Using an outdoor curriculum to boost wellbeing
Explore how schools across the UK are using an outdoor learning curriculum to support pupil wellbeing after the pandemic.
Applications for our Local School Nature Grants have shown that an increasing number of schools are citing pupil wellbeing and resilience as reasons for taking lessons outdoors.
“We’ve seen first-hand that, after Covid and lockdown restrictions, some of our children have developed issues with their wellbeing – confidence, communication, and separation issues to name just a few,” says Andrew Neale-Crane, an early years and English leader at Yorkmead Primary in Birmingham. “So we decided to develop our entire curriculum to include outdoor learning, to help tackle some of these issues and improve the children’s experiences.”
Yorkmead Primary was one of thousands of schools to apply for one of our Local School Nature Grants last year. Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the grant scheme gives schools and early year settings across England, Scotland, and Wales access to free staff training and £500 of outdoor learning equipment of their choice.
But while outdoor learning has often been seen as an extracurricular ‘Forest School’ activity or an occasional option on sunny days, an increasing number of schools applying for our Local School Nature Grants are instead choosing to build outdoor learning directly into their curriculum. For Yorkmead Primary, outdoor learning provided a clear solution for helping pupils’ mental wellbeing following the pandemic.
“Since developing our outdoor environment and teaching more lessons outside, we’ve already seen a very positive impact on the wellbeing of our reception children. They’ve made significant progress – particularly in their communication skills and in their own personal, social, and emotional development,” continues Andrew.
“One child had suffered with serious separation issues but now loves coming to school and is engaging really positively with his peers and his learning.”
“Our trainer, Cindy, gave us some great ideas, tips, and activities to help us with children’s learning in the environment. This has inspired us to plan a week of environmental art, based around Andy Goldsworthy, during which nursery and reception children will have constant access to the outdoor area.”
“We hope that the children will continue to grow in confidence and overcome their communication issues through learning outdoors.”
Another grant recipient, City Academy in Norwich, has also been harnessing outdoor learning to help pupils’ wellbeing.
“In the first lockdown, we decided to offer an outdoor learning package and it massively helped our most vulnerable pupils,” says Jenny Kitson-Cook, Assistant Head of SEND at the school. “In the second lockdown, we couldn’t do this and we really noticed the difference in their mental wellbeing and ability to access learning.”
“They found the return to school much harder without outdoor learning.”
“I applied for the grant to be able to take some of the amazing practice we did on a small scale and increase staff confidence and knowledge. We’ve learned that our children thrive in outdoor learning opportunities, so now we want to apply it on a much bigger scale and include it as a natural part of our curriculum lessons.”
Schools and early year settings across England, Scotland, and Wales can apply for a Local School Nature Grant. Alternatively, consider exploring our wide range of outdoor learning training courses for further guidance on how to build outdoor learning into your school’s curriculum.