As we approach the end of another academic year I pause to reflect on the many enrichment and extra-curricular activities the girls and staff manage to fit into an already busy calendar. The last half term of the academic year is certainly no exception as we have been particularly blessed with warm sunny weather thus enabling us to give the opportunity to enhance their learning outside of the classroom.
Throughout my teaching career I have been a huge advocate of learning outside the classroom. This can be as simple as exploring the school grounds as part of the Biology curriculum, visiting local historical sites or travelling further afield. I am sure that the vast majority of educationalists agree on the importance of getting some fresh air to enhance learning and improve well-being. Whether that be an enthusiastic hockey match, a run around the playground at lunchtime or simply a brisk walk to and from school at the beginning and end of the day, the benefits to young people’s health are obvious.
What is becoming more and more recognised is that the outdoors can itself be a wonderful place to learn. New research has just been published which indicates that children actually concentrate better once they are back in the classroom after a period of outdoor learning. Far from over-exciting the pupils and wasting valuable teaching time settling them back into the classroom, the study by the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois found that, after an outdoor learning session, children were more engaged and teachers spent significantly less time redirecting their charges back to their work.
One of the highlights of the weekly timetable for pupils in EYFS and KS1 is to take part in “Forest School”. The girls visit the same forest environment in the School grounds throughout the year, watching the changes that take place. Seeing the changing environment allows the girls to develop accurate observational skills. We see levels of communication increase as the children develop role play scenarios. Problem-solving skills improve in outdoor environments and independence levels develop at a rate we don’t tend to see inside the classroom – the girls don’t feel the need to ask permission to try out their ideas and they learn to recognise and assess risks for themselves. When working outside, the girls deepen their knowledge and understanding as they learn – perhaps without even realising that they are learning at all. We see so many benefits, from increased self-confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation to improved team working skills. They take pride in the natural environment and care about it.
In addition to “Forest School”, girls in all Key Stages benefit from learning outside the classroom. Girls in Junior School take part in outward bound residential trips at PGL centres in the UK. Learning is brought to life in the outdoors, encouraging young people to challenge themselves, work together as a team and grow in confidence. Each June in Senior School we have an “Enrichment Week” during which “normal” lessons are suspended, and the girls participate in trips and enrichment activities. Many of these activities are outdoor. This year’s highlights included a Geography / Chemistry trip to Derbyshire, an Art trip to Cardiff, a visit to Cliveden House to complete mathematical challenges and the annual Year 10 residential trip to the WW1 Battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.
At the end of this year it is with great sadness that we say farewell to two long standing members of staff. After 16 years’ service, Ms Felix has decided it is time to “hang up her ballet shoes” and will retire at the end of this year. In addition, Mrs Fowles, who has worked at Saint Martin’s for 19 years, is moving to Malvern St. James to take up the position of Deputy Head. I would like to thank Miss Felix and Mrs Fowles for their commitment and loyalty to the school – we will miss them but wish them well in the future.
As we look forward to the long Summer break I encourage you and your daughters to continue “learning outside the classroom”. I wish you a wonderful summer!