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Outdoor Learning: is it time to Rewild your Child?

Outdoor Learning: is it time to Rewild your Child?

Outdoor Learning: is it time to Rewild your Child?

In the third of our blog series about what makes Salisbury Cathedral School special we consider why our children bloom in the great outdoors?


Our beautiful campus is undoubtedly one of the key ingredients of what makes our school special. Right in the heart of the city, our pupils reside in 27 acres of green space which is open for play every break time from when they are three to thirteen years old. Muddy knees and flushed faces rush around making memories next to the lake, beneath the canopies of trees, in dens built from sticks and playing chase across lawns and pitches. 


But the days of the great gardens of the Bishop’s Palace being only for playtimes and sport are numbered. The new guy in the staffroom – Will Frost, Head of Outdoor Learning – is campaigning for more lessons to be conducted outside in ‘Nature’s Classroom’. It’s not enough for him that ‘Outdoor Learning’ has its own sessions on the timetable, he wants more. He explains ‘the end goal is a cultural shift that sees all our staff thinking, I wonder if I could take this lesson outside?’


And why, you may ask, would he want to do that? First and foremost, the psychological benefits of spending time in nature are numerous. Observing plants, trees, water and creatures is naturally mindful and calming[1]. In this environment children are more able to access their subconscious knowledge and understanding as well as their conscious minds. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that often children who have been deemed to be having difficulties with their learning will positively shine in a different, outdoor environment[2].


The potential of outdoor learning to improve academic endeavours has been long recognised by the government. Back in 2006 two government departments – children and schools, culture and the environment – signed a manifesto from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (LOTC) stating: ‘We strongly support the educational case for learning outside the classroom. If all young people were given these opportunities, we believe it would make a significant contribution to raising achievement.’[3]


Two years later Ofsted, the schools’ inspection service, commissioned a report titled: Learning Outside the Classroom, how far should you go? The report found that ‘learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.’ It also stipulated that outdoor learning is most successful when it is an ‘integral element of long-term curriculum planning’. [4]


Prior to becoming a teacher, Will worked for the National Trust for 10 years and an early experience opened his eyes to the power of nature to bring out the best in people. Every Friday he collected a group of young jobseekers who had to participate in volunteering to remain eligible for benefits. Many of the young people involved had recognised drug and alcohol problems and Will was unsure about how much his new crew would benefit from the planned outdoor rehabilitation programme.


‘I’ve never been so happy to be so completely wrong,’ Will remembers. ‘After a tiring day cutting back invasive rhododendrons, my young team came to life with an amazing sense of purpose. The time outside in nature, camaraderie and all the fresh air and exercise, was the most tremendous tonic for all and by the end of the day no one wanted to stop!’


As he progressed in his career with the National Trust, Will found his job slowly detached from being outside with others and became more office based and target driven. It was the memory of how those young jobseekers blossomed in the fresh air that led him to teaching with a strong focus on taking children out into nature.


Will joined SCS in September, from Windlesham House School, with the aim of leaving the place (SCS) better than he found it and working to ensure all pupils have memorable experiences, learn a lot, and make meaningful friendships outside. His strategy to achieve this aim is simple. Working together with the passionate and talented SCS staff team, he hopes to rewild your child and their school environment.


Rewilding is an increasingly mainstream environmental movement committed to reversing the destruction of the natural world by doing (almost) nothing. It is all about relinquishing control. It is the reverse of conventional conservation policy. There is no box ticking, no target driven initiatives. Instead, land is given back to nature. Rivers are re-wiggled, scrub areas are left to grow, verges are planted with native wildflowers and, in larger areas such as the Knepp Estate,[5] herbivores have been reintroduced to create dynamic habitats through natural seed dispersal.


Having worked as a guide at the Knepp Estate, Will is a huge supporter of the ‘Great Landscape Experiment’ the estate launched nearly twenty years ago. In 2002, the owners decided to hand the reins back to nature and create: ‘A Biodiverse Wilderness Area in the Low-Weald of Sussex’. Their hands-off method has produced remarkable wildlife successes in a relatively short space of time and also offered solutions for ‘soil restoration, flood mitigation, water and air purification, pollinating insects and carbon sequestration. It is visited by numerous conservation organisations, including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust, as well as policy makers, farmers and land-owners’[6].


The beauty of rewilding is that it’s open to everyone. You can rewild anything from a window box to the whole world. At SCS, we are starting small by just keeping everything we cut. It is a bit of a culture shock as the reality of rewilding is quite messy, after all bugs thrive in piles of twigs and leaves. Simply learning to live with your garden waste can stimulate fascinating biodiversity of insects very quickly. Tree trimmings make pretend swords and are fodder for den building. They are nature’s toys that bring great, simple joy to our pupils. There is much enthusiasm throughout the school community to go further. Our Year 8s have just created videos to inspire everyone to rewild their gardens as one of many challenges posed during SCS’s first Eco Week.


The concept of rewilding has been expanded to also reflect the importance of reconnecting our children with nature. And how do we do that? To connect with nature, children need to be outdoors in natural environments as much as possible. They need to play outside in woodlands, roll down hills and climb trees. They need to get wet and muddy and feel the wind, the rain and the sun on their skin. The more they do this the stronger, more confident, healthy and happy they will become.


Rewilding our children is not all play though. It’s also about creating connections with nature, getting them outside as much as possible. Whether it’s creating history timelines on the school driveway or demonstrating population pyramids by the cricket pitch, children thrive learning in new and different environments. SCS is also committed to ensuring future field trips provide opportunity for the children to get involved, whether they help track wildlife, litter pick or plant a tree or a hedge. If they revisit the same destination in the future, they will have a sense of pride knowing they have contributed. So, in answer to the title of this article, yes, we do believe it is most definitely time to rewild your child, and all the others too.


[1] Peadar Maxwell, child psychologist, quoted from https://www.independent.ie/life/family/mothers-babies/rewild-your-child-why-families-need-to-reconnect-with-nature-38451517.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/education-children-not-feral-enough

[3] https://www.lotc.org.uk/manifesto/view/d

[4] https://www.lotc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Ofsted-Report-Oct-2008.pdf

[5] https://knepp.co.uk/home

[6] https://knepp.co.uk/background