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Into the wild

Chris Hupp looks at the importance of putting outdoor education at the heart of the curriculum

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 16, 2015 | International

By including outdoor education as an everyday part of classroom activities, students enhance important life skills, such as leadership and collaboration, gain a deeper connection with the natural world and develop as global citizens. Student motivation levels rise when outdoor learning is a core component of the curriculum, improving the learning journey. 

Improving the learning experience

The third-grade teaching team at ACS Cobham International School recently redesigned a social studies unit on Native Americans to encompass greater use of the outdoor environment. Students listened to traditional legends and stories underneath a large tepee set in the school’s woodlands. Combined with the smell of traditional sweet grass incense, the natural rhythm of drums and the Native American flute, this allowed students to develop a much greater understanding of and empathy for the culture they were studying.

Additionally, each story was connected to core concepts revolving around the idea of indigenous culture, such as family relationships, belief in the sacredness of the natural world and the skills needed for survival. Students also took part in a number of Forest School sessions, which explored several Native American skills, such as constructing shelters, animal tracking and games or sports to train young warriors.

These lessons laid the groundwork for academic learning in the classroom as students became highly engaged and self-motivated, often spending time outside of school learning about Native Americans simply because they wanted to. 

Developing global citizenship

By encouraging students to explore the natural world, students will also grow into engaged global citizens. As part of a middle school science class studying local environmental issues, Cobham students took part in fieldwork and conservation efforts around the Mole River – which borders the northern edge of the campus.

Whilst collecting river data, students noticed an odd substance oozing into the river from nearby farmland. Local scientific experts were invited to join the class, offering insight into the real work that professionals carry out in and around our communities. Students are now being challenged to find ways to engage their local community through raising awareness about pollution and providing a range of creative solutions.

Through this exercise students have not only gained a greater understanding of the problems of pollution, they have also developed skills which make them better learners, such as creative thinking and problem solving. They have also enhanced essential life skills, including the ability to work together on a problem and leadership abilities – aptitudes highly sought after by employers. Through first-hand experience, students have developed a greater connection with their local surroundings and are now energised as global citizens. 

Including outdoor education is easier than you think

At ACS Cobham, much work has been done to provide safe outdoor spaces for educators to use as part of their everyday classroom activities. Having specially prepared facilities is clearly an advantage, but even basic equipment and outdoor spaces can be utilised in a variety of lessons. A squared patio can soon become a graph or multiplication table while a tennis court can be transformed into a model of the solar system with the help of a football, tennis ball and a few willing volunteers.

The lower school, for instance, has a ‘Magic Garden’ – a ground-floor green space right outside a classroom. Students have used this to learn plant names in French and work out soil volumes and seed ratios in maths lessons. This can easily be recreated using window boxes and planters as part of the playground. 

Reaching highest potential

Through outdoor education, students gain a deeper connection with their natural environment, while student enjoyment, motivation and engagement in class also increases. Importantly, students develop vital skills such as working collaboratively, greater communication abilities and an inquiring mind – skills essential for helping students to reach their highest potential.

Chris Hupp is a third-grade teacher and outdoor education expert at ACS Cobham International School    

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