Working in partnership with a large range of civil society organisations Natural England aims to significantly increase the number of school aged children experiencing the full range of benefits that come from learning in natural environments and is currently engaged in a series of projects working towards achieving that aim.
Outdoor learning on National Nature Reserves
The Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP)1 published by the Government in June 2011: includes a Government ambition is ‘to see every child in England given the chance to experience and learn about the natural environment’. Specifically, the Government set out 4 key reforms in NEWP for reconnecting people and nature and one of these reforms is ‘action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and increasing schools abilities to teach outdoors’.
A recent report by King’s College London2 highlighted the significant benefits of learning in the natural environment, including:
Outdoor learning activities such as those that take place in school gardens, local parks, farm visits and residential centres, help make core subjects rich and relevant and get students excited about learning. Teachers also benefit from learning in the natural environment, becoming more enthusiastic about teaching bringing innovative teaching strategies to the classroom.
Survey findings - Despite increasingly robust evidence of the benefits from learning in the natural environment, recent surveys also shows that the vast majority of our school children are rapidly losing their connection with their local natural environments, particularly children from urban environments. Findings from a 2009 survey3 suggest that:
Another recent report4 analysed the evidence on the barriers to learning in natural environments. This confirmed that schools are not prioritising (valuing) learning in natural environments and found that this is largely down to local issues such as teacher confidence, competence and capacity. Furthermore it stated that these local barriers underpin - and hence are more significant than - the barriers the sector has traditionally focused on such formalisation in the Curriculum, fear of litigation and cost. The key recommendations in this report formed the building blocks for the Natural Connections Demonstration Project.