Outdoor Learning: Unleash Your Child’s Full Potential

Table of Contents

    Learning Outdoors

    Ever felt like your lessons are simply not engaging enough for your students? We understand how frustrating this can be, having gone through the same thing ourselves. Fact is, research shows that outdoor learning can significantly boost student engagement and concentration. This article provides you with practical steps to incorporate outdoor learning into your teaching methods effectively. Ready to bring the classroom outside?.

    Benefits of Learning Outdoors

    Learning outdoors provides numerous benefits.

    Connection with nature and the environment

    We cannot overstate the importance of fostering a deep connection with nature and the environment in children. Experience shows that outdoor learning activities provide immediate and meaningful contact with their natural surroundings.In our hands-on curriculum, we encourage kids to explore, discover, and engage with various elements in nature – as simple as watching an ant carry food or feeling different types of leaves! It’s a joy seeing them marvel at even tiny creatures they find during their explorations. We notice students develop not only a sense of curiosity but also respect for all living things around them. This exposure helps children understand environmental issues better when they get older because what they care about, they take efforts to preserve. Through these interactions outside walls of classrooms, we shape little responsible citizens ready to protect planet Earth! Notably too is the improvement in children’s schooling performance linked directly to education involving nature – truly an amazing win-win for everyone involved!

    Development of practical skills

    Outdoor learning provides a wonderful platform for children to hone their practical skills. We often observe that children develop patience while waiting for seeds they planted to grow or learn resilience by overcoming complexities of constructing a fort from sticks and leaves.Immersing the curriculum in nature also furthers these vital life skills. It promotes problem-solving when children figure out where water collects most after rain, and communication is enhanced as kids engage in negotiations during outdoor group games. Without realising it, our learners are gaining invaluable abilities even as they enjoy outside play, proving learning outdoors to be an efficient method of nurturing such competences.

    Outdoor Learning - Two children at forest school under the parachute
    Forest School

    Improvement of physical and mental health

    Engaging in outdoor learning allows us to reap ample physical health benefits. As we connect with nature, our bodies soak up essential vitamin D from the sun, positively impacting our bone health and immune system function. Regular immersion in the outdoors can also promote increased physical activity amongst us all – a vital aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Outdoor education not only bolsters our physical well-being but also serves as a sanctuary for mental health. Encountering nature reduces anxiety levels and elevates overall feelings of happiness and contentment. Experiences had during outside play stimulate brain chemicals that act as natural stress busters, improving both psychological health and cognitive performance. The sheer exposure to the soothing elements of nature is instrumental in promoting emotional stability and resilience.

    Approaches to Learning Outdoors

    There are various approaches to learning outdoors, including curriculum-led outdoor learning and the Forest School approach.

    Curriculum-led outdoor learning

    Outdoor learning is a fundamental pillar of education. Curriculum-led outdoor learning has deep-rooted benefits that go beyond the traditional classroom setting.

    • It instills a strong connection with nature and the environment in learners. They learn to appreciate the beauty and importance of our natural surroundings, fostering a sense of responsibility towards its preservation.
    • Practical skills are best learnt in an open, hands – on environment where learners can engage directly with tangible materials and resources.
    • Outdoor learning encourages students to understand how different curriculum areas intersect.
    • The development of problem-solving and communication skills occurs naturally in an outdoor setting. Learners get numerous opportunities to tackle real-world scenarios that require critical thinking and decision-making.
    • As educators, we must use it as a tool for inquiry-based learning. This approach encourages open-ended investigations into student’s queries, fostering their curiosity and analytical abilities.
    • In terms of physical health, learners get sufficient exercise during outdoor activities which contributes to their overall wellness.
    • We need to remember the potential impact on mental health too. The tranquillity of nature can alleviate stress levels, enhancing focus and productivity among students.
    • Importantly, research shows that outdoor learning improves child development at all levels. It raises attainment for every learner while supporting their mental well-being and deepening their connection with nature.

    Forest School

    Forest School taps into the compelling environment of nature as a platform for learning. This child-centred approach puts an emphasis on nurturing confidence and self-esteem. It’s not only about classroom theories but offers hands-on experiences, fostering a deeper connection to the natural world.At Forest School, children get ample opportunities to develop social and personal skills that conventional classrooms might limit. They learn resilience, teamwork, problem-solving abilities, and creativity through outdoor play and activity.Research has indeed seen positive impacts from this method in England’s early years education scenario.

    Acquisition of knowledge and skills

    Embracing outdoor learning allows us to inject a unique, practical dimension into teaching. By involving children in hands-on tasks and activities outside the traditional classroom environment, we encourage them to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world contexts.This boosts their understanding and retention of critical concepts through active engagement. For instance, identifying various plants or animals during nature trails can consolidate biological knowledge while building appreciation for biodiversity.Similarly, setting up camps enhances teamwork abilities and survival skills as they figure out how to create shelters from basic materials available around them. These countless opportunities not only foster a thorough comprehension of key subjects but also hone essential life skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity; equipping our young learners for successful futures outside school boundaries.

    Outdoor Learning Ks1 child in the woods

    Changes in Behaviour and Attitudes of Outdoor Learning

    Stepping outside the traditional classroom often leads to remarkable transformations in our students. We notice improved behaviours such as enhanced focus and reduced disruptions. This shift primarily stems from the immersive, hands-on nature of outdoor learning which encourages active participation and engagement.The outdoors also foster a sense of freedom, reducing negative attitudes towards learning while instilling curiosity and an eagerness to explore new concepts. Furthermore, practical skills acquired through learning outdoors tend to stick with students more than those learned indoors due to the direct application and experience gained in real-world contexts.Therefore, integrating this approach can significantly modulate classroom dynamics positively by moulding students’ behaviours and attitudes for their academic journey ahead.

    Make Outdoor Learning Accessible for Children with Disabilities:

    Here are some suggestions for simple adaptations teachers can make to ensure outdoor learning is fully inclusive and accessible for learners with disabilities. Many of these are best practice for supporting children with SEN in your class anyway:

    • Clear pathways/routes – Remove obstacles and define clear pathways around the outdoor space so learners using mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs can navigate easily.
    • Seating options – Have a variety of seating like benches, stools and mats placed around so learners can choose what suits their needs e.g. back/wheelchair support.
    • Ramps for elevation changes – Install temporary or permanent ramps instead of steps where there are changes in ground level to ensure all learners can access different areas.
    • Shaded areas – Provide some shaded sections using structures like a gazebo or large umbrella for learners who are sensitive to sunlight or heat.
    • Adapt activity instructions – Use multiple modes like visual supports, signs, demonstrations to ensure activities can be understood by all learners including those with hearing/processing impairments.
    • Adapt materials if needed – For e.g. provide larger grip scissors, adapted rulers for visually impaired learners or resources with high color/texture contrast for learners with visual needs.
    • Tools for physical participation – Provide adapted tools like raised beds, sturdy extendable trowels, for gardening to enable participation of learners with limited mobility/grip.
    • Supervision ratios – Increase adult supervision for activities involving movement, risks to ensure safety of all learners according to their needs.

    Resources for Learning Outdoors

    There are numerous free activities and resources available for educators to use in order to facilitate learning outdoors.

    11 Outdoor lesson and play ideas

    We understand that teachers are always looking for new and engaging ways to enhance their students’ learning experiences. That’s why we have compiled a list of outdoor lesson and play ideas that are perfect for bringing the curriculum to life in an exciting and hands-on way. So, here are some examples of free outdoor play and learning activities teaching ideas:to get you started:

    1. Scavenger hunts: Create a scavenger hunt where students have to find and identify different objects in nature, such as leaves, rocks, or insects.
    2. Nature art: Encourage creativity by allowing students to create art using natural materials they find outside, like pinecones, leaves, or flowers.
    3. Planting seeds: Teach students about the life cycle of plants by having them plant their own seeds and care for them throughout the year.
    4. Outdoor science experiments: Take science lessons outdoors by conducting experiments that explore topics like weather, forces of nature, or animal habitats.
    5. Mapping activities: Have students practice mapping skills by creating their own maps of the school grounds or nearby parks.
    6. Nature journals: Foster observation skills and a love for nature by having students keep nature journals where they can document their findings during outdoor explorations.
    7. Outdoor storytelling: Use the natural environment as inspiration for storytelling activities where students can take turns creating imaginative stories with elements from their surroundings this is perfect for our Autumn Forest Sensory Story.
    8. Team building games: Develop teamwork and communication skills through fun outdoor games like relay races, obstacle courses, or cooperative challenges.
    9. Environmental projects: Engage students in environmental stewardship by organizing projects like litter clean-ups or creating bird feeders to support local wildlife.
    10. Nature photography: Encourage students to capture the beauty of nature through photography projects where they can showcase their unique perspectives on the world around them.
    11. Windy day activities – Read our article for 19 things to do with your class on a windy day.

    Incorporating outdoor learning into daily routines

    Incorporating outdoor learning into our daily routines offers numerous benefits. It helps develop skills of enquiry, critical thinking, and reflection in children and young people. The outdoor learning environment encourages learners to use their imagination and build cognitive and social skills. Additionally, it provides practical activities that develop skills in measuring, compass and bearing work, and gathering and handling data. Promoting outdoor learning in schools also offers physical and mental health benefits. Lastly, outdoor learning can help students see their learning in new and exciting ways, while also increasing fitness levels and engagement.

    Creating Spaces to Play Outdoors


    In conclusion, learning outdoors offers numerous benefits for students. It helps them connect with nature, develop practical skills, and improve their physical and mental health. By incorporating outdoor learning into daily routines and utilising free resources, educators can provide a rich learning experience that enhances engagement, concentration, and critical thinking skills.Embracing the power of outside play is essential for children to thrive academically and emotionally.


    1. What does learning outdoors mean?

    Learning outdoors refers to the concept of using natural settings and early years outdoor resources for educational purposes, this can include beach school and forest schools as well as parks, ponds or open areas.

    2. Why is learning outdoors important?

    Learning outdoors provides a hands-on, interactive experience that can enhance children’s understanding and appreciation of nature.

    3. Can all subjects be taught in an outdoor setting?

    Yes! Using early years outdoor resources, educators can creatively teach traditional classroom subjects in a more engaging way.

    4. What are some examples of early years outdoor resources?

    Early years outdoor resources play a vital role in fostering children’s learning and development. These resources encompass a wide range of elements, including objects found in nature, structured play equipment, and environmental features like gardens or ponds.

    When children engage with outdoor resources, they are given the opportunity to explore and interact with the natural world. This hands-on experience allows them to develop their cognitive, physical, and social skills in a holistic manner.

    Objects found in nature, such as leaves, stones, sticks, and flowers, spark children’s curiosity and creativity. They can be used for various purposes, from building imaginative structures to creating artistic compositions. By engaging with these natural materials, children learn about different textures, shapes, and colors, and develop a deeper appreciation for their environment.

    Structured play equipment, such as slides, swings, and climbing frames, not only provide physical exercise but also promote gross motor skills, balance, coordination, and spatial awareness. These resources encourage children to engage in active play, enabling them to develop their physical capabilities and improve their overall well-being.

    Incorporating environmental elements like gardens or ponds into early years’ outdoor spaces promotes an understanding of the natural world. Gardens provide opportunities for children to witness the growth and transformation of plants, learn about the life cycle, and develop a sense of responsibility as they care for the plants. Ponds, on the other hand, offer unique learning experiences by introducing children to the wonders of aquatic life and fostering an understanding of ecosystems.

    Facts about Outdoor Learning and Further Reading

    General Facts

    1. Outdoor learning promotes physical and emotional health.

    2. Direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and mental well-being.

    3. Outdoor learning reduces stress in young learners.

    4. Green plants and vistas have a calming effect on students.

    5. Outdoor learning has been found to boost confidence, social skills, and communication.

    6. It also improves motivation, physical skills, knowledge, and understanding.7. Outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential, according to teachers.

    8. Children are happier when they have access to outdoor play.

    9. Outdoor learning increases children’s engagement and concentration.

    10. Outdoor learning develops critical and creative thinking skills in children.

    Connecting with nature and the environment, Benefits of Learning Outdoors

    1. Outdoor learning experiences on school grounds lead to a natural connection with nature and the environment.

    2. Learning outdoors helps build social, cultural, and nature connections, supporting identity, self-awareness, and character development.

    3. Education that involves nature can improve schooling performance.

    4. Physical activity in a natural outdoor environment is linked to positive health benefits, including an increase in vitamin D.

    5. Learning outdoors has multiple benefits for school children, including improved emotional well-being, increased self-esteem, and a reduction in symptoms of certain conditions.

    6 Ways Learning Outdoors Improves Physical and Mental Health

    1. Learning outdoors in a natural environment is linked to positive health benefits.

    2. Lack of sufficient time outdoors can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which has been associated with mental illnesses like depression.

    3. Learning in contact with nature has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase overall well-being.

    4. Connecting children with the outdoors can improve their social and emotional development, as well as their mental health and psychological well-being.

    5. Outdoor education can increase the production of chemicals in the brain that act as stress busters.

    6. Outdoor learning can have a positive impact on motivation, cognitive and social development, psychological well-being, and physical activity.

    5 Benefits of Forest School

    1. Forest School is a child-centred learning process that takes place in the natural environment.

    2. Forest Schools focus on the individual learner and aim to develop confidence and self-esteem.

    3. Forest School provides hands-on experiences in nature.

    4. Forest Schools can help develop social and personal skills in children.

    5. Forest Schools have been found to have positive impacts on young children in England.

    Acquisition of knowledge and skills, Approaches to Learning Outdoors

    1. Outdoor learning promotes the acquisition of knowledge and skills associated with Approaches to Learning Outdoors.

    2. Outdoor learning covers the acquisition or refinement of specific knowledge and skills.

    3. Successful approaches to learning outdoors are discussed in a national thematic report from HMIE & Education Scotland.

    4. Outdoor education leaders can provide valuable learning outcomes through life experiences.

    5. There is a progression of skills in outdoor learning that can impact primary schools and early years education.

    How Learning Outdoors Improves Behaviours and Attitudes

    1. Outdoor learning can result in changes in behaviours and attitudes.

    2. The behavioural effects of learning outdoors can vary among individuals.

    4. Teachers perceive that outdoor environmental education improves students’ attention spans and decreases disruptive behaviours.

    5. The Scottish education department has done a lot of work around the benefits of learning outdoors.

    References and Further Reading about Outdoor Learning

    Kent Teach – 5 Benefits of Outdoor Learning

    Scottish Government – In-Depth Learning Outdoors Document

    Literacy Trust – Benefits of Learning Outdoors

    Woodland Trust – Free Outdoor Learning Resource Pack

    The Behavioral Effects of Learning Outdoors – Research Paper 2017

    Experiential learning from the perspective of outdoor education leaders – Research Paper

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