Perhaps writing this blog in the aftermath of some of the worst and most damaging storms for decades may be unwise, but it was prompted by several occurrences last week that I wanted to share with you.
For those of you that follow some or all JTMAT schools on Twitter, you will be well aware of some of the photographs that are regularly posted by my colleagues from schools showing children undertaking ‘forest schools’ activities and other outdoor classroom experiences. These pictures invariably show, at least at this time of year, mud, puddles, wellies and coats – and plenty of smiling faces! We photograph such scenes to capture the moment, to share that moment with others, and to convey a sense of pride in the part that we take to make these moments happen.
However, sometimes such learning – and that’s what it is – can be misconstrued, even by those with an educational background. I recall in this context one of my colleagues, a primary Headteacher, very patiently explaining that the reason why there was still time for English and maths and other subjects in the curriculum was that some of the delivery of those subjects was undertaken through forest schools. In addition to all the benefits of outdoor learning – working together, engagement with the natural world, development of resilience – there is still a focus on more conventional learning outcomes. This extends to our secondary schools too, in which outdoor learning is highly valued. This can take the form of trips and visits or experiences on site in outdoor settings – the domesticated farm animals at Kingsmead, the woodlands at John Taylor Free School…
Of course, the most common regular outdoor learning experience for children in our schools is Physical Education. I was asked last week by Youth Sports Trust to attend a panel session in which we discussed the challenges and opportunities facing sport in schools. Those challenges range from curriculum squeeze, obesity and health issues, insurance and risk management, to resources for team kit and travel to fixtures. They are well-known to colleagues from across the country sitting in the audience.
The opportunities created by PE are also clear: I relayed experiences of working with young people for whom their best day at school was a day in which they had to take their PE kit. These were opportunities to shine and achieve, maybe to be the best amongst their peers, or a new chance to achieve a personal best. In PE, children can so often feel the progress their making. It is literally tangible. They develop resilience, a sense of fair play, collaboration and competition in equal measure. Importantly, they learn a crucial life lesson: that everyone is NOT equally talented, skilful or physically endowed. There will be those who can jump higher, lift more, throw further, run faster – if not in school, at County level…or regionally…or nationally…or internationally…or in the next age bracket up. In short, there will always be someone better.
For our children to benefit from these opportunities, parents need to support us, and staff need to be generous with their time and expertise. For all those memories that last a lifetime, we and the children are indebted to them.
A Nobel Prize-winning surgeon was asked what spurred them on. His answer was simple: “If I think I’m doing well, then I’m comparing myself to the wrong people.” This, in a context of nurture and support, is a message for us all as we strive to be better at all we do- and outdoor learning is as good a place as any. The “great outdoors” indeed!
Thanks for reading.