CJS Focus on Environmental & Outdoor Education

Published: 19 May 2014

logo: NAEE

In Affiliation with: NAEE UK - the National Association for Environmental Education (UK)

logo: Natural ConnectionsGet into LINE! (Learning In Natural Environments)


There is a real buzz around providing more opportunities for children to connect with nature and to learn in experiential ways that engage and maintain their interest.  Just look at the other articles in this issue and

Empty Classroom Day, Plymouth July 2013. © fotonow CIC/ Natural Connections.

Empty Classroom Day, Plymouth July 2013. © fotonow CIC/ Natural


these photos from our project for some great examples! But we are also keen to build a strong body of evidence about the process of building sustainable practice in outdoor learning. The Natural Connections Demonstration Project is being led by the Institute of Education at Plymouth University and is funded by Natural England, DEFRA and English Heritage. To make sure we gather the necessary evidence to inform future work, it is both a delivery and evaluation project that aims to:

1.     stimulate the demand from schools and teachers for learning outside the classroom in natural environments (LINE)

2.     support schools and teachers in building LINE into their planning and practices

3.     stimulate the supply of high quality LINE services for schools and teachers.


The 3˝ year-long project (September 2012 – March 2016) is involving around 200 schools and between 200-500 volunteers in the South West of England in learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE). Primary, secondary and special

Empty Classroom Day, Plymouth July 2013.

© fotonow CIC/ Natural Connections.

schools are included within five areas of high multiple deprivation: Plymouth, Torbay and Devon, Cornwall, North Somerset and Bristol with around 40 schools in each of these hubs.  Generally, ‘Beacon Schools’ that are already successfully engaged in LINE work with a cluster of around seven schools each. The process is being carefully evaluated as the hope is that methods of increasing engagement will be rolled out nationally using lessons learned through this project. 


So far around 120 schools have been involved in our activities and we recorded around 4,500 children taking part in LINE activities during November 2013. The different hub leaders in the five hubs are developing distinct approaches that will demonstrate different pathways to successful enhanced experiential learning for children.  Addressing this issue through schooling means that potentially all children will have the opportunity to develop a love of nature and to be taught in ways that suit their learning styles.


Another innovation we are trialling is to work with the countryside and wildlife conservation sector and with other environmental sector organisations so that skills, expertise and knowledge can be transferred between schools and the sector to their mutual benefit. We are asking organisations to share volunteers so that they also spend time in schools supporting LINE.  This will increase teachers’ knowledge related to outdoor environments and their learning opportunities but it will also help volunteers from the environmental sector utilise green knowledge and skills while gaining valuable experience of working with schoolchildren and the curriculum. These organisations may also attract new members and volunteers through increased awareness. 


For more information, please email Natural.Connections@plymouth.ac.uk or visit https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/oelres-net/


Sue Waite | Associate Professor (Reader) | Plymouth Institute of Education | Faculty of Arts & Humanities | Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA | 01752 585341

Updated information February 2017:

The Natural Connections project ended in 2016 but many schools continue to engage with curriculum outdoor learning. The results of the evaluation are available at http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6636651036540928

A short guidance booklet for schools Transforming Schools through Outdoor Learning can be downloaded at https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/oelres-net/transforming Further details of the Natural School Service at https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/oelres-net/natural-school-service

And the spread of good practice continues…

The Naturally Healthy Devon Schools Project (NHDS) is a partnership between CPRE Devon, Natural England, Plymouth University and the Devon Local Nature Partnership. It involves teachers, children and young people in 21 schools in North and East Devon and focuses on how Learning Outside the Classroom in Natural Environments (LINE) supports attainment, healthy schools and reconnects children in the County to their local countryside, using a model developed through the highly successful Natural Connections project. It is developing a similar booklet and toolkit for schools to encourage and monitor happy and healthy student outcomes. Contact sjwaite@plymouth.ac.uk to find out more.

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