The Importance of Residentials and Outdoor Learning

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery

More and more research is coming to light to support what we, in the environmental world, have always asserted – being outdoors is good for you!

There are so many ways to spend time outdoors, but nothing beats staying into the night, sleeping by a fire or in a tent and experiencing the night sounds and darkness!

Since 2004 we have been taking all age groups on camping residentials in woodlands – from one night to five days. What stands out is an urban group arriving with suitcases, hair all sorted, screaming at the sight of insects – then forward a few days, the group is giggling, relaxed, no make-up, playing games, all level headed around a fire.

Residentials have the capacity to be life changing experiences – they draw out the best in people, bringing together diverse groups, rising up and through challenges – the most difficult of which is usually using the compost toilet!

The natural world provides the space and time to feel a rare sense of freedom – and to get to know friends and other adults in a different way.

“I never knew adults could have fun” said a young woman. We forget the adulthood often doesn’t appear very appealing. “Fire is better than T.V” said another. You can choose to be silent or talkative – there is space for everyone. Eating and cooking after a day out in a circle is always comforting.

The level of tiredness after days of camping is also unique – it’s only known to those who have shed the outside world life and re-found a slower rhythm, where without mirrors we all look good and are eyes sparkle with a new clarity. With experienced facilitators you can follow the groups interests – from bigger team nature awareness games, to using tools for craft making, fire-making using a range of methods, creating instruments, making music and becoming an inventive community that is funny and interesting – all without technology and T.V!

The nature space has this unusual quality that I have witnessed throughout the years that provides a certain equality – there is room for everyone and a diverse range of experience, and the forest atmosphere is very welcoming!

Day one you rarely sleep well, then you find the deep sleep of a bear, that surprisingly opens you up to even more fun, despite you didn’t sleep enough. Then there is the possibility of seeing a sunrise – of stretching before breakfast in the very early morning, after the birds have woken you, or having a go at cooking where any mess goes happily unnoticed. You get to be somewhat independent, try out new things – and be away from home! It stretches you to live beyond what you are used to and, with support, this builds self-confidence and resilience.

How many young people do you know that have seen a sunrise? There needs to be thousands more. What about walking in the dark – playing Fire Stalk? Char-coaled faces hiding in the shadows is exciting! One of our staff can call in the owls, we usually see glow worms and, for the more patient, we huddled down together to watch the badgers emerging.

Inevitably we all want to eat! On longer camps we forage for local salad potentials, berries for pudding, grasses for cordage, and clay to make an oven. Barefoot, we squash the mud between our toes and make a make shift oven to cook bread and biscuits. We can do anything surprisingly! And on a residential we have the time to experiment and explore. Climbing, hammocks to sleep and play on, any type of shelter – we can sleep in our own debris creation, set up tarps if the weather changes, laugh with friends in a tent and hear the rain – surely a requirement of childhood.

In an educational context, children can be more active by being outside, they are also able to learn more freely, engage more readily and be inspired, encouraged, challenged, and therefore improve their confidence and self-esteem. These positive effects are amplified even more when it comes to an overnight camp or residential.

“I slept alone in a shelter that I had made, I never thought I would be able to do that. I feel more confident and have overcome my fears.” CLR Camp Participant, June 2015.

Learning Away

In 2015 Learning Away published a report, (following 3 years of action research with over 60 schools and colleges) identifying the overall impacts of residentials for young people.
The evidence collected throughout the 3-year project showed that residentials:

  • Foster deeper relationships
  • Improve students’ resilience, self-confidence, and well-being
  • Boost cohesion and a sense of belonging
  • Improve students’ engagement with learning
  • Improve students’ knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Support students’ achievement
  • Smooth students’ transition experiences
  • Provide opportunities for student leadership, co-design and facilitation

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residential’s are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos” York Consulting (2015). Read the full report here.

Work on the Wild Side

In addition to the Learning Away research, a new report (May 2017), has been released that demonstrates leading schools (highest Progress 8 scores) place high value on residential experiences. The report found that “outdoor learning is valued amongst teachers, pupils, parents and inspectors and that the skills learnt outdoors are transferable to the classroom and across the academic spectrum.” Work on the Wild Side, May 2017
It recommends that given the clear benefits of outdoor learning, more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people are provided with the opportunity to leave the classroom. Read the report in full.

Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps

Circle of Life Rediscovery runs unique, nature-based camps for young people in a beautiful woodland environment in Sussex. Camps have a strong environmental basis and could include activities such as fire-making, tool use, cooking and foraging, team-building activities, art, story-telling, music and night walks. We also offer the John Muir Award, a National Conservation Award, at Discovery level.

“I didn’t think that I liked camping but I have underestimated myself. The camp was amazing, I have not only learnt new skills but I have learnt to be grateful about everything around me. I have a new sense of confidence and believe in myself” CLR Camp Participant, June 2016.

To find out more about the Circle of Life Rediscovery camps, watch one of the films below where participants explain what they enjoyed:

Please contact us on 01273 814226 or email for more information if you are interested in organising a camp for your school. Each camp is bespoke and unique to your requirements.
There are also free resources on the Learning Away website, include planning tools, models for lower cost trips and curriculum integration.

About the Author

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery.
Marina Robb is founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, a leading outdoor learning organisation. She is Author of ‘Learning with Nature’, considered a must-have book for Forest School & Outdoor practitioners. Marina has been the recipient of funding from Natural England, Mind and The National Lottery, amongst other grant makers for her outdoor work with disadvantaged teenagers, families and young people. Marina is a senior practitioner for residential camps in Sussex woodlands, Forest School & training, nature-based training for adults, nature & health interventions, outdoor learning days and youth training programmes.
01273 814226

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