Outdoor learning spaces for stimulating creativity and wellbeing
Learn by doing
It has been well documented that outdoor learning offers a wealth of benefits from well being to active learning and engagement.
The all-important connection to nature and the outdoors, is what drives curiosity and helps develop problem-solving skills that stimulate feelings of confidence and self-worth.
Typically, some early learning years had limited access to outdoor spaces either because of safeguarding in schools or deprived urban areas with limited green spaces.
With the global pandemic locking down most public spaces and parks, schools are now prioritising outdoor learning as part of its core curriculum.
Olivier Blanc, Founder of Henri le Worm (The go-to brand for kids cooking and gardening) and ambassador of Love British Food told us. “Outdoor learning does not require a huge amount of space. A 4x4m plot is ample to grow fresh herbs and seasonal produce. Local businesses and communities are often keen to volunteer and help with setting up small scale gardens.
“Making pupils accountable with each having a role in planting, harvesting, and selling produce, they are actively learning about sustainability and commerce.”
Olivier worked alongside Charlton Manor Primary School where they piloted a grassroot scheme to enrich pupils’ learning and provide an essential outdoor classroom environment to help students of all abilities and backgrounds thrive.
Subsequently, the school has thrived and gone on to achieve several accolades, recognition of its achievements such as ‘RHS Five Star Gardening School’, Eco-Schools Award’ and ‘Healthy Schools’.
Headteacher of Charlton Manor, Tim Baker is a strong advocate for outdoor learning and healthy eating and has championed many initiatives to promote this ethos.
High quality outdoor learning combined with food education is the recipe for success
Combining high quality outdoor learning with food education, Charlton Manor has made this an integral part of its unique and innovative curriculum.
Tim told us “Since the rollout of TV Chef, Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners project 12 years ago, we have witnessed some significant changes. We even carried out a survey on the pupils that participated in this grassroots healthy eating and growing initiative, and we were astounded by the results!
“The results revealed that over 90% of the children stated that it helped them with their maths understanding. Some pupils had previously had trouble interpreting, visualising, or understanding how to read a ‘flat’ picture of scales with the needle pointing to either pounds or grams, or understanding proportions. The teaching kitchen and garden offered the practical opportunity to apply context in real life scenarios. As the saying goes ‘We do, we learn’.”
Tim is the visionary and founder the Roots 4 Life Charity, an initiative to promote healthy living and eating to some of the most disadvantaged families in London. Having secured a disused outbuilding and land, he is now leading this capacity build to enable the benefits to be accessible by a far larger number of children and a greater number of schools.
A grass roots story
We attended and supported the recent launch of ‘The Baker Centre’, a new educational building sat in 8 acres of land in Eltham, South East London. This will serve as a teaching kitchen and café using its extensive grounds for growing seasonal produce to serve the wider community, promoting wellbeing, and combating childhood obesity.
The launch took place Thursday 15th April and 40 local families from the surrounding area were invited to attend a socially distanced picnic and outdoor trail/ nature scavenger hunt.
We were proud to have helped volunteer in the kitchen, where Olivier Blanc rustled up some simple but delicious salad recipes which evidently went down well after families returned for a second helping!
Whatever the size of space, get planting!
All schools have the capabilities of creating scaled down growing projects.
There are many ways of creating outdoor learning environments that can be fun, emotionally rewarding, safe and with unlimited freedom for pupils to be able to direct their learning and develop their own appreciation of the natural world.
As well as teaching pupils about the circle of life, growing sustainable food and having a vested interest in the fruits of their labour, through that connection to nature, spirits are lifted which in turn enhances wellbeing. Outdoor environments also encourage physical activity and provides that ‘classroom-of-clouds’ multisensory experience which feeds back into that virtuous circle.
“The more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves.” Roald Dahl.
Below is the Envoplan outdoor learning considerations for moving the classroom outdoors.
Grow: Empowering pupils to tend a garden, planting fresh herbs and growing seasonal produce that can be sold or consumed within the community, educating children on where food comes from and promoting sustainability.
Autonomy: Flexible outdoor learning environments- an extension of the indoor classroom experience offering greater independence, engagement and enjoyment that actively stimulates self-directed learning.
Reading: Tranquil spaces are just as vital as stimulating spaces. Consider recycling furniture or repurposing tree trunks as an area to facilitate personal reading and providing a space for contemplation and mindfulness.
Drama: Create an open theatre for dramatic play areas where pupils can use their creativity and imagination for roleplay, musical workshops, and other sporting activities.
Environment: Encourage environmental responsibility and holistic development of pupils.
Nature: Offer opportunities for pupils to examine and explore natural items such as leaves bark and stones. An opportunity to get their hands in the earth and connect with nature.