A Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning

1 May 2010 · 2 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, General Commentary, Outdoor Courses & Training

Outdoor learning has been creeping up the Scottish education agenda recently. In April, the Government published the document,Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning (CETOL). It has gone out to every school, pre-school and partner provider setting in Scotland.

The Learning and Teaching Scotland Outdoor Learning website has been substantially updated to complement and extend the advice and expectations outlined in the document. It combines information on the health and safety aspects of taking children outside, with a range of resources including self-evaluation advice, relevant research, case studies, lesson ideas and guidance on which experiences and outcomes require an element of outdoor learning.

There are a number of implications for schools and pre-school establishments. Whilst HMIe currently comment on good outdoor learning practice where it is observed, it is likely that their approach will become more rigorous as they pick up on the key themes and expectations outlined in the CETOL document.

Before you groan inwardly at the thought of yet another initiative to include your practice, here’s some tips and advice to smooth the way outside:

First, outdoor learning can be linked to every initiative and all curriculum areas. It may also lead to school improvement very effectively in its own right. But, it could make better sense to include reference to it in developments such as literacy, health promotion, family learning, additional support, Eco Schools, etc. So, don’t make outdoor learning special, include it as part of your “toolbox” of learning and teaching approaches. If you are stuck for ideas, get in touch or see if some of the books in my listmanias will help.

Schools need to demonstrate that they are providing progressive, sustainable, frequent, regular outdoor learning opportunities. These need to be planned and integrated into ongoing work across all curriculum areas. Giving yourself extra time to build outdoor learning into your forward planning will help. There are some resources on the LTS outdoor learning website. Because Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission contributed to the website, this means there is a bit more bias towards their interests. Farming, Earth Sciences, urban activities, gardening, rural skills etc. remain under-represented at present (though I’m sure this will change eventually).

At the Early Stages, the expectation is that daily outdoor activities will take place all year round, covering all experiences and outcomes. In theory, equal consideration should be given to the indoor and outdoor play opportunities. A simple way to ensure this begins to happen is for planning formats to be altered to reflect indoor and outdoor opportunities equally to ensure that a comprehensive range of outdoor experiences are offered to children. For oodles of ideas, have a look at some of the books on this listmania.

All staff are expected to play a part in enabling children to make the most of the outdoors. It is not just the role of teachers. Thus consideration of free play outdoors at break times, opportunities for having lunch outside and outdoor activities provided after school are part of the wider considerations.

This is the outdoor dining area at Urtsitken Primary School, Sweden
Developing partnerships with outdoor organisations and professionals is encouraged. However, CETOL expects class teachers to be undertaking the bulk of the outdoor learning activities as part of their planned approach to engaging learners and developing wider achievements. The partnerships should provide continuing professional development and to enable school staff to deliver outdoor learning independently as much as possible.

One approach that works well is to arrange for an outdoor professional to lead a class lesson supported by the class teacher. The following week, the roles are reversed and the outdoor professional supports the teacher to undertake a lesson outside and to plan a series of outdoor activities throughout the rest of the term that the teacher can deliver independently. Shared planning sessions with several teachers bouncing ideas off each other helps, especially when planning outdoor activities for projects which have less obvious outdoor links (they are still there though)!

Den building being used as part of a Global Citizenship project
There is a clear focus on school grounds and local area as a context for outdoor learning rather than visits to places further afield where there are cost implications. Repeated visits or use of local amenities is strongly encouraged both in CETOL and through many experiences and outcomes, particularly within social studies. This helps children develop a sense of place and belonging as well as getting to know people and businesses in the local community.

There are many outdoor activities that can be undertaken on grass and tarmac. Do not rush to purchase expensive outdoor “classrooms” or other structures. Instead, spend your money on a subscription to the school grounds charity Grounds for Learning and a site visit from one of their accredited school grounds professionals. Taking a planned, sustained, participative approach to developing your outdoor area in a way that meaningfully involves the children is empowering for everyone involved. Furthermore, many school grounds improvements can be undertaken on a shoestring budget using locally sourced, recycled or donated materials and plants.

For some teachers, taking children outside on a frequent, regular basis may prove challenging. Just like other changes, time is needed to develop routines and establish the habit. Health and safety is frequently cited as a concern. Risk benefit assessments can play a part in enabling outdoor activities to be as safe as necessary. There are many ways of involving children of all ages in this process.

In our rapidly changing society, where children have increasingly indoor, sedentary lifestyles there is a greater need, more than ever before, for children to experience the world beyond the four walls of the classroom or house. So now is the time to get children outdoors and enjoy the social, cognitive and health benefits that this will bring.

Please do get in touch if you would like further advice and ideas about taking learning outdoors.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Teacher Tom May 1, 2010 at 14:52

What a difference between your government’s approach to education and ours. Even with a more progressive government, we still seem hell-bent on standardized testing and more time in the classroom. I’m so happy I’m not a public school teacher these days so I’m free to educate the whole kid and not just from the neck up, with a strong emphasis to one side of the brain.


CreativeSTAR May 2, 2010 at 09:05

That is a wonderful quote Tom! Our education is founded on principles that are sound but there’s that push-pull between this and the need for attainment data that “proves” our teachers are successfully educating our children.

However it’s still possible to “do your thing” within mainstream education system providing you can demonstrate that everyone’s on board and it’s making a positive difference.


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