Why one Aberdeen school is taking classes into the woods

Evidence suggests children today spend less time outdoors than their parents did when they were young.

At this event youngsters were helped by staff and a ranger to build a campfire, toast mashmallows and whittle their own sticks.

In fact, it is thought fewer children now play outdoors than in any previous generation.

But spending time outside is about much more than just fresh air.

In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the many benefits of outdoor play, learning and exercise – from health and wellbeing to physical and mental development.

Outdoor learning and play are hugely important for any child, says the school

St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen – the city’s only all-girls’ school – recognises education is more than just classroom-based and that children are generally more curious, creative, self-directed and focused when playing outdoors.

Outdoor learning has become an integral part of the academic programme for Primary 1 and 2 pupils throughout the autumn and summer terms, allowing the girls to explore the parks and woodland close to the school.

Head teacher Anna Tomlinson said incorporating outdoor learning into everyday learning had been extremely successful, with both pupils and teachers enjoying the experience.

“Outdoor learning and play are hugely important for any child, with benefits on so many levels, not just health and fitness, but also in terms of developing key social skills and team working,” she said.

According to numerous studies, children should be active for at least one hour a day and being outdoors is one way to ensure this happens.

As well as burning off excess energy and connecting with nature, active outdoor play allows children to use their imaginations and problem-solving skills when confronted with natural open-ended resources.

It helps children improve resilience, use their imaginations and allows them to use the natural world to develop curiosity and science skills.

It can also help them learn the important life skill of working together. With outdoor spaces being less crowded and intimidating, the teachers at St Margaret’s have found they help some girls to naturally come out of their shells and be more social and interactive.

Exposure to the sun, meanwhile, helps make Vitamin D, which is important for the development of bones, the immune system and helps good sleep patterns.

A relaxed outdoor environment also helps with mental wellbeing.

This has a knock-on effect of making children feel happier and calmer, which helps them to be more focused back in the classroom.

“The future of our planet depends on our children and they need to experience it to learn to appreciate it,” said Miss Tomlinson.

“During our outdoor learning experiences, they discover animals in their own surroundings and learn about their habitats and life cycles.

“They have real hands-on experiences of the world around them and they learn to respect and care for their environment, creating a life-long appreciation and love of the outdoor world.

“Being outdoors also allows children to take some risks so they can learn from making mistakes and from having success.

“They are more likely to try something out with their comfort zone, which helps develop their resilience skills.

“It is about creating positive memories of enjoying the freedom of the great outdoors.”

Whether it is in indoor or outdoor classrooms, St Margaret’s helps girls achieve their full potential in an environment which is free of stereotypes.

It offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities, small class sizes and specialist teaching in subjects including French, PE, music and drama.

For more information about sending your daughter to St Margaret’s, contact the admissions team at [email protected] or visit www.st-margaret.aberdeen.sch.uk