Caroline Carr, founder of the Outdoor Learning Consultancy will be visiting the AAS this week. She and Clare Ward will be leading a parent forest walk and talk on Friday April 21st. She spoke to the Eco Green Committee about her work bringing children closer to the environment, and the educational and behavioral results this brings.
Why do we need outdoor learning consultants for our children?
Caroline Carr: My degree is a combined teacher training with outdoor education. A lot of the activities we did were about taking children outside and connecting with nature and the environment. After my degree, I went to work in South America for a company that had a big focus on educating people on caring for the environment. Then, I taught in a primary school for 15 years. I just found we weren’t taking the children outside enough and getting them connected with the environment. When I left, I thought about how I could make learning more interactive and practical, more hands-on and link it to the environment. That’s where the Outdoor Learning Consultancy came from. Ideas like taking literacy outside; being inspired by real trees, nature and the environment. Rather than just looking at pictures in a book or on a whiteboard. Through that, I am interested in how children engage more with learning and how they are more interested in learning because being outside makes you feel better than being inside.
What are the skills that children can learn while outdoors? Or is it more about the benefits of experiencing nature and being outside?
Caroline Carr: One of the things we do in the outdoor learning school is understanding how children feel about things and their understanding about the world around them. The idea is to learn about others and how to work with one another, through working outdoors. It might be about building a fire together, about team work and just interacting in a different way to what you would do in a classroom.
In England, the focus is on testing and grammar and punctuation – in other words lots of individual skills. We have lost some of the teamwork skills. Even with the smaller children, it’s about choosing what clothes to wear when they go out. Or making the decision about taking your jacket off when you are too hot – very personal decisions about themselves that are linked to the environment they are in. This also links to creating sparks of interest so that children can go out and find out more about things they are interested in. Whether it’s about nature or different things they can use for making a fire or whether it’s being creative.
Some six-year-olds wrote amazing poems after being outside as they had real life experiences they could connect to. That links to better quality writing and better quality language. They have experienced something real, rather than looking at a book or hearing a description. The final thing is learning and understanding more about the environment.
Do you have research to back up the idea that spending time outdoors benefits students in terms of school results and behavior?
Caroline Carr: Yes, certainly for behavior and attitudes to learning there is research in the forest schools where they have worked with target groups that were struggling with either behavior or learning in school. Through being outside, they have become more engaged with the learning and have built better connections with teachers and staff and with each other. The other thing is that there is a lot of research about health and well-being and mental health and the links to how being outside helps.
I was working with six-year-olds and we made an outside classroom where we did math and writing. The sun was out. One little girl gave a sigh and remarked on how lovely it was. You could see that she felt better about herself for being outside. Of course, she got on with doing her work. It was just a different feeling to being inside.
What is your view on children and electronics? What is the right age, if any, for children to start using computers/iPad/iPhone?
Caroline Carr: There is a lot of research about screen time taking over children’s lives. I am going to be discussing this in my talk. We are very much a technological society now. With the outdoors, it’s about how you can work alongside each other. I had a seven-year-old doing a floating and sinking experiment outside and they recorded the results using an iPad. There is a place to meld technology and the outside. In addition, technology is useful for researching and finding out information. There is so much information at their fingertips these days. I do think there must be a balance between using electronics and the outside. I don’t know how we manage that.
What are the essential things that children should be doing outside on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?
Caroline Carr: Playing. Again, different countries have different cultures as to being out and playing. Where we are in England, there are a lot of children who don’t get to go out and play in the trees or even in the garden. The key is having the opportunity to be outside: playing by yourself or with others, having interactions with families. The important thing is being outside, in the fresh air – whether you are involved in an organized game, free flowing on the beach, or making up your own game.