Outdoor Learning

Over the last two years, we have been delighted to have sponsored the Naturally Healthy Devon Schools Project.

What is the Naturally Healthy Devon Schools Project?

CPRE Devon has invested funding from a recent legacy into increasing children’s awareness and attachment to their local environment by encouraging teachers to teach outside the classroom in line with the benefactor’s wishes. The Naturally Healthy Devon Schools Project (NHDS) is a partnership between CPRE Devon, Natural England, Plymouth University and the Devon Local Nature Partnership. It involves teachers, children and young people in 21 schools in North and East Devon and focuses on how Learning Outside the Classroom in Natural Environments (LINE) supports attainment, healthy schools and reconnects children in the County to their local countryside, using a model developed through the highly successful Natural Connections project https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/7/7634/Transforming_Outdoor_Learning_in_Schools_SCN.pdf .

The Project is pursuing two priority themes of the Devon Local Nature Partnership http://www.naturaldevon.org.uk/ , being naturally healthy and learning outdoors, through two hub leaders supporting schools to develop the quality, and increase the amount, of school time spent learning outdoors. The schools have been embedding learning outside the classroom in their main curriculum teaching and enriching children’s experience of their local environments. One head teacher commented:

It was only really in January that we introduced outdoor learning as an idea, as a concept. It has just kind of flourished from there and ultimately it’s down to the success of the sessions and what the children are getting out of it.”

After only one year’s involvement with NHDS, all responding schools are reporting positive impacts in enjoyment, engagement with learning and nature, social skills and wellbeing. More than 80 per cent are also seeing positive effects on attainment, behaviour and physical health. May 2017  is Naturally Healthy Month http://www.naturaldevon.org.uk/naturally-healthy-month-2016/ so it is hoped other Devon schools may follow these schools’ example and get healthy and happy outdoors!

The Natural Connections project shows creating sustainable future practice requires time (typically about 2 years). The Naturally Healthy Devon Schools final report will also look at how sustainable the practices will be once the funding come to an end.

This fantastic contribution to children’s current and future lives was made possible by a legacy to us, but we rely on donations, legacies and membership subscription to continue our work to encourage good stewardship of rural England. Do consider joining to help the next generation care for their local environment. Each individual annual membership fee is equivalent to helping 4 or 5 children become advocates for their natural neighbourhood and only costs £3 per month.

Four Naturally Healthy Devon Schools (NHDS) learn about their local landscapes

My Local Area is a topic in the National Curriculum but schools often focus on the built environment. Thanks to Devon County Council Environment Group, and partners, CPRE Devon , Natural England, Plymouth University and the Devon Local Nature Partnership, four of the NHDS experienced a six week immersion in their local landscape with the aim:

  • to connect teachers with their local landscape as an area in which outdoor learning can be focused
  • to develop and deepen children and teachers’ understanding of how landscapes have been and continue to be shaped by both natural and cultural influences, what people value in the landscape we see today, and forces for future landscape change and how we can guide and manage these through the democratic process of decision-making
  • to increase children’s sense of belonging to a place through establishing a strong and continued connection to a distinct landscape that is local to them
  • to support the mental and spiritual health of children by allowing them to experience beauty, tranquility, sense of wonder and contact with nature and history that the landscape provides
  • to instill a sense of custodianship and stewardship of that place in future, for example as a basis for volunteering in connection with its maintenance, conservation and enhancement.

Chris Holland, a well-known outdoor learning expert, initially asked children about their favourite places, what made them special to them and what they understood as ‘landscape’. Drama, music and science then came together in exploring and then presenting children’s increased knowledge about the flora, fauna, land use and people of the past & present in their local landscape.  At the end of the six weeks the children could recognize and describe landscape features and had a deeper sense of place and belonging; laying the foundations for care about ‘their landscape’ in the future. You can view a short film of this project here http://www.wholeland.org.uk/lcp2015/.


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