpredictability after all, however there is significant research to prove that outdoor learning actually has a positive impact on pupil behaviour and focus. The children that struggle the most inside the classroom, tend to thrive outside in a less constrained environment.
If managing behaviour is what worries you, the best thing you can do is to try it. Take a lesson outdoors and see how it goes. Give the exercise a few chances too, anything new is exciting and stimulating to begin with, and it could be the second, third or even fourth outdoor lesson that’s the game changer for you and your pupils. Remember this outdoor time could be as simple as a walk and talk, reading outside, collecting data or sketching. Do the thing you were going to do inside, and step out into the world instead. Over time, the benefits to behaviour and concentration are likely to be worth the leap.
Myth 2: You need to be outdoorsy to lead outdoor learning
There’s a funny idea that you need to be “outdoorsy” to successfully take a class outside. There is no truth in this whatsoever. All you need to take learning outside, is a desire to do it! In their spare time, anyone can take a walk and reap the benefits of being outdoors, as well as enjoy the experience. Being outdoors at school is the same!
No one is asking you to teach bushcraft or lead a multi-day camping trip during the average day at school (and if they are it’s hopefully within a speciality programme and you signed up for it/were prepared to do so). Outdoor learning can be as simple as doing the exact same lesson you had planned for your indoor classroom, outside at a group of picnic benches. It can develop, grow and take on outdoor survival skills and so on as part of your school’s overall curriculum, but it also in the everyday, small acts.
If not being an avid mountain climber or naturalist is what’s holding you back from taking pupils outside, let that go now! Everyone is welcome outside and you do not need to know the name of every tree or be able to tie a bowline knot to thrive outdoors.
You need Forest School qualifications to lead Outdoor Learning
This one is a huge bugbear of ours at SOuL. There is a widespread belief that staff need a qualification to take children outside at school. This is simply not true. Many schools rely solely on one Forest School trained staff member to lead their outdoor learning sessions. This is restrictive for lots of reasons, and is (and will be) a whole blog post in itself. The message though is that while Forest School activities and training are a nice supplementary offering, there is no substitute for regular, day to day time spent learning outside. Forest school does not equal outdoor learning. All teachers are capable of taking learning outside, in many creative ways.
If you are someone who wants to take your pupils outside for a lesson or activity, yet it feels like you don’t have enough training, think again. You most certainly do! Take that geometry lesson to the playground with pavement chalk or head out to a wooded area of your property and build dens. No one is asking you to do something you aren’t comfortable with or don’t have knowledge of – but to embrace the outdoors in your learning and play at school.
Outdoor Learning costs a lot of money
It’s like anything really, outdoor learning can cost a lot of money and rely on equipment and resources, however it does not and should not have to. The majority of outdoor learning costs nothing, all it takes is for learning to move outdoors. It’s pretty basic at its core. Outdoor learning is learning outdoors. Now, if you have a small budget (or a big one) there are worthwhile additions to your space or props that you’ll enjoy, but they aren’t a must.
If the budget, or lack of, is standing in your way, don’t let it! You do not need a penny to take children outside for reading hour, they can sit under a tree on a nice day and enjoy their surroundings at no extra cost, but with powerful added value. Indoor yoga can easily become outdoor yoga and those improv activities in drama work just as well in the playground as inside the classroom. Continue to advocate for outdoor learning in your school and for money to dedicate to the improvement of your provision, just don’t let it hold you back from getting started.
There’s no time in the day for Outdoor Learning, things are busy enough
Time is tight in the school day and terms fly by with lots of ground to cover. In most settings there’s also the pressures of standardised testing too. First of all, finding the time is most definitely worth it. You can find widespread research and studies to support the benefits of outdoor learning for pupils’ wellbeing, academic performance and enjoyment of learning. However, many teachers still battle SLT attitudes towards prioritising time outside, the timetable and even parental expectations of learning. We argue there is always time to get outside when we get creative. Applying theoretical learning to the real world is time well spent!
If you are struggling to find time in the day to get pupils outside to learn, first of all, don’t give up! Think about the lessons and topics that could work anywhere, literally stepping outside for any length of time is a good thing. The fresh air, change of scenery and movement break is good for everyone. Whether you can find 5 minutes or 5 hours each week, it all counts so keep the momentum going and get outside at any opportunity. Then build from there! It gets easier and more time effective to include regular outdoor learning. It becomes part of everyone’s routine and they know what to expect.