Building Teacher Confidence in Learning in the Natural Environment

This week’s article has come from Martin Northcott, Outdoor Education Manager at Plymouth City Council, the Plymouth Hub Leader for the Natural Connections Demonstration Project.

To build confidence learning in the natural environment it’s important to have a clear aim. Planning quality experiences start with this and moreover evaluating the impact should be measured against it.  Planning and objectives then follow, that are a mix of general and specific ( See Josephs Cornell’s Flow Learning) . Generic could be encouraging children to work well together or developing scientific capacity followed by specific such as questioning, designing, measuring, recording and data analysis . Ofsted’s Maintaining Curiosity in Science urges teachers to let children design their own questions and testing.

Ownership and creativity are components of quality learning and build resilience. Resilience is seen as having the skills and attributes to cope well and prosper. It is further developed in SDT, (see Self Determination Theory link below). Ownership and engagement are what make children rewarding to supervise. The role of the adults is to facilitate, meeting questions with questions, not answers allowing children to learn from getting things wrong. Give time and space for children to discover for themselves and be less reliant on their teacher on a Friday than they were on Monday.martin n pic

The Outdoor facilitator needs to expect to learn how to deliver reliable learning outside the classroom over several sessions. By reviewing the sessions and their own preparation they will learn as much as the children. This takes a little bit of courage but it’s amply rewarded by the children articulating their own progress.

Ask for help and consider parents who may well have something to offer. However remember that class teachers know their children and have a lasting impact that short term specialists envy.

Adapt other peoples work by using the many resources that can be found on line. Register on a few sites and ensure you get to know of new developments and opportunities. Contribute to the national surveys that are in progress, ( Good from Wood,  various bird and butterfly surveys) these are resourced and more importantly give guidance  on ‘being scientific’ for those who have not had recent personal experience.

When selecting a theme to give appropriate learning consider where the outdoor environment can offer relevant experience right from the start.  Plan this in so that the best use is made of little and often, it’s  well known to deliver a greater benefit than occasional experiences. Children can then appreciate why they are out and make use of current skills in literacy and numeracy to prepare and to follow up. Time outside can be expensive so use it productively.  Raise questions before hand, design testing and go out for the data which can then be investigated once back in the classroom.

For safety, and there are risks but they are also part of the learning, visit locations in advance and get to know what’s is in your area. Walking even random walks are never dull, learn your pace/ distances, make walking time count, use it to encourage observation and wondering conversations. Consider quality of children’s experience and safety within it.

Maintaining Curiosity (

High Quality in Outdoor Education OEAP (

Developing Resilience  ( ) A key theory to understand learning motivation)

Surveys ( ) Learning Through Landscapes  (

Joseph Cornell ( )



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