November 4th marks Outdoor Classroom Day, a global movement to inspire and celebrate outdoor play and learning, at home and at school. At the GDST, we place significant importance on making time to ensure our students can be outside taking part in outdoor learning activities, to encourage and nurture in them an interest in and a love of nature.
The importance of allowing learning time outdoors cannot be underestimated, and not just from a sustainability and eco perspective; The Wildlife Trust’s recent Nature/ Nurtures report found overwhelming evidence that engaging with outdoor activities improves children’s confidence, relationships and attitude to school work. In addition, it was found that taking part in outdoor learning activities helped 84% of children to feel more resilient in taking risks and trying new things.
The Benefits of Outdoor Learning
Outdoor learning also has an undeniably positive impact on children’s wellbeing and mental health, which the GDST believes to be of utmost importance in our pastoral care returning to school post-Covid. The Noticing Nature Report found that children with a strong connection to nature, and who engage in activities linked to nature, are happier.
The GDST has long been committed to a holistic view of education, informed by 150 years of experience from which to draw on tailoring its provision, not only to how girls learn, but also to how they develop emotionally. We are proud to provide high-quality outdoor space for our students across our family of 25 schools and to have some exciting projects in the pipeline.
Portsmouth High School students enjoy access to an on-site outdoor classroom, as well as regular participation in forest and beach schools The girls venture outside in all weathers to make shelters, light fires and use tools, as well as to look at the seasons and life cycles, with lessons supporting all areas of the curriculum allowing for hands-on experiences outside with Science and nature activities.
Brighton Girls also take full advantage of their location by incorporating fortnightly beach school activities for their Reception and Key Stage 1 pupils. Newcastle High School for Girls’ Reception and Year 1 pupils enjoy learning in the mud-kitchen, developing skills through Forest School and seeing stories come to life in the outdoor storytelling garden, all the while engaging in memorable learning which they can take back into the classroom. Northampton High School’s dedicated wild area allows girls to explore, climb, use tools, make dens, build homes for animals and investigate mini-beasts. The outdoor learning benefits are evident in the dynamic design of Sheffield Girls’ Prep School’s playground.
It’s not just the younger years that benefit from a hands-on outdoor learning experience. Nottingham Girls’ High School’s climbing wall appeals to all ages and brings a new outdoor learning experience to PE lessons too, while Norwich High School for Girls’s outdoor theatre allows for more diverse cross-curricular experiences.
The GDST Estates Team is overseeing the design and construction of new outdoor learning spaces at schools across Trust. Sarra Pardali, Head of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the GDST highlights the link between sustainability and outdoor spaces:
‘There is no better place to learn about sustainable living than nature’s classrooms,’ she explains. ‘At GDST, we love when our designers come up with clever ways to enrich our estate with outdoor teaching spaces. And we love it when our girls make these spaces their own, when they learn and play in harmony with the beautiful balance, colours and scents of the natural world.’
Upcoming outdoor learning projects include Sutton High School’s outdoor learning space, which references Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ bestselling book The Lost Words, which reminds us of nature’s important role in our schools and homes. Staton Cohen, the landscape architects, comment that ‘the new spaces will be embedded in the Forest School ethos by the selection of natural materials and the informality of the spaces, with opportunities for risk-taking, experimentation and creativity within a playful environment. It will be intimate in scale, including shelters, quiet spaces, areas for construction and sand and water play.’
But the connection to nature expands to the design for the Early Years building itself. LTS Architects, the building designers, explain that ‘the material selection is based in the natural world, using exposed timber and recycled natural material finishes.’
Brighton Girls will also benefit from a redesign which will give pupils improved access to outdoor spaces. The project will include the removal of parking spaces in favour of enhanced outdoor play and sporting provision, which will include enhanced landscape to provide outdoor teaching facilities, along with increased biodiversity that will see extensive new tree planting.
If you are interested in discovering more stimulating outdoor learning activities for your daughter, visit our GDST events page for upcoming educational events and opportunities.