The words we are using about the global predicament we find ourselves in are changing. Instead of ‘back to normal’ we hear ‘the new norm’. We are realising we must adapt, embrace change and transition to a ‘post-lockdown’ society.
Nowhere is this need to adapt more visible than in education. Schools and settings are valiantly finding ways to welcome children to a socially distanced learning world in which they can feel safe, loved and still learn.
We are told that being outside is safer, as it may lessen the risk of transmission. The government guidance to schools and settings reflects this, advising educators to use outside spaces ‘where possible, as this can limit transmission and more easily allow for distance between children and staff.’
Imagine if outdoor learning became part of our adaptation to the ‘new norm’.
Kathryn Solly considers this in a blog post for Early Education: ‘we have a great once in a lifetime opportunity to broaden horizons, enhance sensory pathways, build movement and whole body development, enhance physicality and the holistic health needs of our children via a responsive curriculum outdoors.’ She explores this within early years, looking at what can be done now and the changes that we could strive for in the future.
We know that being outside is good for our mental health, whatever age we are. We are all looking to put wellbeing at the heart of our work with children and the outdoors can provide the environment we need to recover and move forward. At her recent webinar for Kinderly Learn on Supporting Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing After Lockdown, Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, consultant and nurture worker, explained how important the outdoors is for children, especially those with additional needs. She suggested outdoor inspired wellbeing activities such as a senses walk, bare foot walking and cloud watching as ways to support children as they return to schools and settings.
Early years education is already on the journey to provide valuable learning opportunities outside. Some schools have incorporated forest school or vegetable plots into their curriculum. But if outdoor learning is to become a nationwide experience for our children it will need policy makers to invest time, energy, creativity, innovation, and money. Most teachers are not trained to teach and learn outside. Many schools and settings have limited access to outdoor space. And we know that learning outdoors is not about taking your tables and chairs outside and replicating the indoor experience in the open air.
Architects and designers have also been looking at ways to modify current learning spaces and to create more outdoor environments in a post-lockdown learning era. Architect Tom Waddicor predicts a ‘new wave of innovative outdoor classrooms’. They are looking to the forest school ethos for inspiration as well as considering practical issues such as hand washing facilities and toilets.
In the long term, perhaps there will be greater inclusion of outdoor learning in our curriculums, as we reflect on what children need and how we should adapt. But right now we need to find inclusive ways to get children outside, using the outdoor space as another educator with all it has to offer, from the safety we realise it gives us to the rich learning opportunities it can provide.
Edited by Jules