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Get into LINE! (Learning In Natural Environments)

Logo: Natural Connections

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  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:

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

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.  

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

The 3½ 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 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/peninsula-research-in-outdoor-learning

Updated Information March 2020: 

The project team has since checked the sustainability of the intervention as reported by Gilchrist and Passy (2018) and learning from the project has recently informed the current Nature Friendly Schools initiative, part of DEFRA's 25 year plan for the environment.

Updated Information November 2020:

In the midst of COVID-19, many more schools are taking lessons outside to reduce the risk of infection and contribute to children's health and happiness on their return to school. A recent series of books The National Curriculum Outdoors for KS1 and KS2 in primary schools was recently published to support teachers in linking curriculum objectives to a progression of outdoor lesson plans for every subject and year group. https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-national-curriculum-outdoors-ks1-9781472966599/ The books are co-authored by Deborah Lambert, Michelle Roberts and Sue Waite. They are based on research and practice within the Natural Connections project and have been tried and tested in schools, receiving a Council for Learning Outside the Classroom Resource Award.

First published in CJS Focus on Environmental & Outdoor Education in affiliation with NAEE UK - the National Association for Environmental Education (UK) on 19 May 2014

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