Why learning outside the classroom?

Sense of place

Young people often take the place they live in for granted. Equally, they do not always have opportunities to travel to places beyond their immediate locality. Many young people, particularly in poorer inner-city areas and isolated rural communities, have never travelled more than a few miles from where they live.

The experience of a variety of buildings, institutions and outdoor settings can contribute enormously to young people’s appreciation of and identification with their own environment. It can also introduce them to places they would never otherwise have an opportunity to visit.

Child on log on outdoor education woodland visit

A visit to a nature reserve can increase awareness of the natural environment

For example, a visit to a local park, nature reserve or farm can increase awareness of the natural environment and the issues that affect it. The local museum or archives can give contact with personal and social records (such as diaries, maps, and media) that bring the history and geography of the area to life. Drawing, sketching and photographing the locality can foster an appreciation of the built environment or surrounding landscape and a visit to a significant amenity or institution like the library, town hall, local cathedral, synagogue or mosque can contribute to a sense of how communities function and develop.

The comparison of sites away from ‘home’ will help young people appreciate what makes their ’place’ important to them and different from other places. Taking a closer look at their own environment will help them to develop a sense of place – and being part of the process of developing and changing their environment will emphasise this.

All of this is an active process. Recording the reminiscences of older members of a community or interviewing people about a topical local issue can reinforce an understanding of how different people contribute to making the place what it is. And, of course, residential courses, expeditions and trips abroad can literally broaden horizons, by providing an experience of new and different places.

The Forest School Initiative began in Denmark in the 1980s and is now taking root across Britain and showing a clear impact on young children’s attitudes. Its philosophy is to equip young people with an education that encourages an appreciation of the natural world. Through a series of visits to woodland areas over an extended period of time they are encouraged to be independent and, by working through small achievable tasks in a stimulating environment, are able to build self-esteem and develop social and behaviour management skills.

A summary of Forest School Activity undertaken in Shropshire 2005 reveals some interesting impacts on young people’s attitudes:

  • ‘A love of the outdoors’
  • ‘A respect for the environment’
  • ‘Children are more relaxed without perceiving pressure from learning.’
  • ‘Children form easy relationships with their peers and staff.’
  • ‘Forest School offers continuity between nursery and primary school. Ideas about care and esteem are carried through to reception and into later life.’

See the full report.