Whole school approach to outdoor learning at Shortlees

Shortlees Primary School’s Headteacher, Wendy Connelly and Depute Head, Louise Muir recognised the health and learning benefits of being outdoors and before their school reopened in August joined forces with Natalie White, Principal Teacher of East Ayrshire Council’s Learning Outdoor Support team (LOST) to explore new ways of learning outdoors.

Together they undertook a school ground survey, identifying different types of spaces that are ideal for a range of subject lessons and activities. Recognising the need for sheltered teaching spaces, LOST provided the school with basic canvas shelters that can be put up quickly when it is raining.

The school focused on literacy, which would speed the recovery from missed teaching time during lockdown. Using LOST’s ‘Out of the Box’ resource packs, teachers have found the class reading books and outdoor lessons stimulate and engage the young learners.

The teachers from Shortlees upskilled through outdoor learning webinars and team teaching coaching with LOST specialists. With the result that all classes now learn many subjects outdoors every day.

Louise Muir said: “Our Headteacher, Wendy Connelly and I could really see the benefit of learning outdoors. We have quite extensive outdoor spaces that are easy to split into different learning zones for different age groups. The concept of outdoor learning isn’t just about picking up resources and moving outside, it is about encouraging young people to learn about their environment, to be creative, confident and to engage in learning in an active way.

“Outdoor learning has had a positive impact on the children and has become an important part of the school day.”

Councillor Fiona Campbell, Cabinet Member for Skills and Learning said: “I remember as a pupil when a teacher would say, let’s go outside. The treat of learning outdoors and of being in the fresh air is a magical memory for me. As a teacher, I would have loved to take my classes outside. Outdoor learning is a positive experience that can have a significant impact on a child’s health, wellbeing and learning.

“Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the importance of getting our children and young people back into learning, the value of learning outdoors has grown significantly. I am delighted that we have the LOST team supporting our wonderful teachers to ensure that learning outdoors becomes a normal part of school life. I am so proud of the team from Shortlees Primary, they have achieved a great deal in a very short period of time.”

Outdoor Learning has been an important part of the Scottish Government’s plans for education recovery following the easing of lockdown restrictions and the return of pupils to schools in August. The Scottish Government formed a working group with key outdoor organisations, including the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education and National Network for Outdoor Learning, to support teachers outdoors to protect health and maximise learning.

This week the SAPOE training team shared a new teacher e-learning module on how to teach outdoors in the Scottish curriculum, hosted on Education Scotland’s Professional Learning and Leadership site.

Natalie White, representing one of five local authorities who collaborated in the training team, said: “Research has shown that being physically active in greenspaces has a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing. It also became clear during the pandemic that learning outdoors could help to reduce the public health risk of virus transmission. It makes sense, this is an opportunity to engage teachers and embed learning outdoors in schools and our natural environment, for the better health and learning of our children and young people and our world.

“I am passionate about outdoor learning and I am delighted that schools across East Ayrshire have embraced the opportunities available to them. Literacy, maths, science, technology, it can all be brought to life outdoors, and can help children and young people who respond positively to more active learning models. Shortlees Primary has really embraced the spirit of outdoor learning, I hope that more schools will follow their lead.”