There is a revolution taking place in our primary schools. It’s a move to incorporate physically active learning (PAL) in traditionally sedentary lessons – a move to move more – and it’s being driven by a new breed of senior leaders and a growing library of academic evidence* that healthy children are more effective learners.
Teachers are being encouraged to regularly get children out of their classrooms, away from their desks and into the outdoor spaces of their schools and communities. Not just on a trip or a residential, but on a weekly and, in some schools, a daily basis.
Outdoor and adventurous activity (OAA) lessons have long been on the radar of schools as part of the physical education curriculum, but many teachers still don’t really have a good understanding of what that means, the opportunities they offer, or how they can be implemented without worrying about copious risk assessments. Traditionally OAA has included things like orienteering and following maps, but ‘outdoor learning’ and PAL is far less complicated than you might think and is something every school can easily achieve on their own site.
The key to delivering successful physically active learning and outdoor learning is to not lose sight of your objective – you might still be teaching an area of numeracy or science or a topic like the Greeks, but you simply deliver it in a different space, often outdoors – in a way that encourages and embeds movement.
One simple example of how to plan a PAL lesson would be to create a treasure hunt, where children have to move around the outdoor space to find components of a problem to solve. Let’s take phonics – can the children find five different hidden phonics cards around the space and write down five words that each contain one of the found phonics? They are carrying out the same task as they would be in a classroom but now, they are moving as well – and why not set them a time challenge? How many words can they come up with containing hidden phonics in five minutes?
By increasing the speed at which they are working you are increasing their heart rate and blood flow, proven to help with concentration and brain function and contributing towards the 30 minutes of in school moderate to vigorous physical activity, as recommended by The Department of Health’s “Childhood obesity: a plan for action”.
Schools across the world are seeing the positive impact of outdoor learning and PAL are having and there has been an explosion of brilliant move and learn education resources and planning tools over the past year. Critically, the recently published Creating Active Schools Framework devised by a partnership of 50 key education stakeholders, which looks increasingly likely to become national policy, supports and endorses this new approach and is encouraging schools to rethink their timetables to include as many PAL opportunities as possible.
This revolution is seeing changes happening in physical environments too, with lots of schools now looking at the potential of their outdoor spaces. Many are adding outdoor classrooms and something as simple as playground markings are changing to include number lines, clock faces on walls and even phonics randomly spread out on the floor, to make playgrounds useful spaces for lessons as well as for playtimes.
Outdoor learning is big news and lots more schools are taking it further by creating wilderness areas and sending teachers on forest schools training which, in simple terms, is teaching traditional scouting skills and helping children understand and get closer to nature. The opportunities this provides for engaging learning in the fresh air are endless.
As with all changes there are of course challenges. At first, the change of scenery can lead to some obvious behaviour issues; the freedom, space and autonomy you are giving children is certainly exciting for them and they don’t always know how to handle it. If you can get past that initial bump in the road and establish a clear structure, you and your pupils will undoubtedly reap the many rewards of outdoor and physically active learning.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read others like it, Tips on delivering physically active learning featured in our Everything Curriculum Magazine Issue 8. Each issue centralized around a chosen theme, you can sign up to receive the latest magazines or access our previous editions here.