Imagine the scene—your Head comes in, looking harassed. The Government has ordered that all pupils should spend a minimum of 10% of their curriculum time outdoors, and PE is not to be included in this calculation.
What would be your first thought? That you don’t have enough space? What could you do with them? What would happen to the learning? What about rain?
As the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of a small Primary Academy Trust in west London, this is a long term aim of ours. All three schools are in built-up areas, and we have worked hard to begin developing our outdoor spaces to make them more curriculum-friendly.
All the evidence points to children spending less and less time outside, with 74% of children spending less than an hour playing outside each day. This contrasts with UN guidelines that prisoners have the right to one hour’s outdoor exercise each day as a minimum.
So why are we such advocates of outdoor learning? Being outside brings a multitude of benefits— children are able to concentrate for longer, ask more questions, and are more engaged with their learning when outdoors. We are working hard to bring more of the curriculum outside— Art, Maths, English, Science and Geography all leap comfortably into outdoor spaces, be it creating poetry under the canopy of a sycamore, to digging under the ground to test the acidity of the soil. Behaviour improves and different characters emerge. In one session recently, one child kept exclaiming “oh, I’ve never done this before” so often it became a catchphrase.
For some schools, shelter from the weather is a priority. Although the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is generally true, children can cope with about sixty minutes of wet weather before starting to struggle. Children should, at the very least, be armed with coats to stave off wet or windy weather, and teachers can ask for a Welly Collection from parents— paired with beefy bulldog clips for hanging soggy gear.
If you have no outside shelters (either manmade or natural), buy a gazebo sail and find the funds to have three posts put up— these work perfectly. You could even look on websites like Freegle for actual windsails (we got four this way).
The first approach to taking more lessons outside starts with a good look at the timetable for the week. Look at the lessons which absolutely have to be taught indoors, and cross them off. Next, consider the lessons which would be enhanced by using outdoor spaces, although often just a change of scene can reinvigorate a class, make your outdooring more than simply this. Finding isosceles triangles in nature is ridiculously more interesting than a worksheet and greater depth can easily occur with protractors. Collecting and measuring leaf angles will position the memory far more successfully than the lesson you would carry out inside a classroom.
Try it, just for a week. Find two lessons which would zing by happening outside, then make the leap. You won’t look back.
Stephen Lockyer is the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of the Lumen Learning Trust in outer west London, where new staff are issued with fleeces as part of their welcome package.