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Outdoor Learning

Outdoor Learning

There are many benefits of outdoor learning for children and young people, including improved health and wellbeing, personal and social development, environmental awareness and academic achievement (Harvey et al., 2020; Dopko et al., 2019Kuo et al., 2019; Fiennes et al., 2015). As such, outdoor learning is supported and encouraged by Education Scotland and The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS, 2021; Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010)

The Learning About Forests (LEAF) programme aims to make it easier for teachers, children and young people to get outside. To encourage more learning outdoors, we count any learning that takes place outdoors as outdoor learning, even if that includes learning which could have taken place inside.

To qualify for your LEAF award, you need to demonstrate progress in learning which has taken place outside. This could include an increase in time pupils spend learning outdoors or an improvement in the quality of outdoor learning experiences, for example better facilities or more subjects covered.

Leave no trace principles

When you are spending time outdoors, it is important to be clear to everyone that they should have a minimal impact on the environment. A simple mantra to follow is:

“Take only photos, leave only footprints.”

Making progress with outdoor learning.

We know that there can be many barriers to getting outside with children and young people. The resources on this webpage are designed to help overcome some of those barriers and provide inspiration to help you enjoy your time outside.

If you are new to outdoor learning and are not sure where to get started, then take a look at our first steps in outdoor learning resource.

Potential barriers and help to overcome them

Some of the common barriers to outdoor learning are listed below, with suggestions on overcoming them.

Lack of pupil confidence with outdoor learningTry and make it routine to be take learning outside. Outdoor learning should not be considered a big event, just part of the normal daily routine. One option is to go out first thing, for example at the start of the day or after a break, so pupils don’t have to take outdoor clothing off and then put it back on again.

You can take your pupils through a risk benefit analysis to help discuss any concerns they have and address these before you go out. Make sure pupils know how to identify common hazards and what to do around them, e.g. nettles, broken glass and other litter, dogs off leads. Plan in some free play time at the end of the outdoor session, if possible.

Lack of educator confidence with outdoor learning: When you are getting started, keep your plans simple, just try think about what you’re currently doing and take it outdoors.

Set clear boundaries and ground rules before you go out. You can use markers on trees and boundaries to mark a ‘stay within’ area. Tell pupils to stay within sight and within hearing of staff.

Have an outdoor learning bag packed ready to go with: first aid kit, spare hats / gloves, snacks, water and a few activity basics (magnifying glass, measuring tape). You could have a set of outdoor learning bags for the whole school.

If you are new to outdoor learning seek support from additional staff in your establishment, to manage pupils safely whilst outside. Talking to educators who are experienced with outdoor learning can also help with confidence. Let us know if you would like us to put you in touch with an experienced educator to discuss tips.

Lack of support from headteacher / senior staff: It can be hard to develop outdoor learning when senior staff are not supportive. If possible, try to have a conversation with senior staff to discuss why they are not keen on progressing outdoor learning in your establishment. It can be helpful to discuss the benefits of outdoor learning for children / young people, along with the benefits of working together as an establishment to make outdoor learning more frequent and part of children / young people’s routine. As an establishment it is a good idea to review or seek guidance on your policy for activities which are deemed 'high-risk', for example, tree climbing and lighting fires.

Lack of support from parents: Try to ensure clear communication regarding when and where outdoor learning will take place, including the value of pupils spending more time outside.

Take lots of pictures when you are out and share them with parents and carers so they can see the benefits to their children first hand.

Lack of appropriate clothing and footwear for pupils: Try to ensure that it is clearly communicated to parents that their children will be learning outdoors and what clothing and footwear is required. Reassure parents that specialist clothing is not often needed and should never limit access to outdoor learning.

If parents are struggling to provide appropriate items, consider creating a bank of weatherproof clothing including warm and waterproof clothes. You can ask for hand-me-downs from parents / carers, ask for sponsorship from local businesses or fundraise to obtain the items you need.

Concerns about weather conditions: To start with, ensure that everyone has appropriate clothing and footwear for the expected weather. This can be a great opportunity for children / young people to expand their experiences by having fun, whatever the weather. For example, with young children you can invite them to swap the water between two puddles, or describe what a raindrop tasks like. For older children / young people, you can do some weather measuring using windsocks or containers to catch rain/snow. It is good for children / young people to learn that it is ok to be a bit uncomfortable at times and that should not stop them enjoying their time outside.

Useful links

There are lots of activities and resources available for outdoor learning, which can be overwhelming. Below is a selection of good quality resources to help you with the practicalities of outdoor learning. You can find outdoor learning activities specifically for LEAF on our resources page.

The Nature Connection Handbook from the University of Derby

Outdoor learning case studies from schools from NatureScot

Find your local greenspace map from NatureScot

Find your local Green Flag Park

Grants available to help with outdoor learning: Cairngorms National ParkLoch Lomond National ParkCreative Star's outdoor learning grants list.


Dopko, R. L., Capaldi, C. A., & Zelenski, J. M. (2019). The psychological and social benefits of a nature experience for children: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 63, 134-138.

Fiennes, C., Oliver, E., Dickson, K., Escobar, D., Romans, A., & Oliver, S. (2015). The existing evidence-base about the effectiveness of outdoor learning. Institute of Outdoor Learning: London, UK.

GTCS (2021) Professional Standards for Teachers (online)

Harvey, D. J., Montgomery, L. N., Harvey, H., Hall, F., Gange, A. C., & Watling, D. (2020). Psychological benefits of a biodiversity focused outdoor learning program for primary school children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 67.

Kuo, M., Barnes, M., & Jordan, C. (2019). Do experiences with nature promote learning? Converging evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010). Curriculum for Excellence through outdoor learning. (online)

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