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5 fantastic reasons to learn outdoors

Studies have proven that outdoor learning boosts behaviour and teaches essential life skills. As Somerhill School welcomes all pupils back after lockdown thanks to its outdoor classrooms, and innovative use of grounds and space, we ask them to tell us more...

‘The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky,’ so said Margaret McMillan, an educationalist and early pioneer of outdoor learning. Generations past would have spent lots of time outside and childhood was full of memories of nature and adventure, but sadly this is less so the case these days. 

Outdoor learning is not just a way to encourage a love of nature and get kids engaged – it improves their school work and helps them get back to a way of life that we’ve somehow lost. Kathy McLauchlan, head of Somerhill Pre-Prep tells us why all children – from the youngest to the top of the prep school – genuinely benefit from forest school.

Here’s 5 fantastic reasons to learn outdoors…

1. Skills for every school subject

At Somerhill, the Woodland Classroom activities range from fire lighting (using flints) to making minibeast hotels or using berries and soils to create and paint with.

‘Think foraging, plant identification, den building and making magical potions and perfumes…’ says Kathy McLauchlan. ‘All this provides an opportunity to learn new skills, explore, create and be imaginative in the natural environment and develops negotiation, teamwork, resilience, empathy and independence – pretty much most of the skills that are so necessary in your child’s future, grown up life.’

Studies show that the skills they learn outdoors stimulate a thirst for enquiry and scientific exploration and feed into just about every academic subject – from maths to history and everything in between.

2. EYFS really benefit

‘Our youngest children – if given the scaffolding in the woodlands – learn to make their own goals, come to executive decisions, manage risk and keep themselves safe,’ says Kathy. ‘They become problem solvers and high achievers.’

The end result? ‘They are healthier, physically stronger and vision is developed as well as gross and fine motor skills too,’ says early years specialist Kathy. ‘Outdoor play and education is the best medicine for our children. The ideal is high quality outdoor spaces to play, exercise, jump, roam and feel a sense of freedom from any little worries.’

3. Sport and Games grows self-confidence

Outdoor exercise has never been more important – and when the weather is in our favour – as it has been this summer, we have to make the most of it. ‘At Somerhill (during normal timetable) all children have access to weekly swimming, dance, movement, PE and Games – inside or outside!’ says Kathy. Above boys are pictured doing outdoor Pilates exercises during a P.E. lesson.

‘Being active is a normal way of life at our school and all children play cricket, rounders, tennis, tag rugby or take part in cross country and are part of netball, football, rugby and hockey teams further up the school. Our aim is that no one has a fear of failing and everyone feels involved. This again all links back to promoting a positive attitude towards learning,’ explains Kathy. ‘We know that as children move up the school it develops the all-important teamwork and leadership skills so beneficial to older children too.’

4. The outdoors boosts mental health

Lots of children have spent lockdown doing more learning on screens than they would have done normally. Add in the isolation experienced, there has never been a more important time to boost your child’s mental wellbeing. 

‘Forestry England has gathered data from a variety of studies providing scientific evidence that playing in, and even visiting, a forest can improve mood and sustained concentration,’ says Kathy. ‘A child who may be disengaged in the classroom environment, contained and restrained, not able to move freely will present a totally different profile if learning the same skills outside.’

5. Children learn about risk and resilience

In these uncertain times it has never been more important to give our children the skills and ability to adapt and learn to navigate their way through the challenges life throws at them.

The outside is a place to experience safe risk taking in a supported environment, using tools and objects, helping to develop a confidence so children can direct their own learning,’ says Kathy. ‘This avoids the Cotton-wool Child Syndrome! Also as immune systems develop and they are exposed to microbes in the soil this helps children build immunity.’

It’s crucial for children to experience risks in order to understand their limitations. Allowing them to do this at school, in a supervised environment, is the ideal for parents – so win, win!

Want to find out more about Somerhill? Read the Muddy Review here or take a VIRTUAL TOUR of the school by clicking here.

Somerhill, Tonbridge, Kent, TN11 0NJ, Tel: 01732 352 124

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