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A lady shows a child in a wheelchair a soft blackbird toy

04 Jan 2022

Creating a lifestyle of outdoor learning

How to embed an outdoor sensory approach into a lifestyle of learning

Article by Lynsey Robinson

How to embed an outdoor sensory approach into a lifestyle of learning

The benefits of nature and the outdoor learning for mainstream school children are well documented. From cultivating resilience to developing confidence and self-awareness the movement has many advocates and is growing in popularity.

Less frequently talked about are children with disabilities and how outdoor learning can be equally if not more beneficial. From the physiological benefits of fresh air and looking into the longer distance to confidence building and social skills, outdoor learning has so many benefits for children with disabilities. Nevertheless, logistics, staffing and budgets can often impede the best will in the world to integrate regular outdoor learning sessions and this is something that needs addressing. We have been working hard to create an environment for effective and long-lasting outdoor learning in special schools throughout the South West.

A child in a wheelchair opens the door of a bird box with two adults in a garden

Attitudes influence outcomes

By creating thoughtful, inclusive resources children with disabilities are able to have meaningful and engaging experiences outside. Our resources foster a spirit of independence, allowing children to take part in outdoor learning in ways that best suit their needs. In our experience however, the tipping point for success in initiatives such as these are the attitudes of the staff. Our approach is therefore to invest time in building skills and motivation with teachers through our training programme.

Inspiring, motivating and equipping teachers with both the know-how and the why for outdoor learning is key to driving a lasting impact rather than a one-off intervention. Teachers comment that the training reminds them of the importance of being outdoors and the positive differences they see in their students when they spend time outdoors.

One school that really ran with this approach was Curnow School in Redruth, Cornwall. Curnow shares our belief that connecting children with nature supports their mental health and wellbeing, and inclusive outdoor spaces provide valuable learning opportunities. Lead teacher Jenny Buckland commented “Normally we have to take resources and adapt them for our students, these are designed for them and because they have the different levels they work for everyone.”

Looking down at a table full of different resources for use outside
A display of some of the resources provided to special schools to help with outdoor learning

A lasting impact

Simple things we’ve seen demonstrated at Curnow school that make all the difference in implementing an outdoor learning programme include.

  1. Don’t hide away. Resources should be easy to locate.
  2. Ready to go. Resources should be ready to grab and go and not require any preparation.
  3. Share. Making a clear inventory will help other teachers to know what options for outdoor learning are available.
  4. Inspire. Sharing positive stories and moments from outdoor learning will inspire and motivate fellow teachers and staff.
  5. Regularity. Make a regular day of the week to hold outdoor sessions, this helps with keeping a sense of consistency.

It is always obvious from the staff and especially the students how much love there is for being outside. We’ve seen agitated children become calm, we’ve watched anxious pupils relax and best of all we’ve seen the smiles on faces!

A selection of our teaching resources can be downloaded for free from TES.