Bringing outdoor education to schools

How we brought outdoor education to schools

Our outreach programme has been one of this year’s big successes. With the second lockdown at the start of the year, we were again unable to welcome children to our grounds. The idea of taking outdoor education to schools was born. Here, project leader Alan and activities co-ordinator Vicky explain how the programme got started.

“With residentials off the table, pupils were missing out on a big opportunity to engage themselves in developmental learning. These experiences are known to have a profoundly positive impact for young people. Taking Wiston on the road seemed like the natural way to re-engage with those who were missing out.

We submitted a successful funding application to YouthLink Scotland and to the National Lottery  Communities Recovery Fund, which allowed us to pay for equipment, as well as our staff’s time and van rental.

Under Bringing outdoor education to schoolsthe funding remit, we contacted a number of local schools with whom we had already built excellent partnerships. All schools were delighted with our approach. We offered each school four to six days’ worth of outreach. In most cases, we were confined to schools with very little green space and concrete play areas, therefore we had to be creative in our approach. 

We brought the outdoors to the playground with tipi poles, branches, ropes and tarps to encourage den building. We introduced soft archery, as well as focused team-building events. As trained drum circle facilitators, we bought a range of drums and percussion to introduce the young people to a variety of beats and rhythms. As trained forest school leaders, we introduced a variety of wood art, bushcraft and fire-making activities. 

Children enjoying the outdoors at schoolThe outreach programme began at the start of September and it ran until the end of November. The weather, for the most part, behaved itself, but there were rainy days when we had to be creative with group shelters using our tarps, poles and ropes.

During sessions, we really witnessed the impact of our work in taking outdoor education to schools. The wood art and clay model making gave some of the more challenging young people a real focus. For two boys in particular it brought a real calmness to them that had not been evident the previous day. It allowed them to be creative in ways which really blew us away, bringing latent talents and imagination to the surface, and which produced fantastic pieces of art to take home to show their families.

For numerous other youngsters, the den building activity was extremely popular. One school had a couple of boys who were fairly new. They excelled through the opportunity to work with their hands and test out the building skills they had acquired, while recalling working with their dads and uncles.  Another hugely popular activity was archery. The majority of kids had never picked up a bow and arrow. It was amazing to see how many individuals started off with very little confidence, with lots of negative self-talk about how rubbish they were. By explaining to them that skills take time to acquire and encouragement to continue, they soon started to get better.   

Archery education in schoolsWe saw how enthusiastically the young people engaged with each activity and the effects on their confidence, focus, communication skills and resilience. It was great seeing all the ticks on the indicators every time the teachers observed them being met.  What impressed most was observing a few of the boys who really struggled when it came to focused team work challenges, but were extremely focused and engaged in practical hand craft sessions for hours.  Or the girls who found their voice in activities and were able to assertively share their needs and ideas. And all the children that faced and overcame their fears.  

The oOutdoor education at schoolutreach programme was a new and innovative way of working and as well as the obvious benefits taking outdoor education to schools gives to children, brought our service to those who would otherwise not have been able to benefit. Three of the schools were in rural areas where they have limited access to services and activities that other schools can enjoy.

Next year, we have more bookings than ever for schools to come to Wiston Lodge, many citing our  outreach work as the motivation, as well as many old and new schools booking for us to come to them.