In order to make the curriculum come alive, we need to provide the opportunity for students to learn in authentic contexts. As educators we should be using all resources at our disposal and there is, quite literally, a whole world outside those four walls.
Classroom learning is of course an essential element in education; however equally important is the ability to transfer learning, to apply skills and knowledge to real life situations. Learning outdoors allows us to move away from the abstraction and fragmentation of traditional education and provides the opportunity for authentic learning experiences.
There is a growing body of literature evidencing the benefits gained from outdoor learning. The strength of this evidence has led to steadily increasing government support for outdoor learning. Education systems the world over are beginning to incorporate expectations that use of the outdoors is embedded in day to day teaching.
Place-based learning is a contextualised learning approach using the local community and environment, which connects with the everyday lives of the learners. This place-based approach is the most practical way of realising the increasing expectations of incorporating outdoor learning into the curriculum.
Place-based learning is also the most relevant way of starting with the learner and building on prior knowledge. From birth, education begins with the child at the centre. The circle of awareness and knowledge expands as the child grows and develops; the child, the family, the home, the school and the community.
As with any curricular learning, it is crucial that outdoor learning experiences are authentic and planned for as opposed to one-off, replicable activities. What works for one school, teacher or class will not necessarily work for another. In order to be most effective, outdoor learning experiences should be regular, progressive and curriculum-led.
There is a growing concern that we are becoming steadily more disconnected with the natural world as our society becomes increasingly urbanised and sedentary. As an expanding population, we have created problems, such the collapse of ecosystems, dwindling resources and climate change. In order to ensure the future survival of human beings, we need to challenge and make changes to the way we live; we must learn to live more sustainably.
Educators can respond by encouraging children and young people to connect with and care about their environment and their communities. Children must feel empowered to make a difference, they must feel capable of achievement and they can begin these experiences at school.
Rebecca Peacock teaches on Learning Across the Curriculum, offering aspiring educators of all kinds the tools with which they can incorporate outdoor learning into their teaching and curriculum planning.