At Barrow Hills, learning is not confined to the classroom. Outdoor learning was introduced to the School over six years ago and has driven its roots deep into the daily lives of our children. Our woodland covers approximately 15 acres, is packed full of the most amazing native tree species and with a wonderful and diverse wildlife population, our grounds are ideal for Forest School type activities. In our own back garden, we run and hide, climb and balance. We build dens, light fires, sing, tell stories and cook on the campfire. We use tools and build things, investigate creepy crawlies and explore. Every day is different as the environment creates new learning opportunities with its ever-changing seasons.
The importance of outside play cannot be underestimated.
Children who play outside develop better language skills. Some of children’s most developed language emerges naturally when they are playing outdoors. Research shows that children use five times as many words when they play outdoors compared to indoors. It’s long been known that physical activity helps children find their voice. Children aren’t inhibited by volume or the pressure of talking in front of their peers. Instead, they are able to let off steam and express their opinion in a fun, non-intimidating setting.
Being outside is a brilliant sensory experience for young children. There is so much for them to see, explore and learn. The changing nature of the outdoors makes it an incredibly stimulating and multi-sensory place to play. This is important as young children learn and gain experience through all their senses.
These are the skills that help us plan, prioritise, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask; they are crucial for our success. Creativity falls in here, too, and using our imagination to problem-solve and entertain ourselves. These are skills that must be learned and practised and to do this, children need unstructured time. They need time with other children to be allowed to make up their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves. Being outside gives them opportunities to develop these important life skills.
Young children need the opportunity to use their whole body and develop their gross motor skills. They have space to run and jump outside. They can also develop their fine motor skills as they pick up natural treasures such as leaves and fir cones.
Indoor spaces can often feel overcrowded to children and naturally, they may feel intimated in this type of environment. More space outdoors can help children to join in and ‘come out of their shells’.
The extra space offered by being outdoors will give children the sense of freedom to make discoveries by themselves.
Being outside provides children with more opportunities to experience risk-taking. They have the chance to take part in tasks on a much bigger scale and complete them in ways they might not when they are indoors. This develops the confidence and bravery to face life’s inevitable risks. The lessons we learn from failure are just as important as those we learn from success.
Through physical activity and challenges, being outdoors helps children sleep, eat, and live more healthily. This encourages them to form healthy habits for life.
Children become joyful in their appreciation of the world and responsible as they learn how to take care of the environment around them.
Children in Early Years and KS1 receive at least one weekly Forest School-style outing to the woods, and often more when we relate topics to the outdoors. We go out in all weathers and pull on warm tracksuits, waterproofs, coats and wellies. High teacher-to-child ratios mean we can keep our smallest children safe in their outdoor classroom. As well as the woodland, our Early Years children benefit from the undercover outdoor play areas that are integral to their classrooms – making every day a play outside day.
Older children enjoy the benefit of the outdoor environment too. There is a deeper learning that occurs when children have to put into practice in the real world that which they learn in a classroom. The learning that takes place in the natural environment can be truly inspirational. Our teachers harness this to bring curriculum-based learning to life. We use the grounds and its multiple habitats and eco-systems for science, geography, history, art, biology and for many other curriculum applications such as field study and data collection. We also camp out in the woodland with Years 7 and 8 at the start of the summer term.