Study reveals level of outdoor education

A new report from national agency NatureScot has highlighted how Scotland’s children could be offered increased amounts of outdoor learning and play, stimulating a post-pandemic generation’s connection to nature and its benefits.

Friday, 21st April 2023, 3:29pm
Study reveals level of outdoor education

The most extensive research on the topic to be published since 2014, the report was co-funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority and Cairngorms National Park Authority.

It offers an in-depth picture of teaching, learning and play activity provided by staff working in 19 early years centres and 25 primary schools.

The provision of outdoor learning and play in early years education in Scotland has increased compared to 2014, rising from 36% of the day spent outdoors in 2014 to 39% in 2022. It continues to focus strongly on play and shows a small increase in off-site provision in woodland locations.

Demonstrating the benefit of learning in nature over other outdoor spaces, the survey reports that more than half of the events in woodlands and at lochs and coastal areas were felt to enhance the challenge or enjoyment for pupils, while less than half of activities held in the school grounds were felt to offer the same benefits.

While outdoor learning continues to be seen by teachers as curriculum-enhancing and enjoyable, considerable numbers of teachers across primary and early years lack confidence in offering it. Schools providing more outdoor learning time tend to be smaller - all schools offering more than 10 minutes per pupil per week of outdoor provision had a roll of less than 100 pupils, while schools located in more deprived areas faced greater challenges.

Sharon Cunningham, NatureScot’s outdoor learning adviser, said: “Scotland’s nature offers the key to healthy, engaging and valuable time spent playing and learning outdoors for our children. Given that we have seen a decline, NatureScot looks forward to supporting the sector through these challenges as it builds the confidence of our educators.”

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