Learning through Landscapes CEO, Carley Sefton, reflects on pandemic resilience

Carley SeftonAs I packed my office plants into my car last April, I did not expect that they would still be in my home office over a year later. In that time, I have pruned them, watered them, and even re-potted them, reminding me how much time has passed and how different the world has become.

In those first few weeks following Boris Johnson’s announcement of a national lockdown, the team at Learning through Landscapes (LtL) went into overdrive about how to best support parents, educators and children.  We adapted resources, answered questions, and set up collaborative Facebook groups. It became very clear very quickly that our work had an important role to play.

So many people during the last year have told me that they’ve enjoyed being outdoors more than ever before, and that time outside has had a positive influence on their mental wellbeing. Many teachers who have started taking lessons outside regularly for the first time have also told us about the positive impact that outdoor learning has had on themselves, as well as their pupils.

The LtL team and I started wondering: how can we make sure these positive effects last? And how do we create easy and accessible ways to support as many teachers and educators as possible?

Over the past few months, we as a team have spent a lot of time breaking down what we know, challenging our own understanding and listening. One of the biggest and most challenging questions to answer has been: how do we define outdoor learning? For many, ‘outdoor learning’ immediately conjures up images of a group of children orienteering, kayaking or rock climbing. Many schools we speak to might also tell us they have a forest school club. These are all excellent things, but they do not describe the outdoor learning experience that LtL offers.

LtL was founded to support teachers in taking the curriculum outdoors and to improve school grounds for learning and play. Many people are surprised to learn that the majority of LtL staff are teachers and educators, with specialisms ranging from primary education to secondary-level science. We even have a qualified landscape architect in our team! Our varied background gives us a unique view on how our work fits into schools, so we can develop high-quality outdoor learning experiences which link to the curriculum.

We understand the pressures teachers face and how school life works, and we know that teachers already have enough activities to fit into their busy timetables.

After listening to teachers in recent months and seeing the obstacles caused by the pandemic, we also know that we need to make our support easier to access and understand.

All of this has led us to develop an online training platform, with the aim of making high-quality outdoor learning accessible to as many teachers and educators as possible. For now, the platform features courses on taking literacy and numeracy outdoors and a free course about our newly formed 6 Principles of Outdoor Learning, but it will expand as we continue to reflect on what teachers need from us. Our 6 Principles were formed from conversations about the core of what we believe outdoor learning can and should be, and they will be the foundation for the support we offer teachers and educators going forward.

I hope that our new online courses will be one of the ways we can make schools and pupils more pandemic-resilient.

We know the positive impact that time spent outdoors has on health, wellbeing and connection with nature. These are all things that have never been more important as we focus on recovering from a pandemic in the middle of a climate crisis

If more teachers feel confident to take the curriculum outdoors, where we now know COVID-19 is less able to spread, then more pupils might attend outdoor lessons throughout the week, giving them a much-needed break from time indoors or from online learning during any future lockdowns. We are also keen to support schools to introduce this model to help reengage pupils who are struggling to adapt into school life following the pandemic.

So, as I sit here surrounded by the office plants that I’m grateful and surprised to have (mostly) kept alive, I hope that soon they will be packed back in my car to return to their home at LtL. Like a lot of us, I feel a bit nervous about what life will look like over the coming months but, whatever happens next, I hope we hold on to the positives from this awful situation. Spending more time outdoors in all weathers, enjoying time in nature and trying something new have all improved many people’s lives and I hope these habits will continue in our ‘new normal’. And if you are a teacher looking to start a new journey of outdoor learning, then we are here to support you every step of the way!

With love,

Carley

Find out more about our online training platform.

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