Can We Afford to Ignore the Outdoors?

Pupil A is cross, he is angry and he is out of control. This event has been building up throughout the day. It’s Friday and Pupil A knows he will not go home with mum tonight. He has therefore soiled himself and is starting to upturn tables. Pupil A is 9 years old. The room is beginning to look like it has been ransacked. However on a table sits bowls of freshly picked tomatoes and 2 pumpkins. These remain untouched as the rampage continues ...


This situation and Pupil A will be replicated hundreds of times all over the country every week. These are challenging times. Inclusion teachers and staff struggle desperately to keep such pupils in mainstream, with pupil referral units oversubscribed and CAMHS taking only the most extreme of cases. Howeverthere is hope. Not an answer to society’s troubles but a means by which a school can begin to regain control of challenging pupils and you may be surprised to find it lies in vegetables. Well strictly speaking, fruit, herbs, trees, soil and water – nature. Why have we overlooked it for so long?

  • Because learning begins when you are sat down in your chair?
  • Because learning takes place with a piece of paper in front of you?
  • Because learning only happens when you’ve written your lesson objective?


Maslow and his hierarchy of needs states, as we all know (though some of us may need reminding) that children cannot begin to access learning if their physiological and safety needs are not met, and although such systems as Team Around the Child, Child In Need and referrals to social services are there to address such issues, children often remain for years, if not throughout their lives, within these phases.


‘So what’s so great about the outdoors?’ I hear you cry. ‘We all know about forest schools and outdoor provision for early years. But older children have to do their lessons.’


 Well, I’ve seen far too many children crying out for help by full refusal in class, running out of the room, harming other pupils or generally trying their hardest to distract or harm the teacher. We have a teacher retention crisis and these pupils are certainly a part of the whole package.

Fortunately the past 10 years or more have seen the introduction of learning mentors, family workers, inclusion teams and behaviour focussed teaching assistants. We now have staff trained extensively in Team Teach and other ‘safe restraint’/behaviour management skills. It is now time for an appropriate curriculum for behaviour to be considered, and here are just a few reasons why.

1.      Spending time outdoors allows children (often those who will have been kept in cots and pushchairs too long or rarely left the house) ‘safe space’. It gives them the ability to move without resistance, confrontation and to release their energies in a way which feels comfortable to them.


2.      Children from damaged backgrounds have often lacked stimuli (often seen sucking and chewing items as babies do). The extreme textures of soil, sand, grass, leaves and seeds begin to ‘backfill’ sensory deficits in a less contrived/childish way than sand and water play.


3.      The ’awe and wonder’ of growing a plant from seed instils a positive ‘can do’ approach, with produce to share and be admired by classmates and staff. A status of success is established.


4.      Regular tasks to maintain healthy plants are vital, ‘real—life’ jobs not contrived tasks which older children see straight through. The children are taking control of other living organisms, they are taking on responsibility.

And so the list goes on.

So why do we persist in caging these children in classrooms, forcing pencils in their hands, with the mindset that it’s for their own good? Learning can only take place when children have a sense of belonging and what better way to this, thancreate a real space that belongs to them?

Outdoor learning can and will surprise you and it’s interesting isn’t it, why the tomatoes and pumpkins were left untouched.

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