The Countryside Effect

Woolwich Art Block, Modular building

Professor Aric Sigman has demonstrated that exposure to the natural environment provides children with a welcome break from the arresting effect of technology, allowing them to “attend without paying attention” as they explore their surroundings.

Though their perception of it may be subconscious the positive consequences of “the countryside effect”, as recent studies have termed it, are easily identifiable. Exposure to the outdoor environment is proven to improve the concentration, attitude and performance of students, as they are encouraged to apply practical learning skills without self-consciousness or pressure.

However, as documented in our new white paper report The Outdoor Environment in Secondary School, UK children at Key Stages 3 and 4 are largely missing out on this experience. Children aged 11 to 15 spend half of their waking lives in front of a screen and a third of our 6 to 15 year olds have never climbed a tree. Ofsted inspections and quotas for achievement are placing an increasing pressure on both staff and students in secondary schools, and it may seem that in the school day there is not time to explore and learn outside the classroom.

Rather than intruding on the existing timetable, incorporating outdoor learning into daily lessons helps children interact with a diverse range of subjects and disciplines. Spending time together beyond the traditional classroom environment encourages students to develop skills essential to the secondary curriculum, from team work to risk assessment.

Studies have also shown that contact with nature can contribute to a stronger and safer school community, with incidence of crime reduced by 50% in cases where the only variant was the view of green space from a window. By increasing their alertness and engagement, introducing natural lighting and views into the classroom improves children’s relationships with their learning and their peers.

Although beneficial to all areas of the curriculum, a learning space that prioritises interaction with its outdoor surroundings can be particularly inspirational for creative learning. The two-storey eco-building at Woolwich Polytechnic allows their art department to benefit from the solid link between the school and its natural environment. Students otherwise reluctant to participate in art can engage with natural views from full-length windows, and transform these into a creative piece of work. With direct access to the creative resources of nature, their pupils are better able to understand why and how to look after them.

Our white paper report contains a full account of how the “countryside effect” can benefit children of secondary school age, but please get in touch with any further questions about how to incorporate outdoor learning into your school environment.