Why sustainable and outdoor learning have become this Yorkshire School’s priority since lockdown

Forest school at Coram House, Ackworth School's junior school in Yorkshire

Children can interact with nature and wildlife in the school's forests, ponds and river that runs through its grounds. - Credit: Ackworth School

Sally Slater, head of Coram House, Ackworth School's junior school in Yorkshire reveals how lessons learnt during lockdown are helping them to better their pupils’ education.

She shares how sustainable learning in an outdoor classroom environment and the use of technology is helping to prepare pupils for the world ahead.

Q: How has the school changed since the first lockdown in 2020?

River work and den building for pupils at Ackworth School's Forest School in Yorkshire

Children can take part in river work, den building and outdoor crafts. - Credit: Ackworth School

A: We’ve adjusted our timetable to enable students to spend more time learning outdoors and introduced new technology into the classroom to enhance their understanding, creativity and participation.

I think it’s important for us to remind pupils of the things we’ve learnt during Covid-19, and not what they have missed out on. For example, we discovered just how resilient the pupils are and uncovered brilliant new resources to drive education and pique their curiosity.

The pandemic has helped bring us, pupils and parents even closer together, and we’re focusing on more ways we can continue to nurture these relations. One thing that will certainly remain is online parents’ evenings as they proved hugely successful, and have made it easy for busy parents to get involved with their child’s life at school.

Pupils are also learning about the importance of good physical and mental wellbeing. Pastoral care has always been one of our major priorities, and we’re helping students to understand what strategies they can put in place to care for themselves and others around them.

Q: What new technologies have you introduced into the classroom?

A: Since 2020, we’ve rolled out iPads to pupils and installed Apple TVs in classrooms. We’re bringing technology into the core of the classroom, delivering an interactive curriculum and creating a seamless transition between home and school working. Pupils can use their iPads to complete assessments, conduct research and access worksheets, no matter where they are.

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Teachers and peers can provide real-time feedback on work as it’s being completed, allowing pupils to identify areas of improvement and building their confidence to share and explain ideas.

Online projects are helping them to develop new problem-solving abilities and grow their digital literacy skills. It’s teaching them vital skills they need in today’s world of fast-advancing technology, that will equip them to get the jobs and opportunities they want in later life.

Q: How can outdoor teaching benefit children?

Mental wellbeing awareness week at Ackworth School in Yorkshire

Ackworth School promotes mental wellbeing awareness, teaching students the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health. - Credit: Ackworth School

A: Sir David Attenborough once said: “Bringing nature into the classroom can kindle a fascination and passion for the diversity of life on earth, and can motivate a sense of responsibility to safeguard it.”

Outdoor learning garners a sense of responsibility for the environment and is beneficial to pupils’ mental and physical wellbeing. Students spend less time sitting outdoors, and more time doing.

They can take part in river work, learn in our Forest School and explore nature through our on-site orchards and ponds. Lessons are brought to life as they play in the mud, splash in the river, climb trees and build dens. Pupils will create unforgettable memories they can cherish for the rest of their lives.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for children to take part in sustainable learning activities?

A: The future belongs to our children and they need to understand how we can work together to care for our planet. We’ve just held a pupil-led global learning week to increase awareness of the climate crisis.

Apple and pear tree in Ackworth School's onsite orchards in Yorkshire.

Children learn how to care for the environment by planting and growing trees and fruit in the school's orchards. - Credit: Ackworth School

Pupils spoke to local agencies about how we can reduce food waste, recycle more and create a greener, more sustainable world. They also took part in a ‘Rainbow Run’ for the Archbishop of York's Young Leaders Award, to raise funds for our new peace garden. It will be a place of silence and tranquillity, acting as an outdoor Quaker meeting place where pupils and visitors can sit, reflect and share ideas.

At the end of the global week, one of our year 5 students said: “I now know I want to give as much as I take from the world.”

Ackworth School is an independent day and boarding school in the heart of Yorkshire for boys and girls aged 2.5 to 18 years.

To find out more about Ackworth School and how you can apply, visit ackworthschool.com.

Contact them on 01977 233 600 or email admissions@ackworthschool.com.