The Lost Words aiming to reconnect children with the natural world

Blog post written by: Mike Edmondstone, Schools Communications Officer for the Edible Playgrounds programme from charity Trees for Cities.

It’s nothing new to hear that children are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world. We are living in an age where interacting with technology is often preferred to leaving the gadgets at home and heading outside. Around 90% of the UK population live in urban areas and, infamously, three quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, with only 10% of them regularly playing in natural spaces.

An outstanding RSPB report from 2013 found that ‘only 21% of 8-12 year olds in the UK have a level of connection to nature that the RSPB considers to be a realistic and achievable target for children’. It went on to explain the issues that this disconnection can cause, including lower achievement at school, poorer mental and physical health and underdeveloped social skills.

And it’s not just issues to the individual that a disconnect from nature can lead to. David Attenborough said in 2015 that:

“The interaction between humans and the natural world has been constrained, and that is a human loss, but ultimately it could be a loss to the natural world because people won’t understand it any more”.

At a time where climate change and species extinction are very tangible problems, it’s never been more important for people to understand and care for the non-human, non-technological world.

Many readers of this blog will already be familiar with Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ book The Lost Words, and how it is aiming to address the disconnect between children and nature. The idea behind the book came from the observation that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had dropped a number of common ‘nature words’ from its newest edition, including acorn, kingfisher and willow, and replaced them with words including broadband, celebrity and voice-mail.

This was seen to be indicative of the gap between childhood and the natural world in the UK. Macfarlane and Morris started the book with the aim of summoning these ‘lost words’ – and the creatures and plants they named – back into the minds of Britain’s children. The duo took twenty of the lost words and for each word Macfarlane wrote a summoning spell. Morris brought the spells to life with beautifully evocative illustrations of the plant or animal conjured back into its natural habitat.

The Lost Words was published in October last year and since then has become what Chris Packham has called ‘a revolution’. Thousands of schools in the country are now using the book in their playgrounds and classrooms, sparking classes – even whole schools – to do more outdoor learning, to improve the environments of their schools, and to undertake creative projects around nearby nature.

The revolution is spreading, and the book will soon be published in North America and European countries from Sweden to Germany. People are using it as a means to drive change in our relationship with the natural world; to help us see how vital – and how vulnerable – everyday nature is to us in Britain. We will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.

To this point, however, no campaign has begun to bring The Lost Words to the whole of London. This is why Trees for Cities, with the backing of the Mayor of London’s office, has decided to place a copy of the book in every maintained and special primary school in London – more than 2500 of them – and in this way help re-green early years education in the capital. The charity, which runs the successful Edible Playgrounds programme have set a target of £15,000 to reach this goal. Their partners Bulb will match every £ donated up to a total of £15,000. You can learn more and support the crowd funder here.
For more information on Edible Playgrounds, and what they can do to help reconnect schoolchildren with the natural world, visit the Trees for Cities website. You can keep up to date with all Trees for Cities’ news via their Twitter feed @TreesforCities.

About the Author
Mike Edmondstone is the Schools Communications Officer for the Edible Playgrounds programme from charity Trees for Cities. Based in London’s Kennington Park, he promotes Edible Playgrounds to schools and coordinates enquiries at a national, regional and local level.

The Edible Playgrounds programme transforms school grounds into vibrant outdoor teaching gardens that inspire learning and get children excited about growing and eating healthy food. It is now in its ninth year and has to date completed projects in more than 80 primary and secondary schools across the country.

Thanks to Trees for Cities’ corporate partners Bulb, there is currently generous funding available to cover the majority of the programme cost.  Get in touch via the website, email, Twitter, or phone 020 7587 1320.

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Ensuring Curriculum relevancy – its more than just a catchphrase

Blog written by Ian Coyne, Commercial Director of Anglia Tours Ltd.

When seeking the LOtC Quality Badge, a provider must be able to demonstrate that they have the ability to tailor their products to fit in both with the current curriculum and the school’s specific requirements. All good Tour Operators will, I am sure, engage with their customers at the earliest possible opportunity to find out exactly what it is the school wants their pupils to get out of a field trip. They are also likely to ask about preferred travel options, potential dates and budget limitations. However if the operator is truly going to demonstrate it has the ability to tailor a tour and not simply offer their standard ‘off the shelf’ package, the first question should not be ‘where do you want to go?’ but ‘what is it that you are teaching?’

Anglia 1

This question was at the forefront of our thinking when we first began to design tours to support the new GCSE History specifications which were introduced in 2017. If we really wanted our tours to support modules like the new Thematic Studies, it meant we would not only have to reappraise the locations we felt groups should visit but also the very content of the tour itself. One of the six key criteria of the LOTC Quality Badge is to ‘meet the needs of users’, We therefore began our task by consulting with the very people who would be asked to teach these modules in class. We asked teachers:

What learning points did they feel the tour should cover?

What educational outcomes should the tour achieve?

What resources would they like to see the pupils have access to?

These were questions we did not ask solely in the planning phase but ones we have gone back to time and again both as the specifications were being taught and as we took on board the wealth of feedback we received.

It was a fantastic boost to get our tours validated by those teaching these specifications; the very people with years’ of experience in field trips. However the icing on the cake was achieving a first in educational travel – securing endorsement of a tour itinerary from an examination board. It was far from a simple paper exercise. This first endorsement, like those we have secured since, was only attained after the exam board’s subject specialist had accompanied a tour, talked with the teachers and pupils and seen, at first-hand, exactly what the tour delivered. It was wonderful to hear that not only did he thoroughly enjoy the experience but that he felt the tour would ‘bring the topic alive for students, helping them to visualise the more physical problems of the environment in a way which a text book cannot’ – a terrific affirmation and evidence that we really do have the ability and the desire to provide tours which have real academic value.

Anglia 3With the first cohort to study these specifications having sat their GCSEs this summer, we all now have a far clearer idea of the type of questions the exam board will pose and what skills they are looking for students to be able to demonstrate.

The framework provided by the LOTC Quality Badge ensures we continually review our experiences to ensure they meet learners’ needs and act upon feedback. Our desire for continuous improvement in what we offer and for ensuring that each of our tours remains wholly relevant means that the cycle will begin again, but that is the type of challenge we relish!Anglia 2

For more information on Anglia Tours, visit the Anglia Tours website: You can follow @AngliaTours  on Twitter. Anglia Tours is part of the NGT Travel group.

About the Author:

Ian CoyneIan Coyne first led his first Anglia battlefield tour in 1998, since which time he has guided in more than 400 groups on tours to the First World War battlefields, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Having spent over 20 years in the Public Sector, in a number of different operational roles, Ian now combines his guiding commitments with the role of Commercial Director. This means he is responsible for Anglia’s Sales & Marketing activity and overseeing new tours and products. It is a role which includes the development programmes for endorsement by UK exam boards.


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Get outside to teach soft skills

Blog written by Greg Brookes-Clayton, Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC

The employment of ‘soft skills’

In terms of educating our young people, I find it encouraging that there seems to be a recognition of the need to develop positive learning cultures through the development of ‘soft’ skills. I know from my experience that the development of soft skills through experiential collaborative learning (teamwork) activities can be transformative with young children and adults. However, how powerful would this learning be if it was started at the formative age of around 7 or 8 and was continuously developed with emphasis on the transference of the skills into the classroom and ultimately into life?challenge academy 1

We have a responsibility to find time in the curriculum to do this effectively. I understand the pressures on the school timetable. However, time spent on specific collaborative activities (teamwork) becomes value-added if the learning approaches, attitudes and skills are referenced and reinforced throughout the general school curriculum and become part of the ethos of the school.

Too often we hear the rhetoric; we need teamwork.  A task will be given and completed and the young people, when asked what they did, will reply “We did teamwork”.  No! This word is meaningless if the young people are not able to identify the awareness, skills and attitudes they have developed or identify the elements of their approach and behaviour which were essential for the team to work effectively.

Only by having an explicit understanding of what these are can they utilise this knowledge to develop the essential skills for life and work, i.e. to apply themselves with confidence and commitment and the ability to confront challenge and difficulties with clarity and emotional control. In short, to be mentally tough.

Be more confident” “You need to challenge yourself” “Show more control” “Be more committed.” How often will these phrases come out of the mouths of some educators, parents, employers? “Ok…thanks I’ll be more confident now…” It’s a ridiculous notion, it means nothing, and we are doing our young people a disservice if we aren’t actively helping them to develop these skills. The lip service paid to the concept of teamwork and team development by many institutions is a missed opportunity to do exactly that!

How do we develop confidence, challenge, commitment and control (the 4C’s) in our learners? All of these require ‘soft’ skills, many of which are developed through interaction with others. Control is about relationships with others; emotional control is a response to a situation created by an interpersonal reaction. Challenge will often be about, or involve, a relationship to an individual or group of people. Team development activities provide a unique and fertile learning ground for the development of these 4C’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How can we convince young people and their teachers of the need for these ‘soft’ skills?

If young people are skilfully facilitated in fun, engaging activities, which allow individual and group mind sets to develop, where the ‘nuts and bolts’, the ‘mechanics’ of a team, are not just understood but practised again and again, and where helpful and unhelpful attitudes, behaviours and skills are recognised, reviewed and refined, then they will convince themselves of the positive effects of:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Experiencing what it feels like to trust and to be trusted
  • Assessing and managing risk and seeing the benefits of taking risk
  • Being included and being inclusive
  • Feeling free to be confident and develop creative ideas
  • Resolving conflict; they recognise that effective teams care enough to have conflict and can self-regulate through resolution
  • Recognising that even with a shared vision and enthusiasm, it may require several attempts to improve performance and that this is part of the process
  • Engaging fully ‘in the moment’ and being involved in shaping outcomes
  • Developing emotional intelligence and an emotional lexicon that enables support and empathy
  • Employing a Plan/Do/Review/Improve/Apply process

Educators will experience for themselves that the development, application and practice of these skills do improve performance, and by the very nature of this learning, they will be developing resilience and mental toughness.

Wouldn’t we love all our learners to be able to develop the mental toughness and resilience to be able to commit to tasks, to accept challenge by being prepared to take risks, to have confidence in their abilities and approach and to have the emotional control to cope if setbacks occur? Can we rely on the National Curriculum, to do this? Will the National Curriculum alone prepare our young people to be effective, valuable, competent members of society? Will it give them the awareness, attitudes and skills to reach their personal potential within Education and Society, be happy and healthy and get the best out of their lives? I think not.

The best place for learning such as this to occur is outside the classroom, where students and teachers will be freed up to take risks with their learning. Children need to push themselves from individual and group ‘comfort zones’ into the ‘stretch zone’, where learning takes place. Repeated opportunities for experiential learning opportunities, where there are no ‘right or ‘wrong’ answers (where the value is in the process), which are then reviewed using meaningful, structured methods to complete the learning cycle, develop young peoples’ resilience, curiosity and resourcefulness are essential.

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Challenge Academy are a Community Interest Company based in the West Midlands. They were one of the first organisations in the UK to be awarded the LOtC Quality Badge which they have held for the past 9 years. Challenge Academy support a number of National projects across a range of sectors but particularly in education, providing schools, FE and HE with approved resources and training.

For more information on Challenge Academy activities, challenge equipment and training visit the Challenge Academy website: You can follow @challengeAcad on Twitter.

About the Author:

greg brookes-claytonGreg Brookes-Clayton is the Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC, based in Baggeridge Country Park, Staffordshire.

Greg was a teacher for 17 years working predominantly with young people with SEBD (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties). His teaching career included posts in Crewe, Glasgow, Liverpool and Derby and culminated in head of a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) in Derby City.

Greg joined Challenge Academy in March 2016 to become Director of Education. Challenge Academy is a Community Interest Company set up to deliver challenge and empower young people to engage, learn and lead.

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LOtC Quality Badge: Breaking down barriers for schools

Blog written by Sally Thompson, Quality Badge Manager for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. Sally explains how the LOtC Quality Badge is helping more children access great educational experiences.

Venues all over the UK are providing inspirational opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom. These hands on experiences enable children to see, hear, touch and explore the real world as part of their learning, deepening their understanding and teaching them to appreciate and be inspired by the world around them.


We hear so often about children today being ‘cooped up’ in their homes and classrooms.

¾ of young people in the UK spend less time outdoors than prisoners[i] and more than 1 in 9 children have not set foot in the natural environment in the last 12 months.[ii] The reality is the only chance some children will have to explore the world beyond their four walls will come from LOtC opportunities offered at school.

Teachers agree that children learn best through first-hand experience. Ofsted also endorses the power of LOtC, finding that getting out and about in small, frequent doses improves understanding and standards as well as helping social and emotional development.

So, with such overwhelming recognition of the benefits of LOtC, what is stopping schools from doing more? Sadly, many teachers report that they are hindered by concerns over health and safety, red tape, lack of time or lack of funding.

Awarded by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, the LOtC Quality Badge was launched in 2009 to give assurance to schools and help cut red tape around the planning of educational visits. The accreditation is awarded to organisations offering good quality learning experiences and managing risk effectively. Choosing accredited providers makes life easier for teachers organising educational visits as they can feel confident that their pupils are receiving good quality and inspiring educational experiences in an environment where any risks are well managed.

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What are the benefits of the LOtC Quality Badge for providers of LOtC?

The LOtC Quality Badge has become the benchmark by which providers of educational visits are judged – so schools planning visits are likely to check that their chosen venue has the LOtC Quality Badge.

The LOtC Quality Badge is endorsed by Government in the health and safety guidelines for schools, and is the only accreditation scheme for all types of LOtC provision. It is also endorsed by the Outdoor Education Advisors Panel (OEAP) whose members provide advice and support on educational visits to most schools in England & Wales.  OEAP members accept the LOtC Quality Badge in place of much of their pre-visit paperwork, and advise schools to use accredited providers when planning visits.LOtC-QB-logo (2)

For this reason, being awarded the LOtC Quality Badge will help you to attract more bookings from schools and will reduce pre-visit red tape, saving your staff time. Furthermore, the LOtC Quality Badge will give you a framework to enable you to develop and improve the quality of your educational provision and ensure that you continue to meet schools’ needs.

Making an application

There are two routes to achieving the LOtC Quality Badge and the route you take is determined by the activities you offer to schools.  Route 1 is for those organisations offering activities which don’t require specialist risk assessment and involves completing an online self-assessment form which is audited by CLOtC staff. 10% of successful Route 1 applicants, selected at random, will also receive a quality assurance visit. Route 2 is for organisations offering activities that require a degree of technical expertise for effective risk management. Application involves a self-assessment form which will then be used as the basis of assessment by a specialist inspector. The kinds of activities that require a route 2 application are listed on our website

For more information about the LOtC Quality Badge, to search for badged providers in your area or to make an application please visit . If you would like guidance on the best route for you, please contact us

[i] Survey with 2000 parents of 5-12 year olds funded by Persil’s #Dirtisgood Campaign (2016)
[ii] The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature: A Report by the RSPB, 2015, Richardson, M et al, University of Derby

About the authorsally

Sally Thompson, is the Quality Badge Development Manager for CLOtC. She oversees the development of the LOtC Quality Badge and developed and now manages LOtC Mark, CLOtC’s accreditation for schools celebrating and supporting the development of meaningful teaching and learning through LOtC. Sally also practices what she preache, and can regularly be seen offering CPD training sessions to schools and providers throughout the country.

Sally was part of the Real World Learning network, a 3 year project initially involving 7 key partners across 6 EU countries. Sally was a key member of the working group for Quality Criteria and Assessment which produced a framework of criteria for assessing the efficacy of LOtC experiences in promoting an understanding of scientific concepts and a positive approach to sustainability.

Free guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC experiences can be found at

Follow CLOtC on twitter @CLOtC

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1 small step for me, 10 giant leaps for learning outside the classroom

Blog written by Elaine Skates, Chief Executive of CLOtC.

As Elaine Skates, Chief Executive of CLOtC moves on to pastures new, she reflects on the achievements of the past 10 years in improving learning outside the classroom practice and ensuring that more children have access to regular LOtC experiences as an essential part of their education.Empty_Classroom_049_FotoPlus

2008 was a big year for learning outside the classroom. With government backing, a partnership of stakeholders was working together to tackle the decline in educational visits arising from fear of litigation in schools. Teachers were frustrated by excessive red tape and children were missing out.

Ofsted published a report “Learning Outside the Classroom – how far should you go” celebrating the impact of LOtC and urging schools to ensure LOtC was integrated into the curriculum.  Ed Balls, then education secretary, launched free online ‘Out & About’ guidance and a new charity – the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) was being set up.

Since I joined the charity in 2009, I have seen many positive steps which have had a very real impact on the way schools utilise LOtC. Today I hardly ever hear health & safety cited as the reason for not doing LOtC and schools are planning LOtC more effectively with clear learning outcomes in mind.

The 10 great leaps for LOtCLOtC-QB-logo (2)

  1. Launch of LOtC Quality Badge. The LOtC Quality Badge has saved schools endless hours of time chasing paperwork. The inclusion of educational quality as well as risk management gives an important message about what schools should be looking for when planning LOtC.
  2. HSE Common Sense/Common Safety. Messaging from the Health and Safety Executive that children won’t learn about risk when they are wrapped in cotton wool has been instrumental in tackling the H&S fears and myths around school trips.
  3. Publication of National Guidance. The achievement of the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel (OEAP) in agreeing National Guidance for educational visits, removing the need for each school employer or establishment to write and maintain their own, cannot be overstated.
  4. Introduction of new national curriculum in England, Wales & curriculum for excellence in Scotland. All 3 national curriculums are full of opportunities for delivering LOtC, ensuring that the only limit is teachers’ imaginations. Department for Education recognition that LOtC can support the progress of disadvantaged pupils and pupil premium funding can be used for LOtC has also enabled more LOtC for all.Mark-Gold-logo-low-res
  5. Launch of LOtC Mark accreditation for schools. Informed by knowledge of what works in schools, the national LOtC Mark accreditation gives schools a development framework to help them embed and integrate regular LOtC. Away logo white background
  6. Learning Away action research. Evidencing the impact of residentials, Learning Away has helped schools to innovate, resulting in more schools taking children on residential earlier and trying new approaches.
  7. Natural Connections demonstration project. Focusing on learning in natural environments close to home, this research improved our understanding of how schools can be supported to embed outdoor learning, and contributed to the inclusion of objectives to encourage children to be close to nature in the governments new 25 Year Environment Plan.
  8. Join up between research, policy & practice. The work of the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the Strategic Research Group for Learning in Natural Environments in identifying evidence gaps and establishing local research hubs has been a huge step forward and will ensure more effective evidence and use of research in future years.
  9. Launch of Brilliant Residentials campaign. Demonstrating the impact we canBrilliant_Residentials_full_colour have if we all work together, members of the Learning Away Consortium and residential providers have promoted the value of residentials and how to make them even better.
  10. Cross sector advocacy and collaboration. Most exciting of all, the leadership of the Outdoor Council and the positivity of other LOtC Sector Partnerships united through the LOtC Sectors Working Group have strengthened relationships and united partners to pull together. Great things will come out of closer collaboration and I can’t wait for the fruition of these efforts for the benefit of young people.

There are new challenges of course (funding, inclusivity & evaluation to name a few) but looking back at just how far we have come over the last 10 years makes me very excited about where we will be in 2028. I am immensely proud of what has been achieved by CLOtC, our partners and most importantly the schools who embrace our messages, research & tools to make education exciting & real. As I pass the CLOtC baton on I have never been more optimistic about the future for LOtC and what that means for the next generation.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the national charity that campaigns for every child to experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of education. Free online guidance, resources, membership, accreditations and other support for schools and providers is available at

About the Author

ElaineElaine Skates- Chief Executive Officer of CLOtC

Elaine joined CLOtC in 2009 as Head of Operations and Communications. Highlights of her career at CLOtC include writing and implementing a communications strategy; developing training and resources to support curriculum delivery; working to ensure the inclusion of LOtC opportunities in the new national curriculum; and launching and developing a membership scheme as a core funding stream and product which today delivers support for over 800 schools, organisations and individuals.

Before joining CLOtC in 2009, Elaine worked for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the Institution of Chemical Engineers.

Elaine is a passionate believer in the benefits of learning outside the classroom in raising attainment and giving young people the skills they need for real life and employment. In her spare time she practices what she preaches, getting out and about with her two boys and enabling them to get  dirty, learn about risk and develop their knowledge of the world through wonderful hands on experiences.

Elaine leaves CLOtC on 10th May 2018 to become the Head of Learning and Skills with the Heart of England Forest.

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