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Making use of the Outdoors in Urban Schools

Outdoor space usually limited in schools situated within urban areas. The benefits that outdoor space can have on pupils and students should not be ruled out. Both educational as well as mental benefits can be provided by nature and there are several ways schools and colleges in cities can achieve these. As well as raising an awareness of natural surroundings, outdoor lessons can be like a breath of fresh air for everyone.

“The positive impact of outdoor learning on young people’s achievements and development is widely accepted”

A couple of ways to link the indoors with the great outdoors can be achieved in the following ways:

Embracing School Grounds

Making the most of the outdoor space that the school does have. It was easy for my school to make the most of the outdoor space that they have. There was a field between buildings that we often walked across from lesson to lesson and we even had the odd cheeky lesson outside! However, this is not as easy for schools in large towns or cities. Nicole Day, National Trust Ranger, has a great idea that can be used to get the children out. She has explained that you could “match colours to natural findings”, relating artificial products to natural ones. You will be surprised as to how many findings there are and how much fun the children can have!

Other activities such as “hide & seek” and “follow the leader” are often encouraged in PE lessons, outside. This allows the pupils to make the most of the fresh air, burn some energy exercising and have fun whilst doing them.

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If the outdoor space that the school has access to is concreted (the majority are) using natural materials to encourage wildlife to come to you is a great idea. Naturally occurring items, such as wild flowers and logs will lure in insects and often birds to the space and they can then be observed and studied. This is an idea that has already taken over urban living with rooftop gardens and city bee keeping.

There is nothing better than having a lesson outside, in addition to the fun that can be had a lot can be learnt from them as well!

“One of the great things about outdoor learning is that it spans the curriculum, so you could measure the angles of outdoor structures in maths, investigate how far sound travels in different weather in science or use the playground as the setting for a historical re-enactment.”

Brining Nature “In”

Getting your hands dirty by planting seeds and bulbs indoors is a great way of bringing the outdoors into the classroom. The planting of flowers and plants teaches basic lifecycles and biology to the class. The younger pupils will also find this process somewhat “magical” and watching the progress will fuel a sense of accomplishment in seeing them all grow.

“It could be a bean planted in a pot on a windowsill or a young sapling planted when a child starts primary school so they can see how it grows with them”

When rogue insects like spiders (I know, yuck!) decide to join class, it could be a great opportunity to capture them in a glass for the classroom to observe for a few minutes. This will give everyone the opportunity to see insects up close before releasing them back into the wild. I’d rather they were either behind a glass or outside! Out of sight anyway!

Using Interior design to Represent Nature

Interior structure and design can be used to incorporate nature inside the school establishment. The use of colour, especially the colour green, can be used to emphasise nature. Green is also a fantastic colour to use to encourage concentration and a calm environment, as mentioned in one of my previous blogs!

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One school in Copenhagen, Skolen I Sydhavnen has made great use of the colour green and other outdoor “materials”. Sheds for instance, can be used for storage and outdoor seating to emphasise nature. With the use of large windows for maximum incoming sunlight, the illusion of outdoor space is created, despite being surrounded by other tall buildings.

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Lipton Plant added an indoor treehouse to the interior of Bath House Nursery in Hackney. The idea was inspired by the “Swiss Family Robinson” novel, a childhood favourite. Embracing childhood dreams of having an “escape” in trees, the use of natural materials and colours creates a “quiet place” where children are able to hideaway and have a read or a nap. This fun element also creates a space where the children are able to play together and encourages social interaction!

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“The tree both represents and encourages protection, adventure, creativity and growth; physically and emotionally”

Taking Indoors Out

If the outdoor space is so limited that you are not able to fit a class within the area, why not take the class out to the local green or wildlife park? The change of scenery is always appreciated and it is a great way to bring the “project back to the classroom”. Nature Reserve Trails are a great location for learning about and documenting nature. A bit of fresh air never hurt anyone!

“London Wildlife Trust is one of 47 Wildlife Trusts that provide outdoor learning opportunities to schools across the UK. Together they have more nature reserves than McDonald’s has restaurants, so you’re never far from nature, even in a city”.

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Despite the limitations to outdoor space that you may come across in an urban environment, the potential benefits that the outdoors has are not ones that can be ignored. Fresh air and nature are paramount for development from a young age, especially mentally and outdoor activities and lessons, as well as interior design can empower these advantages and are never far from architects and teachers’ minds.

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