Thousands of pupils benefit from outdoor learning

23 March 2022

More than 6,000 young people in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland have benefitted from a project to encourage learning outdoors.

The Learning in Local Greenspace project has supported 115 schools across 12 local authorities to use nearby green spaces, such as parks and woodlands, for outdoor learning.

Led by NatureScot, this collaborative project worked with more than 20 partner organisations with the aim of embedding outdoor learning in schools, with more than 500 teachers taking part.

Learning outdoors has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of pupils, and can also have a positive impact on behaviour and engagement, in turn leading to better attainment.

An evaluation report found that, as a result of the project, the percentage of teachers taking learning outdoors in their local greenspace regularly rose from 28% to 49%, while teacher confidence in doing so increased from 54% to 85%.

Following the project more than a third (37%) felt that their pupils had a good connection to nature, compared to just 19% previously. The percentage of teachers who believed their pupils’ engagement in learning outdoors was good or excellent also increased from 56% to 79%.

Sue Munro from NatureScot said: “Nature is the best classroom of them all, and immersing young people in it regularly has huge benefits, both for physical and mental health and for educational engagement and attainment.

“We’re delighted that despite the challenge of Covid 19, this project has been successful in encouraging outdoor learning in schools across Scotland, particularly in some of our most deprived areas.

“Connecting more young people with nature from an early age can also help us tackle the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, ensuring the next generation grow up to value and protect it.”

Carol Guthrie, a teacher at Linnvale Primary School in West Dunbartonshire, said: “This project has completely changed where we do our outdoor learning now, we have continued to explore the local area and now use it regularly with all stages of the school.

“My confidence in taking the children out regularly and to support colleagues to get outside too has grown as a result and the children really enjoy seeing the variety of wildlife which is out there as well as getting to explore and enjoy simple pleasures such as looking for tadpoles, sampling brambles or splashing in the puddles!”

Carol McAuley, head teacher at St Paul’s Primary School in South Lanarkshire, said: “It has been nothing short of inspiring to be part of the Learning in Local Greenspace project and I am truly indebted to its investment in St Paul's Primary and Nursery, staff, young people and families of Whitehill.

“The initial cohort of children had very limited experiences of being outdoors, never mind the forest, despite it being on our backdoor.  The children had a range of needs, but it was clear following the initial experiences that they started to develop self-efficacy, confidence, communication skills, and the ability to start working together.

“This change in the 'way we do things' was embedded by the time the first Covid lockdown started and so many families visited the woods during this stressful and worrying times. Many families sent us photos, or shared what they had been doing in the woods, and I'm positive that it helped to 'save and support' during those uncertain months.”

The project also developed a range of free resources for outdoor learning that are available to all via the Learning in local greenspace project webpages.