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A group of school students walking in a line through the Eden gardens

How to introduce outdoor learning in your school

So, you’ve probably heard the benefits of outdoor learning a dozen times; alert, happy, healthy, well-socialised kids learning all sorts of curriculum-based subjects by doing…

But when it comes to actually introducing outdoor learning into your teaching, we know it can feel a bit daunting. That’s why our Schools Team, who have lots of experience delivering these sorts of outdoor activities – as well as helping teachers do the same in their school – have produced a quick guide to get you started.


Quick guide

1. Just start

Don’t wait until you’ve ‘done’ your playground or built an outdoor classroom, or whatever grand vision you might have, to start teaching out of doors. Instead, begin with what you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got a square of tarmac; it still offers a different learning environment and experience to being indoors. You’ll find that once you start using your school grounds regularly for learning, you’ll start to see new possibilities as to how to develop them.

2. Train the children

It might take a while for your pupils to get their heads around going outside to learn – rather than just for playtime. So start with some really small, easy-win activities and be prepared to spend a significant proportion of your first few sessions sorting out things like coats and wellies. At Eden we like doing some blindfold activities early on. Get children to work in pairs to guide each other around the space, making sure their partner has as many different sensory experiences as possible.

3. Forage and Collect

Use as much natural stuff as much as possible. We often start our sessions with a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt to collect the inspiration and resources needed. Foraging and collecting helps children connect to nature, the seasons and their local environment. Keep a record of what you use and need, and embed this in your school grounds development plan so your ideas and approach can flourish. 

We also love a bargain. One of our favourite outdoor learning resources is a bucket full of Ken and Barbies – all sourced for £1 a piece from local charity shops. In their current incarnation they are Captain Ken and Brigadier Barbie, intrepid explorers of strange and exotic lands. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, the Scrapstore is a treasure trove for loose parts and creativity. Magpie and steal ideas too - it’s the greatest compliment!

4. Learn to love a risk assessment

Honestly. Risk assessments are your friends; they enable you to do cool and interesting stuff with your children safely. The DfE’s latest guidance concurs; ‘Children should be able to experience a wide range of activities. Health and safety measures should help them to do this safely, not stop them.’ Check out this sample risk assessment from one of our outdoor lesson plans. 

5. Mix it up

Be messy, be noisy, be solitary, be very quiet indeed… Use all the aspects of being outdoors to maximise the benefit for your pupils. How about shadow sculptures on a sunny day? Or what about estimating and measuring in non-standard units, e.g. how many leaves would we need to cross the playground or cover the drain cover? That’s a good one for autumn.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to have trees, give them faces so that they can tell stories about what happens when the children aren’t there. Air dry modelling clay works brilliantly. See – you couldn’t do this stuff inside, could you?

6. Treat it as a must-have, not a nice-to-have

Your outdoor space is a free asset that you can use to enhance learning across the curriculum – there’s a growing body of evidence to support the benefits to learning, social skills and health. So be as robust in your planning, differentiation, assessment and record keeping for outdoor learning as you would indoors.

7. Get help

‘Outdoor learning’, ‘learning in natural environments’, ‘learning outside the classroom’, ‘Forest School’, ‘school gardening’ – whatever you’re after, there’s a stack of information, advice and training out there to help you build your confidence and make great outdoor things happen. We can help you find a way that works for your school. Explore the Eden Project's outdoor learning development opportunities.

Teacher training at Eden