A final report of the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016, released by Natural England, presents the key findings from a 4 year initiative to help school children - particularly those from disadvantages areas - experience the benefits of the natural environment by empowering teachers to use the outdoors to support everyday learning.
The report found that the fundamental challenges to learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE) in schools were local and revolved around a lack of teacher confidence in teaching outside and fragmentation of LINE service provision. These findings underpin the more traditional cited challenges of curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost.
It is interesting to read that the concerns and challenges we have typically associated with outdoor learning are not necessarily the day-to-day issues that schools are facing. It is exciting to see a project as big as this helping more than 40,000 primary and secondary school pupils get out of their classrooms and outside.
The Natural Connections Demonstration Project has focused on teachers and the importance of giving them the confidence to take outdoor learning outside in an effective, productive and fun way.
The Environment Minister Rory Stewart has said of the project:
“We learn to love nature as children, and our commitment to nature later in life – respecting it, protecting it, restoring it, or simply enjoying it – is built on that childhood foundation. That’s why it’s so important we give all children the chance to experience the natural world.
What’s clever about this project is it listens to teachers, it works with the grain of an individual school, and it works out how to get children into the outdoors while improving their curriculum experience.”
Empowering teachers to take lessons outside can help continue the fantastic results seen by the Natural Connections Project. According to the findings, 92% of teachers surveyed said that pupils were more engaged with learning when outdoors and 85% saw a positive impact on their behaviours. Equally as, if not more, importantly 92% of pupils said they enjoyed their lessons more outdoors and 90% felt happier and healthier as a result.
All of the stats are there to highlight the benefits of outdoor learning and now we have a better grasp of the challenges and concerns that are influencing schools and teachers. The key now is to ensure that teachers have local support to move freely between the classroom and the outdoors.