School proves learning outdoors really works (and is fun!)

Friday at SNH’s Battleby Offices – means fun and challenges for visiting pupils from St John’s RC School in Perth. 

Come rain, hail or shine, for the past academic year, P5-7 have been out and about learning, playing and having fun with their class teacher and Outdoor Learning teacher, John McManamon. 

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

John came to know and love Battleby having grown up nearby and saw its huge potential for learning, so he contacted us to seek permission to bring pupils.  One of our main offices, Battleby, is located about 5 miles north of Perth and features beautiful grounds, including a 200 year old oak wood and one of the largest wildflower meadows in Perthshire.  Recent additions have included a living wall, a pollinator trail, an array of bug, bee and bird boxes, and habitat piles.

John met with our Outdoor Learning Advisor, Gardener, and Property Manager to gain some background information and resources, and then set to work developing a programme of activities for pupils.  Pupil Equity Funding helped fund the bus transport to Battleby, as well as John’s post and an apprentice.

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

The main aim of the programme is to broaden learning experiences – with a particular focus on mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing.  In 2018/19, 170 pupils from P5-7 spent at least 3 full days at Battleby.  Activities included team games, individual and group challenges, learning about the history, plants and wildlife, and lots of free play.  Sessions were designed to develop confidence, resilience and help pupils evaluate risk, as well as develop relationships and improve communication decision making skills.

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

All pupils said they enjoyed the experience and saw the benefits – and became very passionate when asked to create some persuasive writing on the topic of ‘Is Outdoor Learning a waste of time?’:

“I think that Outdoor Ed helps with social lives because you need to co-operate in groups with people that you might not normally work with.  That will also boost your confidence in talking to new people.” Sean

“There are some people who think that Outdoor Ed is too dangerous.  I understand why they might feel that way but the point of Outdoor Ed is to learn about these dangers.” Niamh

“I think Outdoor Education is good because it gets children more active.  You get fresh air and you learn about wildlife like birds and animals.” Sam

“Outdoor Ed is good because you learn how to work together.” Rozerin

“In my opinion it is a good thing that every school should do.” Mario

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Teachers reported some children had gained in confidence and as a result attainment improved.  Relationships improved because they were based on a more rounded picture as pupils witnessed and showed different sides of themselves. One teacher said:

“There was a very good balance between learning, challenges and free time. The free time was ‘just playing’ e.g. climbing trees, playing tig or other active games, but I think it was very valuable to some of these children. The outdoor challenges definitely saw them supporting each other to achieve.”

John has demonstrated the impact Battleby visits can have and convinced Senior Management to invest in further programmes of visits over the coming years.  He is currently designing these to build a progression of skills and experiences from P4–P7.

“Battleby’s unique setting and landscape is such a valuable resource for us to use for Outdoor Learning. Having such diversity on its grounds helps pupils and teachers explore and appreciate nature. The Scottish Natural Heritage staff have gone out of their way to help us create this experience and I really appreciate what they have done for us.” John McManamon

Pupils also experience a progression of place, as John ensures that Battleby visits build on learning in the school grounds and within walking distance. Additionally pupils have developed a real connection to Battleby with some bringing family to visit during weekends and holidays.

Further information

Battleby Grounds are open to the public and are free to access however if visiting as a group please let SNH know.  The Conference Centre and grounds are used for a range of events, such as police dog training and first aid training, therefore at times it can be impractical for a large group to visit.  Find out more.

John used a number of SNH’s resources, including Beyond your boundary:  easy steps to learning in local greenspace and those found on the Outdoor Learning Directory.


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