08 November 2019

If I asked you what some of your fondest childhood memories entailed, many of you would reflect on experiences such as riding your bicycle for the first time; exploring the woods, playing with leaves and conkers, and climbing trees; building secret dens or constructing sandcastles on the beach; scaling a jungle gym or kicking a ball about in the park. You will be reminded of the first time you made mud cakes with every intention of eating them; shrieked with delight catching tadpoles, newts and a frog; watched in awe as fireflies lit up the summer nights. The memories of your first camping trip or sleep-out in the back garden will never leave you; searching through rock pools looking for sea creatures and spotting a crab evokes excitement; making your own kite and the hours of sheer perseverance it took getting it airborne and then learning how to keep it flying makes you smile. Most of these experiences will have been outside, where you didn’t think twice about being soaking wet or shivering with cold. You didn’t care about getting dirty, grazes and bruises were part for the course, and adventure lurked around every corner.

What you probably didn’t realise back then was that every time you took off your shoes and ran around barefoot trying to catch butterflies; or jumped and splashed about in puddles of rainwater; rolled around in the grass until you were dizzy from the tumbles – you were learning something. Perhaps it was that flying creatures and jumping amphibians are quite hard to catch; when rolled into balls and thrown at you, soft snow actually stings, or that your meticulously crafted snowman wouldn’t last forever; falling out of trees and breaking your arm hurts; or that mud cakes don’t taste like cakes at all… But did that stop you from doing these things all over again and again? Probably not… Although next time you likely tackled each new adventure with a bit more wisdom and insight.

That’s the beauty of outdoor learning – it works because it leverages the three ingredients inherent in all children and young people: curious minds, active imaginations and a keen sense of play. When they are afforded the opportunity to put these into practice using nature as their playground, we see them develop a greater sense of awareness of their environment and a knack for quickly learning how to use the tools at their disposal. They waste no time adapting to their surroundings, finding ways to be creative, problem-solve and communicate effectively with their peers to achieve their outcomes. In the process their self-confidence grows, they learn how to manage risk, and they become more resilient. But they also have fun, a key factor that ensures their learning is successful.

There is a plethora of data that evidences the importance and impact of high quality outdoor learning experiences for children and young people. The early organisation of movements such as the Scouts in the UK, Forest Schools in Denmark, Outward Bound network in Germany realised this early on. In 1956, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards introduced new ways of encouraging young people to develop self-awareness, including taking part in an adventurous expedition and residential, the first of these departing from Woodrow High House in February 1957. Today we celebrate Outdoor Classroom Day as a reminder that learning is the sum of much more than what we read in books.

Outdoor learning from an early age inspires an appreciation and respect for our natural world and in many cases instils a lifelong love of nature. Children and young people are born naturalists who explore the world around them through their fine-tuned senses, absorbing every spectacular detail that in turn, invokes their natural tendencies to find out more about what they don’t understand. Future musicians are inspired by the orchestral like of displays of light and sound a thunderous rain storm brings. The next generation of adventurers are borne of the freedoms experienced, climbing to the top of the waterfall and jumping into the lake below. Tomorrow’s astronauts are amongst those who spent their childhood holidays camping under a canopy of stars wondering if they would ever spot the man on the moon.

“Nature breeds curiosity; it helps to grow explorers rather than robots. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger. It grounds us, calms us.” Dr Ben Palmer-Fry

Let’s not forget that. Encourage your children and young people to go outside, take off their shoes and feel the earth between their toes, build a bug hotel and watch nature’s tiny creatures check in, look up and make shapes from clouds in the sky. Let them get dirty and muddy, taste the raindrops as they fall on their faces, allow them to feel nature and marvel at it. Being outside is healthy, good for overall wellbeing, and ensures more well-balanced human beings because of it.


Asti, Head of Woodrow High House