Why On Earth Do We Trap School Children Inside Four Walls to Learn?

Updated: May 8, 2019

There is little doubt that outdoor and experiential learning has many benefits for children. It helps make learning relevant, meaningful and authentic by engaging learners through hands-on experience. Abstract concepts and knowledge learned within the classroom make much more sense when set in a real-world context.

Regular curriculum subjects can be brought to life outside the classroom, by using the senses and engaging students using a wide variety of learning approaches. Students can see, touch, smell, hear and taste things for themselves, which helps to solidify learning and create a buzz of excitement that promotes a love of learning through student-led discovery.


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Are We Just Box Ticking?

So why not make structured outdoor learning an integral part of every school day? What would we need to do to truly incorporate curriculum-based outdoor education into every child's learning? What might the barriers and challenges be?

Of course, most schools in the developed world do incorporate some form of outdoor education into the school program, often through a residential trip based on outdoor adventure or similar. But it can sometimes feel like it's more of a box ticking exercise than an integral part of our education system, which I believe needs to change.

Outdoor Education Residentials

Outdoor education residentials typically go something like this: The children arrive, do some ice breaker activities, go hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and play some team building games, reflect on their experiences and finish with a campfire on the final evening. Then they return to the four walls of the school classroom, only to do it all over again (or something similar) the following year.

Of course, there's lots of value in sleeping away from home and experiencing challenge and adventure in nature, together with independence away from parents and siblings. That's not my point. As the current Program Director at The Howling Gibbon Outdoor Education Centre in Thailand, I can attest to the value of such residential experiences for young people. But it's not enough to go on an outdoor education residential for three days per year, and tick the outdoor learning box each time until the following academic year. We need to go further, much further!

Forest Schools

On the other end of the outdoor learning spectrum are Forest Schools, which adopt outdoor play and curriculum-based learning, almost entirely outside usually within a woodland environment. There are now a growing number of Forest Schools, which are gaining popularity in many countries, especially within Europe. For some parents though, forest schools are a step too far, while others sing the praises of the Forest School ethos for their sons and daughters from the rooftops (or more likely the tallest trees)!