Using Local Environments For 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.

Local Environments 

There can be a perception that outdoor learning needs to take place far away from school (Beames et al., 2009). In Scotland, where I grew up and have previously taught, it’s common for primary-age children to go on a yearly residential trip to engage in various outdoor activities. Although residential experiences are positive and enjoyable for many children, researchers are reevaluating the educational value of these school residentials. Residential experiences are perceived to build life skills; however, little evidence suggests that they actually support students’ cognitive development (Beames et al., 2009).


Discovering in the local forest.

As I’ve previously discussed, there is a movement within primary education to facilitate outdoor learning in local environments. Environmental contexts relevant to the student’s lives, values, ideas and actions facilitate a greater desire to learn (Wistoff, 2013). Primary education is also growing to realise that outdoor learning is more accessible in the school’s local environment or backyard. As a result, schools are now concentrating on developing their own green spaces (van Dijk-Wesselius et al., 2020).

 I facilitate outdoor learning both on school grounds and in local natural environments (forests, canals and parks) that are a short walk from the schools where I work. I have observed that children have enjoyed, learned and engaged in both.


Learners enjoy using their playground during an outdoor art lesson.

Learning within natural environments offers more significant opportunities to explore environmental education outcomes and creates an atmosphere of discovery and adventure among the learners. However, school grounds are the more accessible option, and in my experience, with a bit of imagination, there’s still plenty of high-quality learning opportunities.


Making different cakes using the playground mud kitchen.
Using Local Communities and Urban Environments

The outdoors is also a powerful medium for exploring the nature of the community (Hopkins & Putnam, 1993). Each school location I work in contains a diverse community to explore and learn from. Importantly, given the transient nature of international students, allowing them to learn and discover in local communities can help to foster a sense of belonging.

As mentioned in my previous post, urban areas can also facilitate outdoor learning. Exposing children to authentic learning contexts, such as local shops, public transport, and libraries, provides them with a lived rather than an artificial experience (Ord and Leather 2011).


Thank you for reading my post. Next time, I will discuss overcoming some of the common challenges teachers face when facilitating outdoor learning.


Related Posts

What Is Outdoor Learning?

Helping Childrens’ Wellbeing with Outdoor Learning


Beames, S, Ross, H, & Atencio, M (2009). Taking Excellence Outdoors. B, Scottish Educational Review, Vol. 41, No. 2, Pp. 32-45. 

Hopkins, D., & Putnam, R. (1993). Personal growth through adventure. London: D. Fulton.

Ord, J., & Leather, M. (2011). The Substance Beneath the Labels of Experiential Learning: The Importance of John Dewey for Outdoor Educators. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education,

van Dijk-Wesselius, J. E., van den Berg, A. E., Maas, J., & Hovinga, D. (2020). Green schoolyards as outdoor learning environments: Barriers and solutions experienced by primary school teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1–16.

Wistoft, K. (2013). The desire to learn as a kind of love: gardening, cooking, and passion for outdoor education. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 13(2), 125–141