Schools from the ISA explore why an education outside helps youngsters develop crucial life skills for 21st-century living.

The world we are living in is fastpaced, dynamic, exciting and challenging. Our young people need different skills to thrive than previous generations. 
Schools were designed in the industrial era with a focus on efficient and standardised learning, in a world where life was stable, predictable and where careers followed a clear and unmoving path. 

The world has changed. Our schools need to do the same. 
Young people today are the future custodians of the planet. They need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and motivation to address the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century.

One such concern is the environment and as schools we can engage young people on matters such as climate change and long term sustainability through outdoor learning programmes that also provide opportunities for students to develop crucial life skills.

Great British Life: Outdoor learning offers benefits for allOutdoor learning offers benefits for all (Image: Liberty Woodland School)

Leanna Barrett, founding head of Liberty Woodland School in Morden, Britain’s first fully outdoor school explores the benefits of taking education into nature.

What is Liberty Woodland’s ethos?

Liberty Woodland is a revolutionary reimagining of school. We are designed around the needs of the 21st-century learner, where to prepare young people to become the best they can be, young people are developed to be problem-solvers, critical thinkers and deeply reflective lifelong learners with a strong sense of social responsibility.

We believe that young people deserve an education which provides them with rich, deep learning experiences, and physical and emotional wellbeing. We believe our world deserves a generation of eco leaders, who, inspired by the love they have for nature, are a force to be reckoned with in solving the issue of climate change.

A rich and varied, immersive, academically rigorous and exciting experiential curriculum enables students to develop their personal understanding, their emerging sense of self and responsibility in their community and in the world.

What are some of the key benefits of outdoor learning and forest schools, and how do these tackle some of the issues young people face in today’s world?

Taking education into nature cultivates unique and valuable educational experiences.

Outdoor learning offers numerous benefits for all students. By connecting with nature studies have proven that overall wellbeing is improved, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression that are sadly prevalent in many young people today.

Also, learning outdoors simply offers students opportunities to move more regularly. This physical activity supports healthy brain development as  movement helps to stimulate the growth of new neural connections and improve cognitive function. 

Teaching via the environment can foster a love of learning in students. By  engaging them in hands-on, real-world activities, students are able to see the relevance, purpose and importance of what they are learning. This can help to  motivate and inspire them, making education a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience for both young people and their teachers.

How does Liberty Woodland achieve this mission?

At Liberty Woodland School we teach environmentalism as our third core skill,
alongside maths and literacy.

This academic year our students began their journey into environmentalism with
a year-long project which aims to move Liberty Woodland towards becoming a
carbon neutral school. This allows young people to learn more about climate change and feel empowered to take action in their school community. Our young people are developing their leadership and problem solving skills as they calculate estimates of our school’s carbon emissions and lead meaningful initiatives to reduce our school’s carbon footprint.

Roosevelt said ‘Dowhat you can,with what you have, where you are’.

We arm our young people with the skills, knowledge and tools to make a genuine and lasting impact upon the world. 

Any final words?
Take education back into nature. You won’t regret it for a minute.

Liberty Woodland School is an independent co-educational school for students aged four-16.

Great British Life: Exploring with Lady Barn House SchoolExploring with Lady Barn House School (Image: Lady Barn House School)

Lady Barn House School, a prep school in Cheshire, adopts a very similar  approach. After all it’s not called ‘the great outdoors’ for nothing! Ms Louise Higson, headmistress, tells us more…

How does Lady Barn House School use the outdoor environment as a classroom?

From Nursery to Year 6 we encourage children to step out of their comfort zone and take part in risk-assessed but not risk-free activities – and generally to get their hands dirty! Woodland School is an integral part of our curriculum; we appreciate that there are huge physical, social and emotional benefits from learning in the great outdoors.

We want our children to learn through exploring and experiencing the world around them, whether climbing trees, paddling in the brook in  their wellies, making wild garlic pesto, building bug hotels and bird houses, feeling the sensation of mud on their fingers or painting with their hands.

We encourage them to develop a love, appreciation and respect for nature and
all that is living. Lady Barn’s Woodland School provides a rich and diverse learning
environment, onewhich allows our children to discover nature, grasp  new opportunities, enhance their independent thinking skills and be fully immersed in the natural world around them. The children understand that knowledge can be found everywhere, and their natural curiosity helps to instil a true love of learning across the curriculum. 

What are the key life skills and experiences that pupils can gain from outdoor learning?

Children are allowed the freedom and opportunity to explore their creativity,
critical thinking and problem-solving skills in ‘real’ situations. Beyond a deeper
understanding of how we can look after our environment, pupils become more capable of identifying hazards and risks.

Positive outdoor experiences strengthens their self-awareness, confidence and selfesteem. Pupils are given the space to be independent, to take risks and make decisions, which allows them to build their resilience and adaptability. This is crucial in inspiring their willingness to take on new challenges – be it during their time with Lady Barn or outside school.

How does learning in this way align with the values of Lady Barn House?

It allows all children to take ownership of their learning experiences and use those skills learned outside in the classroom environment, thus enhancing their indoor learning experiences too. Taking our classes into nature quite literally brings the children’s learning to life. It reinforces the fact that we are all different, everyone has their own strengths, and we can all learn from each other. In fact, we never stop learning, no matter where we are, and it’s great! 

Lady Barn House School is an independent co-educational Prep school for  students aged three-11.

Great British Life: Lady Barn’s Woodland SchoolLady Barn’s Woodland School (Image: Lady Barn’s School)


Liberty Woodland School and Lady Barn House School are both members of the Independent Schools Association (ISA). ISA is a family of headteachers that lead more than 600 independent schools across the UK, educating more than 120,000 students. Every ISA school is unique in its character, representing the diverse range of independent education practised across the UK and overseas.

The cases above highlight how outdoor learning inspires young people to develop into valuable contributors to society, however there aremany other ways that ISA schools use their independence to encourage the students in their care towards the same purpose.