Grow To School

More schools are valuing outdoor learning and taking steps to embed it in the timetable. Grow to School CIC is a not-for-profit company supporting schools to deliver curriculum outdoor learning and food growing programmes across Yorkshire and beyond. With 12 years experience working alongside teachers, TA’s and headteachers we have the skills to break down many of the perceived barriers and provide vital evidence for the efficacy of learning outside.
“Outdoor learning is a pedagogical approach used to enrich learning, enhance school engagement and improve pupil health and wellbeing. However, its non-traditional means of achieving curricular aims are not yet recognised beyond the early years by education inspectorates.” Marchant et al (May 2019)
We have worked with Hyrstmount School, West Yorkshire once a week for six years. Classes rotate and spend one hour per week outside with a Grow to School practitioner. Every lesson dovetails with the curriculum to add context to classroom learning. Coupled with this, outdoor learning is timetabled weekly for each class, and teachers are supported by us to take their pupils outdoors. It has taken time to build staff confidence, but teachers are now able to see the effects back in the classroom.
“The school has successfully embedded the practice of teaching outside, seeing benefits in children’s learning and attainment and also in the development of social skills for children and the professional development of teachers.” Mathew Leach, Head teacher, Hyrstmount (read full article here)

With the help of pupils at Hyrstmount, we produced a series of free videos that work through many of the barriers that teachers experience when taking their classes outside. We hope you find them informative and if they raise questions, we’re always happy to help. (To view click here)

As Marchant et al (2019) highlights, there are wider benefits to spending time outside: fresh air helps to wake us up and is an aid to knowledge retention; an increase in physical activity leads to an increase in wellbeing. Learning outside is experiential and helps to develop life skills such as teamwork, resilience and helps those who struggle in the classroom; and it’s fun to be somewhere other than the classroom all day! When a child sits back down after being outside, teachers tell us that concentration and energy are generally improved, and children are in a good place to carry on learning.
A global pandemic and climate change have highlighted priorities around mental and physical health and connecting with the natural world. School grounds are valuable spaces for addressing this. We all want children to feel informed about and connected with the world around them, to feel a sense of ownership and confident to take small steps to make a difference. Growing food with children using The Growbag, our food growing programme, gives schools the opportunity to cultivate this connection first-hand by looking after a school allotment. Sowing, planting, and observing growth and reproduction is woven through the curriculum and our hands-on approach brings that learning to life.
Outdoor learning needs to be recognised and integrated into the timetable, but where do you find money to invest in staff training or bring in external expertise, or mend those old growing beds when schools are juggling priorities on a limited budget? Applying to charitable funding pots can only bring in so much and is often for one-off projects. To provide a child with an outdoor lesson once a week costs a school on average £26 per child per year, (or £4.33 per half term). This is a small price to pay for engaged and motivated learners. Many schools use the Pupil and Sports Premium to fund outdoor learning. PTAs are also a source of project income for schools.
Some things take time and require patience. The art of waiting is an important skill for adults and children alike. You plant a seed and wait for it to grow. Sometimes it fails and you must start all over again, but with care and attention your plant may well thrive, and the wait will have been worth it. Outdoor learning needs time invested in it; time for children to get used to the rules and expectations of working outside; time for teachers to understand how to get the best out of teaching and learning somewhere different to the classroom; time for school leadership teams and governors to see the benefits and to put their full weight behind a whole school approach. Like many things in life, with a patient approach and the right preparation, leadership and guidance, effective outdoor learning can and will take its rightful place in a school day.
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