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Education and the Great Outdoors



Jonathan Hughes D'Aeth, Senior Advisor at Carfax Education, unravels the expansive nature of education and learning, that extends well beyond the confines of traditional classrooms.


Confucius was right when he observed “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. As a former geography teacher, it didn’t matter how engaging my lessons were on the different types of folds and faults in rocks, a picture would always help. But, even better was to take pupils to see and touch actual examples in the field. That they would remember! Outdoor education traces its roots to the ideologies of notable educational thinkers like Montessori and Kurt Hahn. It has materialized through various initiatives such as Forest School, The Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes, and the Scouts and Guides Movement, all of which emphasize the enriching aspects of outdoor learning. For kindergarten age children, research shows that learning outdoors provides controlled challenges that stimulate the senses and encourage children to build confidence, develop communication and physical skills and deepen their knowledge and understanding. For all age groups, being out of a formal school setting helps to develop those hard to measure qualities such as resilience, initiative, team work, responsibility, patience, respect and the ability to consider and take risks. Outdoor education can take place in a wide range of settings whether it is kayaking across an old gravel pit or trekking through a wild and remote mountain area. It could be bird watching from the margins of a sewage treatment plant to a camping in a national park. From Chemistry to History, from Music to Maths, Physics to Art, learning and development can be enhanced by being in an outdoor setting. An exciting classroom can go some way in stimulating all the senses, but being outside and experiencing it in person, cannot be replicated easily in even the best of virtual-reality based learning. While pictures in a classroom of a distant galaxy or even the moon are valuable, it does not compare with awe of stargazing at night. Memorable outdoor practical field trips, studies and expeditions are brilliant for not only developing subject knowledge but also promoting social and emotional development in the young. Moreover, Outdoor Education offers children the chance to create enduring memories, filled with joy, laughter, and occasional challenges like tears and blisters. Engaging in such experiences aids in their self-discovery, risk assessment, decision-making skills, and equips them with valuable tools to navigate adulthood successfully. Whether the Field Trip or the school residential, the Duke of Edinburgh award or ski trip, such ventures play a vital part in helping children grow both academically and as people. They learn much about themselves and others by being challenged physically and intellectually and by learning through experience in a natural setting.

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