A major increase in the number of young people experiencing the great outdoors could herald the start of a ‘golden age’ for outdoor learning and bring significant improvements across communities.
Members of the North West Region Outdoor Learning Research Hub for Researchers and Practitioners who met on Friday at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria heard the upbeat assessment from Dr Chris Loynes, reader in outdoor studies.
A government white paper which is expected to contain details of how 5-18 year olds will be able to experience nature is due to be released in the next few months.
“Outdoor learning has always been on the fringes of our education system and people are becoming more and more distant from nature; the nature walk, for example has gone as many schools don’t have time to accommodate it within a crowded curriculum, “ Dr Loynes said. “That concern has penetrated through to policy makers because it’s an area where people find wellbeing, where they can avoid obesity and socialise. We understand government are going to encourage more young people to engage with the outdoors beyond their tablets and mobile phones.”
Representatives from Brathay Trust, Leeds Beckett University, Liverpool John Moores University, UCLAN and North Yorkshire County Council heard how it’s hoped a five-fold increase in the number of 5-18 year olds taking part in outdoor learning could result from the government move.
The North West hub is one of five established in the UK to draw together research that has been carried out, is ongoing and to identify the current and future research needs of practitioners in outdoor learning. The intention is to support high quality, frequent and progressive outdoor learning for children and young people, by enabling a more integrated approach to research and practice at a local level.
The initiative is supported by the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL), Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, Natural England and Historic England. It’s hoped through collaboration a more unified voice will emerge to allow outdoor learning to influence policy and practice, and to establish a broader platform to attract further funding to extend the research evidence base.
Research Hub Research Assistant Carrie Hedges will work to identify areas where research needs to be undertaken and to draw together examples of studies that may not have been published.
“If we can create this third professional domain and really get it together in a coherent and joined up way then we have a chance of establishing this in a way that could respond to the governments vision on outdoor learning and experiences with nature for all,” Dr Loynes said.