There is increasingly strong evidence that experiences in nature can boost academic learning, including in subject areas unrelated to the outdoor context. Further, the benefits of time spent outdoors in terms of health and wellbeing, stress reduction, improved mental health and confidence of young people were reported; all of which are known to support academic attainment.
Growing among Trees was a 12-month pilot project through which woodland outreach interventions – giving pupils everyday connection to woods and trees – were delivered in urban schools. Sessions sparked pupils’ creativity and imagination, and following the activities pupils and teachers reported feelings of happiness.
In general, school aged young people with complex needs benefit from more flexible, open-ended provision. Project managers emphasised, for example, the importance of the non-school setting, as well as the need for choice, confidence-building, and soft and/or practical skills development.
The mid-term evaluation of the Our Bright Future programme has shown that being outside engaging with nature is a contributing factor from programme activities which have improved young people’s personal development, in particular for disadvantaged young people. Evidence from a sample of participants indicates that participation has led to an increase in some participants’ self-confidence, wellbeing and mental health, as well as improvements in attitude and motivation to learn. A small sample of second-hand evidence documenting the views of teachers suggests that at school and in college, teachers have also witnessed marked improvements in some young people’s behaviour, social interactions, anxiety levels
Time spent outdoors and learning about nature has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, stress and behavioural issues. Natural England commissioned a four year project where children from 125 schools had regular outdoor lessons. The findings from the project shows 90 per cent of pupils said learning outdoors makes them feel happier and healthier. Good mental health of teachers is also important for the education system; the same research shows 79 per cent of teachers reported positive impacts on their teaching practice, and 72 per cent reported their own improved health and wellbeing. Additionally, 85 per cent of schools saw a positive impact on pupils’ behaviour.
As well as significantly improving mental health, being outdoors considerably improves children’s physical health. Studies have shown that increasing time spent outdoors reduces children’s infectious diseases (colds, sore throats etc.) by up to 80 per cent.
451 children across England took part by completing surveys before and after they participated in outdoor activities. Additionally, teachers, Wildlife Trust educators and 199 of the children were observed by the UCL research team and interviewed about their experiences. This is one of the largest studies into the effects of outdoor activities on children’s wellbeing and views about nature. Overall, the research revealed that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature: the children showed an increase in their personal wellbeing and health over time, and they showed an increase in nature connection, pro-environmental values and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.