Blog: Outdoor learning as a solution to social distancing in schools

Published: 11 Jun 2020

Author: Mary Jackson
Blog: Outdoor learning as a solution to social distancing in schools

Since March many children and young people across the UK have stayed at home whilst others have continued to go to school. We are now at the point where all schools across the UK are working out how to welcome back pupils. This has raised many questions about safety measures and what the impact has been on pupils.

"At LtL we have been advocating outdoor learning and play for thirty years and we know there are many benefits for schools using the outdoors as a learning space." - Mary Jackosn, Fellow 

I am the Head of Education and Communities at Learning through Landscapes (LtL), the UK’s national school grounds charity. We believe outdoor learning and play should be part of the solution for early years settings and schools as they increase their pupil numbers. As Johnathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, states, “it is absolutely categorically clear that outdoor spaces with higher degrees of ventilation are less problematic environments for transmission than indoor spaces.”

At LtL we have been advocating outdoor learning and play for thirty years and we know there are many benefits for schools using the outdoors as a learning space. Outdoor lessons can bring learning to life by using hands-on and real-life examples, and can also help pupils to get to grips with complex concepts. We also know playing or just spending time outdoors, particularly connecting to nature, can have a deep impact on mental health and wellbeing, something that is particularly important at this time.

In response to Covid-19, we have made our resources free and have developed new resources to help teachers and parents use outdoor spaces with their children - whether that’s school grounds, a balcony, back yard, large garden, or a walk. We have also been running a series of webinars and we are now looking at how we can develop both in-person and online training for teachers and other school staff as they move forward. We are also working with designers to look at how school grounds can be developed within the current guidance, so that schools can use them safely and effectively. 

When I undertook my Churchill Fellowship in 2003, I visited schools in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand who were developing and using their grounds in different ways. I found a range of approaches from focusing on growing crops to ‘greening’ grounds for their aesthetic or wildlife value. These visits helped me to recognise that there are a variety of ways that school grounds can be developed and used, and this continues to feed into how we support schools now. 

If you are planning the return of more of your pupils these tips will help you use your grounds as part of that approach:

  • Familiarise yourself with the guidelines as these must be applied outside as well as indoors
  • Look at the outdoor space you have and the number of pupils you need to accommodate. Consider what space you have already and whether you need to add any temporary seating, shade or shelter
  • Just as pupils will have a personal set of equipment to use inside – pencils, rulers etc – they should also have a set that they take outside. This might include a clipboard (which can be home-made), pencils, a waterproof seat and a sun hat
  • Consider how you can utilise the outdoors to deliver your curriculum 
  • Look at what you are going to teach and ask, 'could I make the lesson more engaging outdoors?'

For more guidance and information on using school grounds visit the LtL website or visit our YouTube channel.

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