Information: curriculum outdoors

Information on the theory and practice of outdoor curriculum and the curriculum outdoors – from case studies to policies, examples of forms, documents & handouts, research and articles, and much more to support your theoretical explorations into the outdoors.

With your help the information section can grow – can you recommend sample policies, signpost articles or videos, share documents or resources? Please contribute so we can build the knowledge and good practice of all people working with groups outdoors. Contact us via share@muddyfaces.co.uk

Reports, articles, research etc are, as much as possible, arranged in chronological order, most recent at the top. 

Take early education outdoors – even in winter

‘The physical and learning benefits of teaching outside mean you should wrap up warm and get on with it … we should be actively encouraging their outdoor play for a variety of reasons.’ TES, 29 January 2019.


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

‘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?’ Outdoortopia, 1 November 2018.


What are the benefits of outdoor learning?

‘As outdoor education advocates, JCA have compiled some of the benefits of outdoor learning and why we recommend teachers as well as parents to take part in this inspiring campaign.’ (Outdoor Classroom Day). JCA, 4 October 2018.


Outdoor education prepares pupils for GCSEs

‘Adventure-based activities build resilience and confidence – the ideal preparation for the GCSE years, writes one head.’ TES, 3 September 2018.


Dirt is Good: Why the Outdoors is the World’s Greatest Playground

The ethos and benefits of Outdoor Classroom Day. ‘…reasserting the importance of outdoor learning and play with the goal that children will spend more time outside in the world’s greatest playground.’ National Geographic, 7 May 2018.


Using the outdoors as a classroom: Forest School approach being explored in Kenora

‘Being outside ‘makes us happier beings’ and more attentive says principal of Keewatin Public School.’ Nice description of how the curriculum is being taken outdoors at a school in Ontario. CBC (Canada), 3 April 2018.


Lessons from Denmark: the Benefits of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic in the Great Outdoors

The Danish concept of udeskole (literally translated as “outdoor school”) is an approach to Education Outside the Classroom, which aims to integrate children and young people’s educational activities with the outdoors, often in natural settings, and promote their activity levels, well-being, and academic learning.’ Children & nature Network, 22 March 2018.


Why Teach Literacy Outside?

Here are ten reasons to get outside and teach literacy!
“Recently I was asked to think about why I teach literacy outside. Whilst there is a lot of focus on early years and literacy, the value of reading, writing, talking and listening outside for children and young people of all ages is significant.” From Juliet Robertson of Creative STAR Learning on the Circle of Life Rediscovery blog, 7 February 2018.


Outdoor lessons improve children’s learning

‘A study found that, after teaching a lesson outside, teachers were able to hold kids’ attention for nearly twice as long during a subsequent indoor lesson.’ This article summarises it. Treehugger (US), 19 January 2018.


Digital knowledge is a poor substitute for learning in the real world

Today, children spend more time learning in front of a screen than they do outdoors. But does this harm their understanding of the real world and physical mechanisms? ScienceNordic, 9 January 2018.


It’s official: muddy kids learn best

“Outdoor learning for children might be breaking into the mainstream – and having seen the benefits first-hand, I’m thrilled”, says Guardian writer Patrick Barkham, discussing his children’s award-winning outdoor nursery and forest school. 23 October 2017.


Wood Wise – nature inspires education

‘In this issue teachers and practitioners share their approaches to integrating nature with education.’ Articles include: Learning and development through forest school; Educating primary schools through Teaching Trees; and Bringing outdoor learning to life. Journal of the Woodland Trust, Autumn 2017.


magazine cover - a group of children in school uniforms walking away through long grass

10 Ways to Teach Children about Where Their Food Comes From

“Ways that parents can help to connect their children with the outdoors in general and farming in particular.” Farmer’s Wife & Mummy, 6 July 2017.


A natural history GCSE? It might help get our children outdoors

The experts agree: children are too enclosed. Lessons about Britain’s flora and fauna could be the answer. The Guardian, 1 April 2017.


Outdoor learning ‘boosts children’s development’

Outdoor learning can have a positive impact on children’s development but it needs to be formally adopted, a report suggests. ‘… although there was a significant body of research that supports outdoor learning in both formal and informal contexts, it was likely to remain on the margins of education until the benefits were recognised by policymakers and reflected in policies. ‘ BBC Science & Environment News, 15 July 2016.


Want your kids to do well at school? Send them outside to play

‘The decline of free play time in favor of structured learning has resulted in never-seen-before sensory issues and emotional problems in young children.’ Treehugger (US), 16 February 2016.


Five easy ways urban schools can experiment with outdoor learning

‘Outdoor learning isn’t just the preserve of rural schools. These simple ideas will help you incorporate outdoor learning in a concrete jungle.’ The Guardian, 3 February 2016.


The Facts about Outdoor Learning: What’s all the buzz about?

‘The following quotes and links are just a start to show you how outdoor learning can create a positive impact in a variety of different ways.’ Teach Outdoors, c2016.


We need fewer exams and more wilderness in education

“Instead of pumping time and money into exams, we should focus on wellbeing and encouraging children to connect with the natural world.” Broadcaster, traveller and adventurer Ben Fogle considers national tests for 7 year-olds and the importance of nature for children. The Guardian, 12 December 2015.


The right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class

‘All he needed was time and practice to play with peers in the woods – in order to foster his emotional, physical, and social development.’ Washington Post, 7 October 2014.


Udeskole in Scandinavia: Teaching and Learning in Natural Places

‘… the approach is often to work with an academic subject matter or concept in its real, concrete form to facilitate learning and understanding. Schools and teachers often argue for the potential of pupils’ getting to know their neighborhood and visiting nature as an aspect of everyday life.’ With references & links to research. Children & Nature Network, 12 February 2013.


The Facts about Outdoor Learning

“There are huge benefits in providing children with opportunities to have regular access to outdoor environments. The following quotes and links are just a start to show you how outdoor learning can create a positive impact in a variety of different ways.” Teach Outdoors (not dated).


Seven easy steps to introduce outdoor learning in your school

“So, you’ve probably heard the benefits of outdoor learning a dozen times; alert, happy, healthy, well-socialised kids learning all sorts of curriculum-based subjects by doing… But when it comes to actually introducing outdoor learning into your teaching, we know it can feel a bit daunting.
That’s why our Education Team, who have lots of experience delivering these sorts of outdoor activities – as well as helping teachers do the same in their school – have produced a quick guide to get you started.” From the education team at the Eden Project (not dated).


Activities, games & challenges for learning outside the classroom, by Tracey Maciver

Aims to inspire you when working with children and groups outside the classroom – with lots of sensible and practical advice about running sessions outside. Available from Muddy Faces.


book cover - Activities Games And Challenges Outside The Classroom

Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, by Sharon Gamson Danks 

‘Guidebook for designing & building natural schoolyard environments that enhance childhood learning & play experiences while providing connection with the natural world.’ (International) case studies … demonstrate natural outdoor teaching environments that support hands-on learning in science, math, language & art in ways that nurture healthy imagination & socialization.’ 2010.


Ashphalt To Ecosystems book cover, with a child holding a handful of potatoes

Learning with Nature – Embedding Outdoor Practice, by Claire Warden

Centres on outstanding outdoor practice and how children can learn and develop in natural environments. Focussing on children from 2-11 this book contains a self-evaluation toolkit, examples of good practice and a chapter on assessment & planning to help ensure quality of provision. Available from Muddy Faces.


Learning with Nature book cover

Outdoor Learning in the Early Years, by Helen Bilton

The complete guide to creating effective outdoor environments for young children’s learning. Contains a multitude of ideas &  activities for working outdoors in the early years & provides a framework to analyse and develop outdoor provision. Available from Muddy Faces.


Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide, by Steve Rich

‘Practical suggestions for creating, maintaining, and using outdoor classrooms work for both elementary and middle school students. The simple and inexpensive lessons satisfy national standards and curriculum objectives in the areas of life, Earth, and environmental sciences—without a field trip permission slip in sight! Math, social studies, and language arts activities that can be easily integrated into the curriculum are also included.’ (US)


Outdoor Science book cover

Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning

Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool, K-8
Offers teachers step-by-step guidance to ensure success when they take a class outside. With background theory & research, & advice on planning, enhancing & maintaining the site; developing gardens & attracting wildlife; finding community resources & funding; working with a class outdoors; making the most of your outdoor time, & activities related to specific subject areas, or that encourage initiative & build community.


Schoolyard Enhanced Learning book cover

Thinking Critically about Environments for Young Children, edited by Lisa P Kuh

Bridging Theory & Practice
‘Aesthetics, politics, and space configurations in school environments for young children; outdoor spaces … intentionally designed playscapes, children’s gardens, and spontaneous improvisational play venues; the role of environments outside school …’


book cover for Thinking Critically About Environments For Young Children

Schoolyard Design Guide

‘We hope these ideas will inspire creative schoolyard projects in communities across the globe! Each section highlights specific areas or elements that can be incorporated into a schoolyard renovation. Accompanying photos illustrate examples of these design concepts. The checklist at the end is a tool for reviewing final site plans.’  Boston Schoolyard Initiative (US), 2013 (pdf).


Schoolyard Design Guide cover

How to set up a food co-op or buying group in a school

“This simple “how to” factsheet advises schools on how to make fresh, local, ethically produced food more accessible to the local community, whilst supporting local farmers by providing them with a local, regular and reliable outlet. A school food co-op can also support other programmes such as Healthy Schools, Eco Schools and Food For Life.” From Sustain, 2011.


Setting up a food coop factsheet

Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto

7 key pledges for supporting learning outside the classroom, plus some background into its benefits, purposes and methods. From DfES, 2006.


Learning Outisde The Classroom Manifesto

A Child’s Garden of Standards

Written to link school gardens to California Education Standards. Examines the benefits & concepts of school gardens, & offers garden-based activities linked to academic study areas & grade levels, with contributions from schools successfully using this model, with plenty of content transferable to similar projects on the UK. California Department of Education, 2002, on Green Schoolyard Network.


A Child's Garden Of Standards report cover

The Good School Playground Guide

Inspiration for creating spaces which stimulate physical activity and meet children’s developmental needs to explore, create, collaborate, socialise and simply ‘be’.
Contents: Designing for play; Playground placemaking; A word about risk; Design for learning; Nature; Growing; Making it happen. From SEED.


Good School Playground Guide cover shot

Outdoor Classrooms, Labs & Habitats

‘From the simplest outdoor seating structure to multi-faceted schoolyard habitats, gardens, restoration areas, outdoor labs, weather stations and more, there are endless possibilities to create (and keep creating!) outdoor settings that are functional for teachers and engaging for students.’ This is a compete guide to how to do it! From Bay Backpack.


An Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Words

This free guide by Eva John accompanies The Lost Words. It’s for anyone with an interest in nature, words and images who wants to explore further some of the ideas and creatures conjured up by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris in their enchanting ‘spell book’. Also seasonal posters to download, info on how to run your own training sessions and other related resources – all free. John Muir Trust, 2018.


cover of the Explorers Guide To The Lost Words guide, with birds fluttering near a dandelion

Eco-schools: topic related resources

Projects, lessons and inspiration for making your school more eco-friendly – topics include: energy, litter, waste, water, global citizenship, transport, healthy living, biodiversity and school grounds.


Eden Project: school lesson plans

Free curriculum-linked lesson plans from the Education Team – to help you teach primary and secondary classes everything from biology to design.


National Wildlife Federation: lesson plans & webinars

NWF’s collection of more than 1,000 lesson plans are designed to introduce students to life science, ecology, wildlife biology, scientific identification, and observation. All lesson plans are aligned to the National Science Education Standards, USA.


Nature Works Everywhere

‘Gives teachers, students and families everything they need to start exploring and understanding nature around the globe … Our interactive lesson plans align to standards and can be customized for each classroom.’ Created ‘to help students learn the science behind how nature works for us and how we can help keep it running strong.’ From the Nature Conservancy (US).


SEED resources

Topics for teachers, with resources for early years, primary and secondary levels – on habitats & homes, energy & climate change, equality & justice, health & wellbeing, water, green growth & economics, design for the future, nature and biodiversity, communication & media, working with the community, food & farming.


Timeline of Environmental History

‘A detailed chronological exploration of the history of the interaction between human culture and nature … a reference tool for students, educators, scholars, and anyone interested in environmental history and related subjects. The timeline extends from deep history to the present day … divided in three main blocks: Prehistory and AntiquityMiddle Ages and Early Modern PeriodIndustrial Revolution and the 20th centuryFrom Environmental History Resources.


Links

Our curriculum outdoors links page signposts you to the main national bodies, key organisations, initiatives and websites in the world of outdoor learning, the outdoor curriculum and covering the school curriculum outdoors.

Have a browse – there are tons of links to loads of interesting, important & inspiring organisations!


From muddy hands and dirty faces… to higher grades and happy places

Outdoor learning & play at schools around the world. ‘… looking at how much time children around the world spend playing & learning outside as part of the school day … includes a review of the wide-ranging literature about why outdoor learning & play are important & an overview of the impact of the Outdoor Classroom Day movement.’ With key statistics & findings. Prisk & Cusworth, Outdoor Classroom Day, November 2018.


Muddy Hands Report - a cartoon of a muddy child looking at a plant through a magnifying glass

Natural Connections Demonstration Project

Natural Connections was a four year project (2012 to 2016) funded by Defra, Natural England & Historic England, delivered by Plymouth University, developing & testing effective ways to provide local support to schools & teachers to enable outdoor learning. Natural England, July 2016.

Teachers resource: Transforming Outdoor Learning in Schools – lessons from the Natural Connections Project
‘This booklet aims to provide school staff with a compelling introduction to the value and impact of well-planned regular outdoor learning for pupils, teachers and schools as a whole.’
Natural England final report: Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016: Final Report and Analysis of the Key Evaluation Questions (NECR215)
Gov.uk press release: England’s largest outdoor learning project reveals children more motivated to learn when outside
Film: see video tab below.


Transforming Outdoor Learning In Schools report cover
Natural Connections Final Report cover

Student Outcomes & Natural Schooling: Pathways from evidence to impact report

Executive summary: ‘Children are becoming disconnected from the natural environment. They are spending less and less time outdoors. In fact, the likelihood of children visiting any green space at all has halved in a generation.’
Natural Environment White Paper (HMG 2011:12)
‘Experience and a variety of evidence suggest that learning in natural environments (LINE) can be effective in delivering transformational change in outcomes for students and hence by inference to school performance.’ (eftec 2011:1).
With recommendations to help improve the impact of policy & research underpinning the implementation of the Framework for 21st Century Student Outcomes from outdoor learning.’ Plymouth University, 2016.


Student Outcomes And Natural Schooling report cover

The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature

“This report presents findings on the impact of connection to nature from a survey of 775 children, using the child as the unit of analysis, rather than aggregated data. The results demonstrated that children who were more connected to nature had significantly higher English attainment, although this wasn’t repeated for Mathematics.” Report by the University of Derby for the RSPB, 2015.


Impact of Childrens Connection to Nature report cover

Do school grounds have a value as an educational resource in the secondary sector?

‘This review will assess the evidence currently available about how school grounds can be valuable to learning in secondary schools, and consider whether deficiencies in the quantity or quality of the research might be responsible for these benefits being underexploited or undervalued.’ Fully referenced and evidence reviewed. Barbara Chillman, Sussex University / Learning through Landscapes, on Green Schoolyard Network. c2004.


TEACHOUT: udeskole

‘The overall aim of the TEACHOUT project is to generate knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of practicing udeskole compared to mainstream education under the framework of the new school reform. Udeskole is a broad term referring to curriculum-based teaching outside of school in natural as well as cultural settings on a regular basis.’ University of Copenhagen, 2016-ongoing.


Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement? Refueling Students in Flight

‘This study is the first to our knowledge to directly examine the effects of lessons in nature on subsequent classroom engagement … The findings here suggest that lessons in nature allow students to simultaneously learn classroom curriculum while rejuvenating their capacity for learning, or “refuel in flight.” ‘ Frontiers in Psychology, 4 January 2018.


Outdoor play boosts children’s performance in class, says study

A new study from Norway found clear associations between the extent of children’s outdoor play and their ability to make progress in school. Monica Arkin of Child Trends discusses the significance of the findings in this article on the Child in the City website, 10 October 2017.


Research into the benefits of outdoor learning – infographic 

“We’ve spent some time scouring academic studies and projects to bring you an easy to consume infographic with some of the amazing information we have found… some incredible things about student impact… ” JCA, 30 August 2017.


Infographic on research into benefits of outdoor learning

Should kids go back to school barefoot? &
Schoolchildren with no shoes on ‘do better and behave better in the classroom’, research shows

2 articles looking at research conducted at Bournemouth University which found many benefits of going to school barefoot. From Eco Child’s Play and The Telegraph, 24 May 2016.


Study links camping to doing better at school

“Children who camp in the great outdoors at least once a year go on to do better at school, as well as being healthier and happier, according to their parents. That’s the finding of a study carried out by the Institute of Education at Plymouth University and the Camping and Caravanning Club, who collaborated to discover perceptions of the relationship between education and camping.” Plymouth University, 21 May 2015.


Stirling research shows value of outdoor learning for school pupils

‘Teachers who bring their pupils into the outdoors find it makes their learning more enjoyable, challenging, active and collaborative, according to University of Stirling research published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).’ March 2015.


Effects of Outdoor School Ground Lessons on Students’ Science Process Skills and Scientific Curiosity

Fully referenced academic study whose purpose was to investigate the effects of outdoor school ground lessons on Year Five students’ science process skills and scientific curiosity. November 2014.


Mayflower Academy – Physical health and wellbeing outcomes of LINE

Research focus: to explore children’s experience of outdoor learning in natural environments (LINE) and how that impacts on their physical health and wellbeing. The research took place at Mayflower Primary Academy, Plymouth.’ Part of the Good From Woods Project, 2013.


To bolster academics, Philly schools turning to the outdoors

‘… students reported themselves more likely to be leaders in their school, assist those who need help, believe in their ability to succeed, and take responsibility for their actions … Nearly every student the researchers interviewed indicated significant learning.’ The Inquirer (US), 12 November 2012.


Losing Our Way? The Downward Path for Outdoor Learning for Children Aged 2-11 Years

‘The author argues that multiple benefits for children of outdoor learning should encourage policy-makers and practitioners to reverse the decline in provision and ensure that children maintain opportunities to learn outside the classroom throughout their primary schooling.’ Sue Waite, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, on ERIC, December 2010.


What does the research say about Outdoor Learning?

Bringing together key findings from reviews of research and major studies in Outdoor Learning, including school trips and wild adventures, outdoor education, wellbeing etc. From the English Outdoor Council, c2010.

From the same source: What is Outdoor Learning? What are the Benefits of Outdoor Learning? Examples of Benefits Gained from Outdoor LearningOutdoor Learning Research Sources, How Safe is Outdoor Learning? and Why Does Outdoor Learning Matter?


11 Proven Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Referenced blog post pointing to research into various beneficial aspects of outdoor learning, including: better grades, increased motivation, better overall behaviour, enhanced communication skills and increased self-reliance. Bachelors Degree Online (US), c2008.


Summary of the Effects of Outdoor Education Programs or “Does Outdoor Education Work?”

“A meta-analysis of 97 outcome studies from around the world… The research evidence indicates that the effectiveness of outdoor education programming on average is positive and roughly equivalent to other innovative psychosocial interventions. The overall message from the research is that outdoor education has clear potential, if well designed, to foster enhancements of personal and social aspects of learning and development. In addition, at least 11 factors appear to influence what happens to participants during a program and the overall effects of the program.” Wilderdom (Aus), 2006.


Engaging and learning with the outdoors

The final (full) report and a summary of the outdoor classroom in a rural context action research project.

‘The aim was to extend research-based understandings of educational activities using the outdoor classroom in a rural context … it focused on the processes & impacts & the planning & evaluation of outdoor learning. These issues were explored in three outdoor learning contexts: (i) school grounds and gardens; (ii) farms and city farms; and (iii) field study/nature centres.’ NFER, February 2004.


The Effects of Environment-Based Education on Students’ Achievement Motivation

‘The results of this study provide evidence of environment-based education’s ability to improve high school students’ achievement motivation and support its use in school reform efforts … implications for formal educators, environmental educators and interpreters are discussed.’ Athman & Monroe, Journal of Interpretation Research (US), 2004. (pdf)


Natural Connections Demonstration Project

Natural Connections was a four year project (2012 to 2016) funded by Defra, Natural England and Historic England, and delivered by Plymouth University, developing and testing effective ways to provide local support to schools and teachers to enable outdoor learning. (see reports tab for more info). 13 July 2016. (11 mins 29)


Conserving Wonder – Sir David Attenborough

“A Learning Through Landscapes film in which Sir David Attenborough explains how schools in England are facing tough decisions to accommodate a sharp rise in pupils. He strongly believes that making the choice to sacrifice their outdoor spaces will not only have a catastrophic effect on children’s connection with nature but also their learning, behaviour, health and well-being too.” 21 October 2014. (3 mins 25)