Value of outdoor learning deserves recognition

THE words “you’re grounded” were the worst I could hear when I was a child – I loved playing outside. How things have changed in a generation. My friends now threaten their children with the removal of an iPad or Peppa Pig viewing rights.

The Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick. Picture: TSPL

My love of the outdoors made it an easy decision when I switched from being a classroom teacher to education officer at the Scottish Seabird Centre. But the gap which has developed between children and nature surprised me.

Research has proven that time spent in the natural world helps build physical and emotional fitness. That’s why I’m glad and very proud to be teaching in one of only a handful of countries where outdoor learning opportunities are firmly embedded in the curriculum. Five years ago, when I was training, nobody spoke about outdoor learning. Now it’s mainstream.

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It was still a shock to have my work recognised by Education Scotland when I was awarded the Scottish Teacher of the Year Award 2013 in June. It was the first time a non-classroom-based teacher had won the award – my fingers are crossed that judges at the UK finals in October will also recognise the benefits of learning outside the classroom.

In March 2012, The Scottish Seabird Centre launched its outdoor learning programme “Seaside School”. This is a major commitment as well as a financial challenge for this independent charity. The programme, the first of its kind in Scotland, is designed around the Curriculum for Excellence and offers a pick-and-mix tailored day of activities. Involving the children and giving them ownership of their learning, it is multi-sensory, experiential and cross curricular, and it can be used to introduce, develop or cement experiences.

From my experience the benefits of outdoor learning are so important to our children’s development and education that I believe all children should be entitled to it. The Scottish Seabird Centre and the Scottish Government have recognised the importance and the value of outdoor learning. I hope that others will follow this lead.

• Jenny McAllister is education officer at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick and won Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education Awards in June. For more information on Seaside Schools visit www.seabird.org