​Joy, adventure and building skills in the great outdoors!

Posted on 24th Mar 2021 in School News, Prep Schools Guide, Outdoor Learning, Sport

Juliet Vaughan, Deputy Head (Academic), and Alexandra Torrance, Head of Department, at Merchiston Juniors, believe it’s more important than ever to get active

There is something truly special and magical about learning both in and from the great outdoors. The traditional idea that academic study should always take place in a classroom environment is now long gone. Perhaps more than ever, it is vital that children are active and enjoy all the benefits of being outside as part of a healthy, happy, productive and fulfilling life. The outdoor environment has enormous, and in many cases, untapped, potential for learning, and school life for young people can undoubtedly be enhanced by maximising opportunities in their local environment.

The many benefits of outdoor learning are well documented; it helps to make lessons memorable, enhances personal and social skills, improves physical health and wellbeing, develops inquisitive thinking and problem solving, encourages resilience, an appreciation for nature, and a lifelong love of the outdoors. As educators, striving to provide the very best learning experiences for the young people in our care, we must welcome and embrace the concept without fear. Outdoor learning can take place anywhere and in both rural and urban settings. School playgrounds, parks, woods and green spaces, and even local high streets, can all provide a wealth of different learning experiences for young people.

At Merchiston Juniors in Edinburgh, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to use the outdoors every day to help develop and extend our students’ skills and enhance our curriculum. Our classroom doors open straight out on to beautiful grounds which in turn back on to Colinton Dell, an unspoilt woodland area and something of a ‘hidden treasure’ in the city. We are hence able to incorporate outdoor learning into a wide range of our lessons. Our pupils forage and collect eggs for baking, incorporate nature walks into descriptive writing, collect autumnal leaves for Art lessons, perform drama under the spectacular tree canopy and more.

This year, we are delighted to be building a Kinder Kitchen at Merchiston Juniors; a designated space for our young learners to cook and learn outdoors. This will offer incredible opportunities for learning and teaching; our young pupils will gain knowledge of foraging, diversity in farming and where their food comes from, and lessons will link to Literacy, Numeracy, Health and Well-being and the wider curriculum, including designing, marketing and selling the produce we make. We aim to follow the principle of ‘farm to fork’ and strive to educate our pupils about food miles, sustainability and waste; knowledge which will then be built upon as our young learners progress through their education. Key social skills like teamwork, language development, patience, focus, attention and responsibility will be at the forefront as our pupils learn from, celebrate and enjoy, the great outdoors.

Outdoor learning is about social experiences, feeling, emotions, connectivity, thinking, seeing, discussing, and so much more. Hence, it captures the hearts, heads, and hands of young learners and truly helps bring the curriculum to life. Teachers can start small – step outside in to the great outdoors and relish the untold educational opportunities and experiences on the doorstep!

This article first appeared in John Catt's Preparatory Schools 2021, which you can view here: