Last week, the Welsh Government published guidance for schools as they prepare for a phased re-opening at the end of the month. Outdoor learning features prominently in the ‘Keep Education Safe’ guidance with its multiple benefits referenced throughout the document. Here’s Sue Williams, Lead Specialist Advisor for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills on why this came as such welcome news.
Helping every child in Wales experience and value the natural environment is one of our core aims as an organisation. As such, we have long advocated the multiple benefits that come from outdoor learning – learning in, learning about and learning for the natural environment.
Evidence shows that outdoor learning promotes a greater connection with nature and the world around us which is not only good for us, but also good for the environment.
Embedding outdoor learning throughout the education system helps to improve attainment, ensure pro-environmental action from early childhood and promote lifelong positive behaviours.
Over recent years, we have been working hard to influence the development of the Curriculum for Wales, and to push for outdoor learning to be included as a key strand with links to every aspect of school level education.
We were absolutely delighted to see outdoor learning given centre stage in ‘Keep Education Safe’, reinforcing the Welsh Government’s commitment to outdoor learning. The document states that outdoor learning and play should be “considered central to any approach to phased return” and that “schools should maximise the time learners spend outdoors”.
With a strong focus on supporting the health and well-being of learners and staff, the guidance highlights the physical, mental, emotional and educational benefits of outdoor learning.
It also underlines the important role it can play in helping to manage social distancing and the minimising of virus transfer risks within schools in Wales during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wales Council for Outdoor Learning has submitted a joint letter to Education Minister Kirsty Williams on behalf of the outdoor learning sector in Wales, including Outdoor Learning Training Network Cymru and Outdoor Learning Wales. As a signatory to that letter, we have pledged to:
- Provide and signpost teaching staff to high quality resources and Professional Learning to help them develop, deliver, and evaluate their own programmes of learning beyond the classroom, whether at school or at home (Phase 1).
- Offer education settings support from independent, skilled professionals to help identify high quality support and resources most appropriate to meet their needs, and to accompany them, if needed as they take their learning outside and beyond the school gates (Phase 1 and 2).
- When the time is right, offer both local and national support to pupils and teaching staff with off-site visits and later, overnight expeditions and residentials (Phase 3 and 4).
So busy, but exciting times ahead for us as a team. NRW is in a very strong position to continue to be able to influence and support learners via our resources, educator training programmes and national campaigns, and to involve them in our 2050 Vision work.
Crucially, we have a lead role to play in contributing to the development of ethical and informed citizens of future generations – which is so vital to support all of our work in addressing the current nature and climate change emergencies.