At Oaklands School, we are very keen on Outdoor Learning and have made it a key focus over the last couple of years. Last spring, we held our first-ever Outdoor Learning Week to tie in with International Outdoor Classroom Day. We organised all sorts of exciting outdoor activities such as Beach Wheelchairs at North Berwick, wheelchair pony-trap rides at Cramond, nature trails, stories in the woods, campfires and lots lots more. We also took everyday activities outside; circle time, sports, music and even our whole-school assembly. It was a big success and has had a lasting impact on our teaching and learning. So of course, we hoped to do it again this year, but then came Covid-19.
With the majority of our pupils now at home, teaching staff have been working hard to support pupils and their families. Despite this new set up, we were keen to still promote and recognise our Outdoor Learning Week. Perhaps now more than ever, opportunities to experience the outdoors are so important, with the benefits they can bring for mental and physical wellbeing. But we are aware that our pupils find themselves in a wide variety of home setups. Some have large and accessible gardens or local outdoor spaces, but others have no safe or accessible outdoor spaces at all. Oaklands School provides education for children and young people with complex, long term additional support needs, often with associated physical disabilities. For our pupils, accessing the outdoors can present challenges at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. So, we were keen not to make our Outdoor Learning suggestions and activities dependent on being able to get outside. It may sound paradoxical, but we looked at ways to bring outdoor learning in.
The majority of our teaching and learning at Oaklands is sensory and experiential. So, we looked for ways that would enable our pupils to gain a sensory experience of the outdoors whether they were outside or inside. We were keen not to overload our families with instructions and information, aware that many are juggling a range of commitments. We decided on keeping it simple and collated our ideas into a colourful PowerPoint. We included sensory experiences such as splashing in water, listening to bird song and using props such as fans and water sprays to create different kinds of weather. Suggestions for gardening and growing required very little equipment; sprouting carrot tops in saucers of water and watching apple pips germinate on wet cotton wool. Traditional outdoor activities such as building camps and a campfire were adapted so that they could take place in the living room if a garden wasn’t an option. You can see all these ideas and more on the Home-Learning page of our website https://oaklandsedinburgh.com/oaklands-home-learning/
Not all families chose to take part in Outdoor Learning Week, but many did. For some, Outdoor Learning Week provided great opportunities for the whole family to come together and take part in fun and energetic activities. We had some lovely photos sent to us of siblings exercising together outdoors or working together to create mini beasts and bird feeders.
And now that we are looking forward to schools re-opening to pupils in August, Outdoor Learning is going to be crucial in helping us safely deliver motivating, active and fun learning experiences. The outdoors has been shown to be one of the safest environments with regards to Covid-19. Added to that, the many benefits being outdoors has been shown to have in relation to health and wellbeing and improved concentration and engagement, it’s a no-brainer really. We want to be outside as much as we possibly can this coming school year and beyond.
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