Beth Swait explains why learning outdoors is becoming so popular for children with SEN
Outdoor Education has always had to fight for its place in education, especially in times of financial cut backs and increased pressure on academic results in schools.
With outdoor education, achievement is not assessed and it follows no set curriculum, so how do we prove its worth for our pupils, and why are more and more schools making it a key part of their pupils’ education?
The very fact that it is not assessed allows pupils a chance to learn without the pressures of “failing”. Achievement is personal; the value is in the experience. Many pupils who struggle in the classroom often thrive in an outdoor environment; the move from visual and auditory to kinaesthetic learning is a refreshing change for all and notably of benefit to many students with SEN.
Physical activity is proven to help increase attention, reduce anxiety and develop coordination skills. However, for many pupils, the more traditional competitive team sports still put pressure on the pupils for results. That said, outdoor education can also be a great boost to high achievers in the classroom and to great sportsmen and women, and the experiences are very often some of the most memorable of a pupil’s schooling.
Outdoor education encourages pupils to work independently, use their initiative and exercise problem solving skills. When a pupil achieves the challenge of reaching the top of a climbing wall or mountain, masters paddling a kayak or faces their fears when caving, it helps them to realise what they can achieve when they push themselves. It also demonstrates the benefits of teamwork, as pupils are able to support each other both physically and emotionally.
Those running the activity can only encourage and support; the effort has to come from the pupil. Activities require perseverance, determination and sometimes braving bad weather, but the experiences teach pupils what they are capable of, pushing them out of their comfort zones and into new environments.
This kind of education also develops the skill of assessing and managing risk. In a society regularly accused of being “risk averse”, it offers “risk benefit”, teaching pupils to make their own judgments; sometimes it is important to learn the hard way and to learn to cope when things get tough.
“Nature deficit disorder” is another term often used in relation to the current younger generation, children who spend so little time outside playing freely, or using their imagination to learn about their local environment. It all has an impact on health and creativity.
Spending time outdoors enhances a pupils’ understanding of the environment, very often complementing learning in the classroom, and importantly instilling a duty of care for the local and wider surroundings.
To quote the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto (DfES, 2006), “These, often the most memorable learning experiences, help us to make sense of the world around us by making links between feelings and learning. They stay with us into adulthood and affect our behaviour, lifestyle and work. They influence our values and the decisions we make. They allow us to transfer learning experienced outside to the classroom and vice versa.”
Beth Swait is Head of Outdoor Education at Bredon School, part of the Cavendish Education Group: