Take learning outside the classroom

Getting children to spend time studying and connecting with the outside world has numerous benefits. But for those teachers daunted by the prospect of planning a school trip with thirty children, Mark Castle from the Field Studies Council shares some tips

Getting children to spend time studying and connecting with the outside world has numerous benefits. But for those teachers daunted by the prospect of planning a school trip with thirty children,
Mark Castle from the Field Studies Council shares some tips

Our planet is facing the single biggest environmental crisis we’ve ever known so how do we get more people, children especially, to care about the world in which they live?
According to Mark Castle, chief executive of the environmental education charity the Field Studies Council (FSC), the answer is to get more young people out of the classroom and into the great outdoors.
And what better way to do this than organising a school trip or better still, an overnight residential course where children get to spend time exploring, studying and connecting with the outside world.
Last year, the FSC welcomed more than 150,000 visitors to its network of 25 UK centres, explained Mark, and we have made it our mission over the next five years to inspire everyone to be more curious, knowledgeable, passionate and caring about the environment.
“We believe that encouraging more people to spend more time outdoors will help nurture a society which, is not only healthier, but one which is more engaged and more likely to make choices which will help protect our planet from climate change and biodiversity loss.
“There is no substitute for first-hand experiences in the real world and school trips to awe-inspiring places engage and re-engage children of all ages, especially those who struggle with the conventional setting of a school classroom.”

Much more than just science

For all of us who work at the FSC we see outdoor learning and out of school residential experiences as much more than just science and geography. The benefits are wide-ranging.
It boosts understanding and enjoyment of subjects such as English and maths with nature providing inspiration for writing and creative ways to demonstrate abstract mathematical concepts by rooting them firmly in the real world.
Life skills too are developed by learning outdoors. Studying in unpredictable nature develops practical science skills and problem solving.
And, dealing with complex, messy data and adapting to the unexpected are essential to equip learners for the 4th industrial revolution.
And let’s not forget the important role which outdoor learning can play in helping to develop children’s personal and social skills.
Being away from home breaks up the traditional classroom hierarchies, providing time and opportunities for learners to mix as they share space, mealtimes and overcome new challenges together. And, for teachers, they get to know their students better.
And last but by no means least, the health and well-being benefits associated with time spent outdoors are undeniably far reaching. Indeed, current research suggests that just one hour a day learning in wild places can improve the well-being and confidence of young children.

Planning the perfect school trip

The FSC has been providing residential experiences and day courses for primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities for many years. It’s curriculum courses are specifically tailored to meet the requirements of the different exam boards.
Expert tutors in a range of subject areas including biology, geography and ecology deliver numerous courses which enable children to explore and learn about everything from creepy crawlies, rocks and soils to outdoor survival skills.
But, according to Mark, the key to any successful school trip is in the planning. “For many teachers the idea of leaving the classroom and taking 30 plus pupils on a school trip can be a daunting challenge,” he explains.
“We know that filling in paperwork isn’t much fun and having to do risk assessments can be off-putting so at FSC we take a lot of that stress away by guiding teachers through the process so they can focus on the fun bits.”
But, there are several other things teachers and schools can do to make sure their school trip is the highlight of everyone’s year.
Start planning early – advance preparations and early ground work is essential. We would always suggest that teachers start planning their class/school residential at least 12 months in advance. This gives time for teachers to arrange a pre-visit to possible venues to look at options and discuss requirements.
Finance and budget – knowing how your school trip is to be financed is really important. Do you have any school budget available or will you be asking parents to self-fund the trip for their child? There may be an option to seek sponsorship, fundraise or put in a request to the PTA. Organisations like FSC also have special funds such as its FSC Kids Fund and Bursary scheme which can help disadvantaged learners attend a course. Whichever way, having a budget in mind will enable you to explore options and cost out trips realistically.
Set out your goals and vision for the trip early – what is it you want to achieve? Are you looking to back up classroom learning around a particular topic or will your trip kick-start a new topic or theme? Once you know what you want to get out of the trip, it will focus your research better.
Location and length of stay – for primary school children, who might get homesick still, it’s perhaps best to limit a school trip to just one or two nights and not too far from home. For older children, consider a 3-5 day residential. This gives them time to find their feet, settle into a new environment and develop new skills.
Communicate effectively with parents – if possible, try to give as much advance warning to parents, particularly if you’re expecting them to fund or part-fund their child’s trip. Give parents as many details as you can as to why you are running the trip, outlining the educational and social benefits.
Safety first– where there is fun and adventure, unfortunately there is always risk. But this doesn’t have to stop you and the children having a good time. The essential thing is to make sure you’re prepared by running risk assessments and completing any health and safety paperwork prior to the trip. At FSC we work with teachers to remove these hurdles by completing any necessary paperwork.
Get excited – with all the planning taken care of and your school trip in the diary, all that’s left to do is get excited about it. Talk to students in advance about the trip, what it will involve, the types of activities they will do. Familiarise them with the setting by showing them pictures and set them some fun challenges to inspire curiosity.
Post-trip and back in the classroom teachers will see a renewed confidence in pupils, a new resilience and ability to problem solve as a result of their out-of classroom, away-from-home experience.
For those children experiencing an outdoor learning trip for the very first time, it will be a memory never to be forgotten and you, as teachers, will have played a part in sowing the seed for our future environmental thinkers – the scientists, environmentalists and creatives who will be critical to our future.

About FSC

Field Studies Council (FSC) is an environmental education charity committed to helping people, discover, explore, understand and be inspired by the natural world.
Its network of centres provides day and residential courses for all ages from young children to retired adults from schools and communities throughout the UK.
It also reaches many others through its publications and community-based programmes.