We all know that getting outside, running around, breathing fresh air, and getting dirty is good for children. But research tells us that discovering the natural world has benefits way beyond physical well-being. Taking learning outside the classroom can have a huge impact on children’s mental health, as well as boosting their social skills, and academic success. Outdoor learning also provides opportunities to teach children about environmentalism and sustainability.

Schools, such as Framlingham College Prep School in Suffolk, are putting outdoor learning at the forefront of their education agenda. Set in 28 acres of rural countryside overlooking the River Deben, the School grounds expand vast areas of idyllic open space – described by the Head Jonathan Egan as a ‘child’s utopia’. This allows Framlingham to offer a full and varied outdoor learning agenda which includes weekly forest school sessions, outdoor activities (such as den building and camping skills), paddle boarding, and gardening club.

Here are seven reasons why schools, like Framlingham College, are prioritising outdoor education and how this approach to learning is benefitting pupils.

Pupils at Framlingham College enjoying gardening club

Getting outside benefits children’s physical health

Outdoor learning is a great way for schools to reduce sedentary time associated with traditional classroom based lessons. Being outside gives children the freedom to move, increasing their physical fitness.

There are also lots of health benefits beyond burning off energy. Being in the great outdoors provides opportunities for children to improve their motor skills. Fresh air is good for focus and concentration, and sunshine boosts vitamin D levels.

Outdoor learning can have a positive impact on academic achievement

When children are outdoors ‘playing’, their brains are more absorbent to information. Being outside makes learning more fun and when children enjoy going to school, it improves their concentration and focus. This in turn has a positive impact on academic achievement.

Jo Drury, Head of Outdoor Education at Framlingham College Prep School, says: “By taking the walls of the classroom away it allows children to feel that they have freedom and that means that their anxieties lift and they become less fearful of learning. Often you’ll see children’s demeanour change as they walk into the classroom, which is not what anyone wants, but it just happens. But when we go outside that fear and anxiety disappears. The outdoor environment, and being in touch with nature is very important and using that within our learning is such a powerful tool.”

As well as helping children to become more enthusiastic about learning, the outdoor environment also provides opportunities to learn core skills that they can take back into the classroom. At Framlingham, children do something called a ‘sit spot’ where they take a mat and sit in nature for five minutes. This exercise helps them to notice the small things around them. Drury says: “Noticing those small things then translates to their work in the classroom. For example, they notice the small things about the letter B and the letter D and they can differentiate the difference between them.”

Pupils at Framlingham College take many lessons outside

Learning outdoors can boost children’s personal development

A 2019 study by a group of researchers from Swansea University found that outdoor learning helps to foster children’s people skills, critical and creative thinking, problem solving abilities, and communication skills with both peers and adults.

Young people at Framlingham are able to work on their life skills by taking part in outdoor activities as part of the School’s co-curricular programme. Building on the College’s Senior School reputation as one of the highest achieving centres in the UK, the School launched a ‘mini DofE’ initiative in September 2022, named the Junior Duke Award.

Taking part in the award gets children out of the classroom, providing practical, real-word experience that will support them in their future endeavours for years to come.

More time spent in nature has a positive impact on children’s mental health

Outdoor learning has been proven to reduce anxiety in children. According to a study by Wells and Evans (2003), learning environments with greener views, more plants, and access to natural play areas, demonstrated a lower level of stress.

Exploring nature also helps to build children’s confidence, self awareness, and boost their independence. Getting outside the classroom gives children the opportunity to try new things, which is good for their self esteem. Outdoor activities increase serotonin as well – which helps us to feel happy and safe.

Pupils at Framlingham College learning camping skills

Getting outdoors builds resilience in children

Outdoor learning also provides important opportunities for children to experience challenges, test limits, push boundaries and weigh up risks of injury. Although there can often be a natural instinct to wrap children up in cotton wool, building resilience is an important part of preparing them for the real world.

Jo Drury says: “We live in a world where all children are so protected. They’re not allowed out on their own any more, so often parents are fearful of what they can allow their children to do. What we do at Framlingham is provide a safe space for children to risk assess and learn what risks they can take for themselves. Children need to have that exposure to risk, because that is how they are going to learn.”

At Framlingham, children as young as age seven learn how to build campfires during forest school sessions. Drury says: “At first they are really fearful. But when they understand how to do it safely, they go back and they do it again and again.” Drury says the satisfaction of achieving something like this and the teamwork that’s required to complete the task is something that’s very hard to deliver in a classroom setting.

An outdoor education fosters an appreciation of the natural environment

Taking learning outside allows children to appreciate the world around them and develop an understanding of how we can look after our environment.

Framlingham College Prep School is situated in a beautiful part of the world and the School puts environmentalism and sustainability practices at the forefront of their agenda. In May 2021, pupils planted 420 trees in the outdoor space to support The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative. Just one example of the School’s many eco initiatives, the trees will create a beautiful hedgerow that will line a pathway to the School’s forest school area and support habitats for many species of wildlife – which children can then study and learn about. 

Taking lessons outside the classroom can help to foster a love of learning

Going to school can give children the idea that learning only happens when they are sitting in front of a whiteboard with an open book. By taking learning outside the classroom, schools are able to make lessons more engaging – teaching children that learning can happen anywhere, at any time.

At Framlingham College, the aim is to bolster the entire curriculum by encouraging ‘classroom’ learning to be taken into the outdoor environment – no matter what subject or age of pupils being taught. Jo Drury says: “For so many pupils, being in an open space may not feel as restrictive as a classroom and allows for movement and much needed time to be mindful. Playing and problem solving with natural resources allows children to experiment and find flow, and inspires imaginations, which can be an exceptionally powerful tool to nurture a love of learning.” 

Lucy Manning, Teaching and Learning Co-odinator at Framlingham adds: “As teachers, we all understand the importance of firing the imaginations of our children. The beautiful setting of our school creates a rich stimulus for every child, and we are able to utilise their natural fascination with our planet. In the classroom environment, some topics may be perceived as more challenging to teach. For example, in English, we need to teach complex grammatical structures to help our pupils develop as writers. Taking away the confines of the classroom and taking learning outside allows our pupils to hang complex notions onto something concrete – something that truly excites them. This is when real learning sticks.”

Getting outside makes learning feel so much more exciting, which is why an outdoor education can offer children so much.

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with Framlingham College Prep School, a boarding and day school located in Suffolk for boys and girls 3 – 18.


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