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The outdoor classroom

Thinking about Sustainability issues, I found a free course to join. Interestingly it is run by the Open University in collaboration with the University of Reading. I joined the course as an ex teacher who has an interest in Environmental concerns, with a view to perhaps being able to develop some ideas for practical activities we might use with young people in our community.


Arborfield Park, for example is owned by Arborfield and Newland Parish Council and could be used for outdoor educational activities. The redesign and renovation of the Pavilion in the park could be a great opportunity to do more for educating young people about sustainability and the impact of human activity on our environment. A nature trail. An outdoor classroom.


To quote from the course materials: “The beauty of learning outdoors is that it’s a holistic experience that benefits and enhances emotional, social, cognitive, physical and linguistic development.”


Professor Calum Semple, University of Liverpool and member of the UK’s Scientific Group for Emergencies (SAGE) argues that better ventilation in schools would improve health. Another way to improve ventilation is simply to go outside! Sunlight enables the synthesis of Vitamin D while physical activity strengthens muscles, increases bone density and flexibility and improves cardio-respiratory functions.


Other benefits of an outdoor classroom are quoted: “As children build their knowledge of flora and fauna, the geology or the weather through exploring outdoors, they also learn to observe, to persevere, to be patient, to be curious and to be willing to make errors”


I remember being taken to what was then called an “Adventure Playground” back in the 1960’s. Kids swarming over a site full of rough timber frames, slides, rope swings and muddy puddles. Even better, I thought, was when we moved out of the centre of Reading to the suburbs of Earley, where kids roamed wild and free in a patch of ground we called our own. It may have been a bit lacking in health and safety, but it many ways that was the point. You made your own rules, found your own limits and created your own adventures.


During the 1970’s the REME Garrison at Arborfield got involved in helping the Coombes Infant School to develop all kinds of outdoor learning experience. With the extraordinary vision and foresight of its then Headteacher: Sue Humphries, and with the help of local artists, writers, educators, teachers, parents and volunteer soldiers all kinds of innovative ideas were built for the school and explored by the children.


The geology trail was made of rocks and boulders from all over the country. The pond had a boat. The nature trail included an arboretum. The timetable was constructed around Themes and Topics, into which the lessons on Mathematics, English, Science, Art and Design Technology were woven. Animals were regularly brought into the school: Goats, cows, chickens, sheep, a donkey, a horse, as well as the more usual kittens, puppies, rabbits, hamsters and frogspawn.


Working with natural willow fibres or raw materials such as clay dug from the ground gives an understanding of our place in the wider environment that can never be replicated by, for example, buying a plastic container. When we were writing the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan “Sustainability” was considered to be the “Golden thread” that ran through all our policies. It is also increasingly a central theme in modern ideas about educating children, helping them to understand the world they are growing up in, and why they should care about it.


In this article https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/mar/02/how-to-cultivate-wellbeing-through-gardening the World Health Organization defines good health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. It is a complex pattern of interactions. “One of the key things that we have forgotten as human beings is that we’re animals, and we’re part of a system,” says Professor Alistair Griffiths, the Royal Horticultural Society’s director of science and collections. ”People see themselves as separate from nature but we’re very much a part of it. What we have around us in our environment is critical to our wellbeing.”


Gardening seems an intuitive way of connecting people with nature, but many people living in towns and cities need to have their interest revived, or be given more confidence. Core Arts, a Hackney-based charity which promotes mental health and wellbeing, includes gardening in its programme. “People see that their input is valued by hundreds of others. The mutual benefits ricochet around.”


This year’s Chelsea Flower Show will feature the imaginative philanthropy of Project Giving Back (PGB), an organisation which will fund 42 gardens for charities over the next three years. Rosie Atkins, RHS vice-president and founding editor of Gardens Illustrated, is a curator for PGB. She says: “With plants, it’s a two-way nurturing process. You’re nurturing them and they’re nurturing you back.”


“Everyone needs a space to grow. It should be a human right, because it’s fundamental to us.”


So, University of Reading, advocate of education in sustainability and champion of the natural environment, tell me again.


Why must you sell Hall Farm?








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