Making Sustainability Connections Through Outdoor Learning

Picture of Calum


International Primary Teacher and Outdoor Learning Specialist, with over ten years experience. I hold an MSc in Outdoor Education and PGDE in Primary Education.

“Sustainable development is about developing an understanding of the global implications of our daily actions (e.g., energy and resource use) and taking responsibility for these” (Beames et al., 2012, p. 8).


There’s plenty of research that supports the view that the world is living unsustainably and that tackling this problem should be a priority of government policy (Nicol et al., 2019). As teachers, we can directly impact our planet’s environmental future by educating and improving the sustainability behaviours of children (Pauw & Petegem, 2013).



One of the most common sustainability initiatives I have encountered in schools is Eco-Schools. The Eco-Schools website outlines the aims of its program as developing pupil skills, raising environmental awareness, and improving a school’s environment. (Eco-Schools, 2019). I have had many positive experiences facilitating Eco-Schools within my school organisation. For example, I’m currently working with children to implement various school recycling policies. Recently, the eco teams arranged an Earth Day event where different classes would use plastic from the recycling bin to craft endangered sea creatures, drawing attention to the effects of plastic pollution.


Learners create a Mother Vaquita and its calf model from reused school plastic during Earth Day. The Vaquita is the world’s most crucial endangered ocean mammal.


Learner uses recycled plastic to make a model of the ocean. Drawing attention to plastic pollution.

Although I fully support any initiatives that shed light on environmental issues, I feel that we could benefit from placing a greater emphasis on the environmental impact on the outdoor environments and wildlife directly surrounding the school. For example, my learners are often surprised to hear that several local woodland creatures, such as hedgehogs and red squirrels, are endangered. In my experience, learners are often more engaged when discussing environments and animals from their local communities. I think this is because they can relate and connect more with what is around them and what they can see.


A gameboard made by learners about the problems faced by hedgehogs living in the city.
Outdoor Learning and Sustainability

Modern living has created a disconnection between children and the environment, and for children to continue to develop environmentally responsible behaviours, they would benefit significantly from a strong connection with nature (Nicol, 2003).

A learner participating in a survey of the different wetland birds in the local canal.

Outdoor learning helps develop an admiration for nature (Mannion et al., 2013) by providing a robust framework for developing children’s environmental values and behaviours. In addition, outdoor learning offers a real-life context for sustainable issues (Nicol et al., 2019). For example, children benefit from learning in environments where they can see first-hand where food comes from and how water and waste are managed (Beames et al., 2012).


Learners work on their gardening skills.
Learning for Sustainability

One example of a sustainability education initiative implemented throughout an educational system is Learning for Sustainability (LfS). The Scottish Government introduced this initiative in 2011 (Christie et al., 2019), and it incorporates sustainability education with global citizenship and outdoor learning (Nicol et al., 2019). As of 2013, the General Teaching Council for Scotland required all teachers to incorporate learning for sustainability into their teaching practice (Christie et al., 2019). It is still at an early stage of development and hasn’t yet been used effectively throughout the Scottish education system (Nicol et al., 2019), but it is an example of a sustainability initiative incorporating outdoor learning as a critical component of its framework.

Thank you for reading my post 🙂


Related Posts

What Is Outdoor Learning?

Helping Childrens’ Wellbeing with Outdoor Learning


Beames, S., Higgins, P., & Nicol, R. (2012). Learning outside the classroom: Theory and guidelines for practice. Routledge.

Christie, E., Higgins, P., King, B., Collacott, M., Kirk, K., & Smith, H. (2019). From rhetoric to reality: Examining the policy vision and the professional process of enacting Learning for Sustainability in Scottish schools. Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 44-56.

Cincera, J., & Krajhanzl, J. (2013). Eco-Schools: what factors influence pupils’ action competence for pro-environmental behaviour? Journal of Cleaner Production, 61, 117–121.

Eco-Schools. (2019, January 17). Benefits of joining.

Mannion, G., Fenwick, A., & Lynch, J. (2013). Place-responsive pedagogy: learning from teachers’ experiences of excursions in nature. Environmental Education Research, 19(6), 792–809.

Nicol, R. (2003). Outdoor education: Research topic or universal value? Part three. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 3(1), 11–27.

Nicol, R., Rae, A., Murray, R., Higgins, P., & Smith, H. (2019). How can initial teacher education tackle “super-wicked” problems? Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 17-29. Pauw, J. B., & Petegem, P. V. (2013). The effect of eco-schools on children’s environmental values and behaviour. Journal of Biological Education, 47(2), 96–103.