Co-ordinated by East Devon District Council’s Countryside Education Team
Children across East Devon are discovering the many and varied benefits of outdoor learning thanks to a partnership project being developed in the county.
The Naturally Healthy Devon Schools (NHDS) initiative aims to encourage school aged children to regularly interact with Devon’s natural environment in order to improve their health and wellbeing.
The NHDS is developing ways to embed learning in the natural environment as part of the regular curriculum, working with eight schools and teachers within the Exmouth primary school community.
The project is being supported by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) in Devon, Devon Local Nature Partnership (LNP), the Devon Education for Sustainability Working Group (DESWG), Natural England and the University of Plymouth.
Dr Margaret Hall, Chair of East Devon CPRE, said:
CPRE Devon is pleased to have been able to provide funding for the Naturally Healthy Devon Schools project. One of our aims is to help children to develop an interest and appreciation of the countryside, and to encourage children to be outdoors and to value the outdoor environment. The achievements of the project so far are very positive.
David Weatherly, the outdoor learning lead for Devon LNP and Chair of the Devon Education for Sustainability Working Group added:
The Naturally Healthy Devon Schools development project exemplifies the importance of people of all ages learning in and through the outdoor environment. There is a growing evidence base that not only the health and esteem of children improves through engagement with the outdoors, but also their cognitive development. Learning outside is an important dimension of differentiating learning and making it more accessible and relevant.
Focussing on schools in the Exmouth area, the project is being co-ordinated by the East Devon District Council Countryside team.
Meg Knowles, an East Devon District Council Education Ranger, said:
I have a strong belief that, as well as bringing curriculum learning to life, outdoor learning supports children’s social, emotional and behavioural needs. It enables positive relationship building and leads to more physically active children who are then far more ready to learn.
The opportunities offered by outdoor learning also give teachers new skills and inspiration to develop more creative lesson plans. This exciting project supports teachers by offering professional development, advice, funding, networking and opportunities to observe best practice. Teachers want to build more confident and independent learners, because this leads to more children realising their potential, and learning in the natural environment readily supports this.
The NHDS extends the work of the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which was managed by the University of Plymouth with funding from Defra, Natural England and Historic England. It ran between 2012-2016 working with schools in Bristol, Cornwall, Torbay and Plymouth to develop their curriculum learning outdoors.
Academics from the University have also published several high-profile reports in recent months promoting the benefits of outdoor learning.
Sue Waite, Associate Professor in Education at the University of Plymouth, said:
After only one year’s involvement with NHDS, all responding schools are reporting positive impacts in enjoyment, engagement with learning and nature, social skills and wellbeing. And more than 80 per cent are seeing positive effects on attainment, behaviour and physical health. With a new research-evidenced toolkit, schools will soon also be able to assess more easily whether health and wellbeing are being supported through their curriculum learning outdoors.
To find out more about the project and the education work co-ordinated by the East Devon District Council Countryside service please visit wildeastdevon.co.uk.
The team can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01395 517557.