What is the UK's biggest outdoor learning programme? Why do we need them now? What impact have they already created? In this expert series, GoStudent gives you an exclusive interview with the pioneers building a new era of outdoor learning!
Is This Programme The Turning Point For Outdoor Learning In The UK?
In our GoStudent expert talks we speak to experts in the field of education! Find out more on real-life insights from leaders in the ed-industry. 🚀
Outdoor learning has many great benefits. From mixing academics with play, being mentally therapeutic to promoting independent learning, it is an enriching resource for students.
That is why at GoStudent, we are super excited about the Nature Friendly Schools (NFS) project – a ground-breaking programme dedicated to creating an “outdoor learning capacity and legacy in schools across the UK, long after the project has concluded.”
The project, which is funded by the Department for Education and Defra with support from Natural England, is run by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts along with a number of other educational partners.
According to this report, the NFS project has already worked in 90 schools, enabling 16,000 pupils to benefit from learning in nature, training 500 teachers in outdoor learning and supporting pupils’ mental health and greening 30 school grounds. Through this year they aim to get 30,000 more disadvantaged children to learn outside.🌳
So GoStudent decided to have an exclusive chat with Nature Friendly Schools project manager, Jenny Teague. Where we discussed the positive impacts of the NFS project and its future plans!
👉 What is the importance of the project in a pandemic?
JT: The project actually gained momentum during the pandemic.
❇️ Physical and Mental Wellbeing
Schools have needed us more than ever to support their pupil’s transition back into formal learning, and to increase the amount of time spent learning outdoors, where it was safer during the height of the pandemic.
Though it’s just not academically that students have suffered, it’s also emotionally and socially.
A core part of the programme is supporting children to build resilience. Outdoor learning encourages team working, adopting different team roles (such as leadership), problem-solving and taking risks. These experiences enable students to sense achievement, accomplishment, and a sense of belonging. ✊
👉 How does the project hope to benefit disadvantaged students?
JT : All of the schools that we work with have free school meal status of 30% or above. We know that children attending these schools have less access to nature and green space when compared to their peers in different economic groups.
❇️ Building Resilience
One of our partners; YoungMinds – the leading youth mental health charity in the UK, compliments the outdoor learning delivery by facilitating virtual training sessions with the teachers, on ways to support and develop the overall resilience in students.
We feel the more resilient a child is, the better equipped they are to cope with mental wellbeing barriers they may be experiencing at home. 👊
❇️ Providing Role Models
We’re also working on making the project more culturally inclusive, so that all children can really believe that nature is for them.
So we consult with teachers and pupils about what their needs are and make adaptations to our materials, delivery style or technique to ensure all children feel safe and confident to participate. This might be translating our resources into different languages, providing adapted resources to support children with special educational needs or adjusting how we run our sessions with pupils.
We are also starting to involve volunteer groups from the school’s local community, so students feel better represented. 🙂
👉 What have been some of the most positive impacts of the project?
JT: It’s incredible that many of the schools we have worked with now offer an entire day of outdoor learning, on a weekly basis.When our initial target was only two hours a week! 💪
It just goes to show that children really come alive outside and teachers can see its benefits.
❇️ Sparking Curiosity
Teachers have reported that students love being outside and get really interested in the different types of plants and wildlife that surrounds them.
This helps spark curiosity in them in ways that that improves their engagement with the lessons they are learning inside as well. 👊
❇️ Developing Self-Confidence
Teachers feel that outdoor learning has been transformational for children who have very complex needs.
Those students in particular have worked in groups outside and taken on responsibilities. This has helped them to develop a deep sense of self-confidence.
❇️ Expressing Feelings
When children are going through a really bad time they can’t always talk about it, but being outdoors can often help them express it in other visual ways.
A particularly moving story from one of the schools we worked with was when a student was able to express his troubles through nature. ⛰
He surrounded a conker with leaves and twigs, and described that as nature protecting the heart of his sick relative. This was really powerful because nature helped him process his complex emotions.
What’s next for the NFS project? 🤔
The project is most likely to extend till the end of 2022. Though the team hopes that with more funding they can continue the project even after the following year!
Teague says that schools that have benefited from the project are already acting as “trailblazers” by sharing their knowledge on outdoor learning with other local schools. So she sees the project as a catalyst for creating a larger community and movement for outdoor learning!
Though as parents do you find that school assignments take time away from exploring the outdoors with your children? 🤯
Don’t worry, GoStudent is here to help you! We support students to maximise their academic performance. Which allows parents to spend more meaningful time with their children. Book a free trial with our tutors here!