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Outdoor learning

At ACS Cobham we continually work to make sure that grounds are accessible for teachers by ensuring high health and safety standards so that they can be used on a spontaneous basis. For example we have developed the TOM Tent, a giant teepee structure set in the school’s nature trail, which is used for outdoor classes from lower to higher school years. Middle School recently spent the night under its canopy watching wildlife and experimenting with other bushcraft activities, helping students to connect with their surroundings.

We have also laid a designated Woodland Nature Trail where we conduct ‘site stops’, a technique that can be used in a variety of subject lessons; students will stop at a particular point along the trail and reflect on their surroundings, taking note on the wildlife and natural habitat. They then record their reflections and use this as inspiration for creative writing assignments in English lessons, for example, or write observational reports for Science. Although access to a woodland area is, of course, especially useful, this technique can be used in the school playground, playing fields, a nearby park or further afield in the local community.

environment can be its own classroom, with all the integrated and interconnected learning opportunities it provides. Within this type of learning culture, students feel more motivated and engage on a deeper level with their learning. Teachers have reported that pupils work together with greater ease once back within the classroom setting.

Chris Salisbury, storyteller and bushcraft practitioner with WildWise Events, recently ran an induction day with our boarding students. The day comprised a variety of activities in the school’s woodland, which purposefully engaged students with each other and the natural environment. The group divided into tribes, which were challenged to build a shelter and a fire using basic materials, forage and devise a way to make food with only flour, and brew tea with woodland herbs. The various tribes then invented a ritual hospitality greeting, costumed themselves, and visited each other with gifts they had made from their natural surroundings.

The day culminated with students sharing proverbs they had created to sum up their experiences and a discussion to highlight learning and challenges they faced. Each of these processes inspired and sustained creative thinking, teamwork and empathy, personal reflection, and captivating learning, all of which helped the boarders integrate into the school community.

Embedding outdoor education For students to really benefit from outdoor education, it must encompass more than, say, a week of outdoor pursuits in the Peak district. Although trips like these provide excellent opportunities for team building and working collaboratively, to truly ‘rewild’ students, the surrounding environment must become a natural setting for lessons and extra-curricular activities and not only during isolated ‘special’ trips. The Scottish Ministry of Education recognises the importance of helping students connect with their surroundings by establishing the ‘Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning’. As the Curriculum for Excellence outlines, outdoor learning can be embedded across a range of subjects, but education professionals must have access to the necessary resources.

May 2014

Traditional storytelling, a sense of local history and lore, and a well-developed understanding of native flora and fauna all work to engender a sense of awe and wonder in children. This helps students connect with their surroundings and awakens a deeper sense of place in which their learning can be rooted deeply in experience. In the past, oral traditions of storytelling have been the primary channel for sharing knowledge and shaping education as legends become embedded into ones cultural identity.

We are able to revive these oral techniques within outdoor classes. Like ‘site stops’, students develop a creative response to the world around them utilising the power and richness of language, honing public speaking,

communication and creative thinking skills. This is a sort of ‘bardic mischief making,’ an ethos toward a kind of education that encourages students to learn through all their senses, muddying fingers and toes, helping them to expand their imagination through their experiences outdoors. The creative approach to learning, which can happen outdoors, through approaches like environmental storytelling and Forest Schools, provides inspiration for our poets, artists, scientists and innovators of the future. An essential part of ‘rewilding’ students is helping them to reconnect with their local surroundings, often through storytelling and the ‘power of place,’ placing learning within local and global contexts. Students develop inquiring minds as they explore their immediate environment and are then able to apply this mindset to other subjects.

Rewilding for the future

Through rewilding, students explore their natural environment and become more connected with their surroundings. Moving classes outside and incorporating outdoor education as an everyday event deepens student engagement levels within class and increases pupil motivation. Similarly, students develop transferable skills such working collaboratively, greater communication abilities and most importantly an inquiring mind, helping students reach their highest potential both within education and beyond.

Importantly, outdoor space can be embedded across the curriculum. For example, in Lower School we have created a ground floor garden right outside a classroom. Students have used the garden in a range of subjects such as learning plants in French as part of language classes and working out soil volumes and seed ratios as part of Maths. Students enjoy outdoor learning and as a result we have witnessed increased student participation and deeper engagement levels in class.

Connecting through power of place Students’ ability to connect with the environment can often be a helpful factor given the transient pupil population at an international school. With rolling admissions and pupils joining the community for both short and long term spells, connecting with local environment quickly is often the foundation of a successful family relocation and an important part in students’ capabilities to reach their potential at school. 17

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