School Grounds for
Outdoor Learning and Play

School grounds can offer a rich learning environment, extending and deepening what can be taught indoors. School grounds are also a place of play – the foremost way in which children engage and learn about the world around them. As our children spend more time being sedentary, indoors and alone, the opportunities to socialise, be active and engage with nature have never been more important.

Learning through Landscapes was born from the need to recognise how important school grounds are for learning and play. For 30 years LtL has championed better school and early years grounds use, design and management, an approach which maximizes the benefits of play and regular, quality outdoor learning time for all pupils, of all ages.

Read below for useful information and tools to help develop your outdoor spaces.

If you would like to find out more about training opportunities, please follow the link below.

The Impact of Good School Grounds

The good news is that school grounds’ and early years’ outdoor spaces are created to be safe, engaging, and happy places for children to be. School grounds are accessible, do not require any additional paperwork or increased adult ratios in order to be used and offer excellent value for money. More than half of all outdoor learning happens within the school grounds and up to 40% of children’s physical activity happens here too. Our research tells us that improvements in school grounds leads to:

  • Over 83% of schools reporting that better grounds and practice led to more active play, better quality of play, more social interaction and more enjoyment of break time.
  • Over half of schools reported less bullying, less time spent sorting playtime issues and better attitudes towards learning.
  • 73% of schools reported improved behaviour –  during formal learning time as well as break time.
  • Over half of the schools saw a rise in academic performance, with over 90% of pupils showing better behaviour, learning, health and wellbeing when in an outdoor lesson.
  • Nearly 90% of schools reported an increase in perceived quality of the environment, by staff, pupils, parents, and community.
  • Half of all schools reported wider use of their grounds, outside of the school day, with a drop in vandalism to match the community involvement.

Source: Learning through Landscapes National School Grounds Survey and Natural Connections Project

Resources and Information

At LtL we have a large library of outdoor learning and school play guidance, outdoor lesson ideas, school grounds design case studies and school grounds development tools. We have the resources to help you improve your school or nursery grounds, change mindsets and professional practices, and support sustained use of your outdoor space.

LtL has always been a membership organisation – we believe we are stronger when connected together. Our termly newsletter for subscribers and full LtL members is packed with ideas, resources and funding sources. Members also get access to exclusive resources, phone advice from our staff, discounts on LtL outdoor learning training courses and discounts from a variety of outdoor learning and play suppliers.

Quality school grounds design and development advice

It is very easy to reach for the ‘thing’, the play item or shiny catalogue seating system. Our experience shows that starting by changing culture, policies, attitudes and knowledge is a more sustainable and powerful starting place.

Through this, we consider what experiences we would like our learners to have. For example, do we want physical challenge such as running, jumping and balancing. Should we develop spaces to encourage contact with nature, calmness, and social interactions. Maybe we would like our children to learn how to manage risk – and the emotions which go with everyday physical, emotional and social risk-taking. Our values may be underpinned by aiming to improve health and wellbeing or raising attainment. Whatever your starting point, figuring this out is vitally important.

But we also believe getting the children and young people’s views are essential too. They are the experts on the school grounds and they are the ones that know every nook and cranny, where the cold wind blows in the winter or where it gets baking hot in the summer, where there are signs of wildlife or where the older pupils dominate the space. They are the ones who will be outside the most and they, if we are honest, the ones with the best ideas for change! We believe it is vital they are properly part of the consultation process and we have loads of ideas of ways to engage them with this from the very young, to those thinking about careers and training when they leave school.

We have a number of good starting points: watch our natural play in schools video, look through our school grounds audit tools, or consider the simple ‘process of change’. By gathering this data, you can start with what you have and do already and put together a team of pupils, staff, parents and governors together to get you started.

However, if you are not sure where to start we also offer an Advisory Visit service, right through to a full design of school grounds service in partnership with the LtL Accredited Network.

Policies, guidance, and publications on school grounds

We have ‘written the book’ when it comes to great school and nursery grounds.

As well as our own school grounds publications, we have written national policy and advice for local and national government bodies, other charities, and individual schools and nurseries.

We are founding members of the International School Grounds Alliance (click) and lead in the UK on the global ‘Outdoor Classroom Day’ movement.

Our work has been underpinned by strong vision and values, expressed in and connected to various helpful documents.

Training for staff, children, and parents

Our knowledge is of no use unless we can share it with you, your children, colleagues and parents. Our outdoor learning training and play training is delivered nationally (and internationally!) either as part of our projects or individually to schools, nurseries, local authorities and academy chains. We offer a broad range of training courses ‘off the shelf’ as well as bespoke courses to meet your individual aims.

Although most of our courses are half or full day, we also offer long-term training in outdoor learning and play. Both our Lead Teacher in Outdoor Learning and our Teaching in Nature programmes offer an alternative to costly and narrow-focused Forest Schools qualifications. For Early Years we offer Lead Practitioner in outdoor play and learningNurture Nature and Forest Kindergarten as in-depth and long-term training options.

You can read more about our courses and conferences by clicking here.

Our delivery staff team and LtL Accredited Professional network all come from a strong education background – many are teachers and early years educators. All have worked outdoors in conservation, education or science for many years before joining us, whilst our LtL Accredited Network includes landscape architects, outdoor learning consultants and play consultants.

Ideas to transform break time in schools

Transforming play is one of the biggest changes you can make in schools. A starting point here is to consider what children currently do at break, why they do that, and what they would like to do, should they have a choice.

Transforming playtime takes time, it takes resources and leadership and you will make mistakes. As will the children. However, every school we work with expresses the successes and impact on children as the worthwhile goal of better break and playtimes. Happier and healthier pupils, less stress on supervisors and fewer incidents for senior managers to deal with are all successful outcomes of play in school grounds.

A good starting place is our free Playtime Revolution training, play policy exemplars, our school grounds audit tools and school grounds videos. We also suggest you explore advice on loose parts play, on open sand and play logs in school grounds.

We would caution against wasting money on a certain type of play equipment. Ones which appear challenging and fun, and will be the first few weeks after they have been installed, but which rapidly become less than challenging. This then requires more supervision, rotas and rules as children seek to make something exciting and engaging of the dull equipment, ill-designed for the weather, large groups or sustaining of interest.

Ideas for outdoor learning in school grounds and local green spaces

Outdoors is often a better place than indoors to learn, and to that end we have a wealth of free outdoor learning lesson ideas which are all connected to the curriculum. One of the key differences between LtL and many others is this understanding of curriculum and the learning process. Our ideas take the approach of “don’t do more, do different”.

Outdoor learning should not fall to one member of staff to deliver but should be a shared responsibility of all staff. We focus on outdoor lesson ideas and approaches which don’t require an ‘outdoor learning qualification’ – any teacher or early years educator can facilitate the learning.

Outdoor learning funding

We have levered over £25m into schools and early years settings to support outdoor learning and play in the grounds. At any given point we have multiple projects underway, often moving quickly with current themes and needs in our society, environment and schools.

Currently our Local School Nature Grants project is funding better play and learning in schools across all areas of England, Wales and Scotland, supported by the players of the Peoples Postcode Lottery.

Evidence and research

Our work is driven by evidence and research. Many of the documents which underpin our work can be found on our evidence pages.

Sustaining outdoor learning and play for all children

One of our main goals is to see outdoor learning and play so well embedded in the culture of our schools, communities and politicians that LtL is not needed anymore. Realistically, this takes time and concerted effort.

Our advice here is simple: don’t go it alone.

Being the only person in school or nursery championing the outdoors is lonely and tiring. It is also unsustainable, as the knowledge and passion leaves with you. Have at least two of you in the school taking this forward.

Also, get connected to LtL – we will send you a monthly newsletter full of ideas, funding sources and resources to use. As a full LtL member you get access to exclusive resources, discounts on our LtL training and discounts from many suppliers of school grounds equipment, outdoor clothing and more.

Celebrate success in school grounds

Please do share your successes with us – we are more than happy to share your work!

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