Five years ago, Dan Corlett wrote a blog for Countryside Classroom about why it is important for children to learn about food, farming and the natural environment. The four reasons he gave are even more sharply relevant now as we wrestle with the wide-reaching ramifications of COVID-19.
It matters for children now – Children and young people have been unable to attend school during lockdown and many families have turned to nature as a restorative place to be. Experts have pointed out that children’s health and wellbeing are foundational to learning, and research has shown that time spent outdoors appreciating nature can help children cope with challenges, big and small. The increased interest in gardening and growing shown over this period may also enhance children’s understanding of where their food comes from and how they value nature.
It matters for children’s futures - Building on these seeds of interest, schools have the potential to change the way future generations understand, appreciate and relate to nature, responding to concerns about children’s disconnection from nature. Some children will struggle to readjust to classroom structure and can be supported by using a range of pedagogies in outdoor spaces. Denmark has already trialled increased use of outdoor teaching and found it successful in managing social distancing within stable social groups. There is an equal imperative to catch up on lost learning and address widening attainment gaps as schools reopen. From Natural Connections, we know that teachers appreciate help linking the curriculum and outdoor activities. The new book series The National Curriculum Outdoors is intended to meet that need by offering fully planned six-week progressions for each subject and year group, building on existing skills and knowledge across the key stages and evidencing intent, implementation and impact. When staff juggle myriad calls on their time, the books represent ready resources to offer the variety of teaching approaches and learning environments that will be needed.
It matters for everyone now – Parents are concerned about their children returning to school safely whilst they also acknowledge the importance of resuming school-based teaching, maintaining children’s social skills and extending knowledge, skills and understanding across the curriculum. Some may have noticed that spending more time outside has been a game changer for families’ health and wellbeing. But for others, lockdown has meant their children’s access to nature has been severely restricted. School-based outdoor learning can help to redress this imbalance. And because of the reduced risk of infection outside, schools have been advised to utilise outdoor space in recent DfE guidance.
It matters for everyone’s future – The beauty of embedding teaching outdoors in every school’s new normal is that it has the capacity to achieve so many outcomes that we wish for our children, our society and our planet going forward: encouraging healthy bodies and positive lifestyles; developing social, confident and connected people; stimulating self-regulated and creative learning; supporting effective contributions and collaboration; and underpinning care and action for others and the environment. We hope our books will contribute to achieving a brighter future.
 Natural Connections was funded by the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Natural England and Historic England to develop effective ways to support outdoor learning in schools.