Anna Young and Jakk Capewell, learning tutors at St Giles Special School in Derby, tell us how learning outside the classroom promotes positive wellbeing and mental health.
The pair gave a presentation about SEN (special educational needs) beyond the classroom as part of a Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) webinar. They spoke about its benefits, barriers as well as how to overcome them and enable all children to make connections with their local surroundings and further afield.
Some of the frequent barriers to outdoor learning they identified were:
• Weather – emphasising how important it is to have the correct outdoor gear for the children and staff.
• Time constraints – they see the outdoors as an extension to the classroom and mirror whatever they’re doing in the classroom, outside. Their aim is for the children to be taught outside at least once or twice a day.
• Medical needs – ensuring that different pupils’ needs are accommodated, for example they may go outside in certain seasons.
• Staff attitudes or perception – they have involved staff in sessions after school, so they know more about the lessons.
• Space – making the most of their outdoor space.
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Anna said: “The main benefit of learning outside the classroom is promoting positive wellbeing and mental health. We assess our children on wellbeing twice a year which showcases their holistic development.”
“The children always surprise us and surpass expectations, for example we have a child who has mobility issues who we took to the park and was obsessed with climbing trees which was fantastic to see.”
They see the outdoor classroom areas very much as an extension to the indoor classrooms.
As well as activities in the grounds, they go off-site regularly during normal times. Some of these include trips to; nearby Calke Abbey, Derby Cathedral, Elvaston Castle, Cleethorpes beach as well as activities such as horse riding, swimming, tennis and trips to local supermarkets and garden centres.
Anna added: “We use the best of what our community has to offer – we’re close to parks and a supermarket – we regularly use these as part of our teaching and learning in the real world.
“We’ve always learnt that our children learn best that way. It’s about promoting independence in the real world.”
St Giles Special School has the silver Learning Outside the Classroom Mark accreditation from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.