5 Evidence-Based Reasons Outdoor Learning Enhances Literacy and Numeracy

Contributed by Mike Hargreave, Learning and Development consultant, School of Outdoor Learning (SOuL)

School of Outdoor Learning (SOuL) are UK leaders in outdoor learning. SOuL helps schools and teachers utilise their outdoor resources to bring about powerful and memorable teaching experiences that provide a host of benefits for teachers and learners. And naturally, that means SOuL is a Cymbrogi Companion!

Robust empirical evidence over the last decade challenges the myth that ‘learning only happens in a classroom.’ This is especially true when we consider literacy and numeracy which are brought to life with ease and in an engaging way when we take a curious and creative approach…

Movement boosts brain power

Neuroscientist John Medina cites in his book Brain Rules, survival of the fittest is just that! “All Paleoanthropologists agree, historically we moved…a lot!” The average being around 20km per day for men and half of that for women. The implications are that our brains developed whilst we were moving and using our body plays a significant role in fully activating our learning potential. We’ve developed numeracy or literacy related scavenger hunts to do just this – pupils learn without realising whilst stimulating their need for movement.

Multi sensory learning is more memorable

All of our five senses evolved to work in unison and the more elaborately we encode experiences during their initial moments, the stronger the memory of it will be. This has huge implications for teaching and learning which educators have been aware of since the earliest teaching guides (Montessori 1912).

Try using sticks, stones, acorns or any other natural material to explore any area of the numeracy curriculum be it fractions, arrays, number bonds etc. Spend time outside to literally ‘open the minds’ of your learners and stimulate creative language, poetry, stories and discussion. The natural world and your school grounds are filled with language.

Stressed brains don’t learn as well as non-stressed brains

82% of primary school leaders reported an increase in mental health issues in primary school children around exam time according to a 2017 study by The Key, a national school support service. The stress response makes learning difficult, fact! Yet the simple act of going outside has been shown by a vast body of research evidence to significantly reduce stress levels in children and adults.

The recent ‘Dirt is Good Campaign’ highlighted that the average US child spends less time outside than most high security prison inmates, around 75 mins per day. Contrast this with the Finnish school system that encourages 15 minutes of outside time for every 45 minutes of formal teaching and a country that tops the PISA global education rankings. Could there be a connection?

Learning through experience has powerful implications

We are powerful and natural explorers. We learn, not by passive reaction to the environment, but by engaging with it through active testing, observation, hypothesis, experiment and reasoning. If we are able to work with this instinct in young people, rather than against it, then we can enable tremendous potential. Take your pupils outside to a large grid (a tarpaulin with a grid drawn on works well) with a pack of laminated letters and numbers to solve a host of numeracy challenges as well as spelling, crosswords and grammar activities.

A growth mindset is an essential feature of good teaching and learning

Carol Dweck has clearly evidenced the importance that a growth mindset plays, not only in success at school but life and work too. We at SOuL and Cymbrogi see this body of evidence filtering down into many schools we come into contact with now. Much of education however is focused on fixed testing and measurement and consequently implicitly values ‘getting things right’. This can act as disincentive to a process of do, reflect, apply and learn through trial and error. That’s where lessons outside clan play a big role. The essence of a curriculum based activity outside often provides scope for doing by trial and error giving real life and tangible examples of mindsets in action.

Teaming up with Cymbrogi is for us a ‘no-brainer!’

Cymbrogi’s mission is to empower today’s learners to shape tomorrow’s sustainable world. They have brought together an extraordinary group of people to do this – experts in sustainability, creativity, storytelling, wellbeing and collaboration…people who have worked for years in education, enterprise, innovation, and global development – all of whom believe in a different kind of learning that will equip educators and learners both. SOuL, as a provider of training on outdoor learning, was delighted to be part of this conversation with Cymbrogi from the start. Their inspirational site in Lawrenny is the perfect place for this conversation to continue…. We look forward to seeing you there!

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