Outdoor Learning Experiences

Supporting learning and engagement with the natural environment for all ages

Category: Uncategorized

Autumn 2019 upcoming events

Art in the Woods will take place again on Sunday October 13th, 2-4 pm. Nature art and craft and delicious cakes and hot drinks in Hitch Wood. Click here for further information.

In addition, some local organisations are running events at East Hall Farm.

Saturday September 21st, Bat Walk, St. Paul’s Walden. See Down the Woods to book.

Sunday September 22nd, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury Run will be taking place. Starting at St. Paul’s Walden Bury, you can chose to run either 2k, 5k or 10k distances across the lovely Hertfordshire countryside where our outdoor learning also takes place. Outdoor Learning Experiences is not organising the run, but supporting through volunteering. See St. Paul’s Walden Bury run for more details and to register.


Wednesday 16th October, Hertfordshire Forest School cluster group meeting at Within the Walls, St .Paul’s Walden from 3 pm.



Upcoming events

June 9th is Open Farm Sunday, so we will have some displays in the field in front of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, and also be offering tractor-trailer rides around the farm. This is an opportunity to find out more about the local countryside, what we produce, how we manage the environment to support wildlife, and our system of grazing cattle. Alongside this, the Bury Gardens are open for the National Gardens Scheme charities, from 2-7pm with teas served by the PCC or WI. There is a charge to enter the gardens, which goes to the charity, but Open Farm Sunday events are free.  Within the Walls community garden project is also open, so if you are interested in knowing more about what they offer, or how you could help, do drop in.

This is the best time of year to learn about farming, and so if you know of a group or school who would like a farm tour, please do get in touch to arrange a mutually convenient time.

Through the summer term we will also be welcoming school children from St. Paul’s Walden school and Preston school for forest school sessions.

In August, we will be running our Forest of Frogs Summer camp, from August 19th – 22nd. Children aged 6-12 can engage in forest school, drama, nature arts and crafts and treasure hunts in the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury. This year bookings are through eventbrite. There is a link from the home pages of www.stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk and www.outdoorlearningexperiences.org websites.

In September, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury run will take place on Sunday the 22nd, starting and finishing in the gardens. There are 10k, 5k courses, and a 2k fun run available. Autism Angels runs this event to raise money for their charitable work.

Our outdoor season ends with Art in the Woods on October 13th, from 2-4:30 pm in Hitch Wood.

Summer Camp 2017

Our Forest Of Frogs summer camp ran from August 21st – 25th, 2017. With more than 50 children coming each day, we had a busy week. Younger children (aged 6-12) engaged in drama and music activities, forest school, and nature art and craft. Teenagers (12-19) put their minds to a production of Romeo and Juliet. In between the rehearsals, they still had time to enjoy some camp fires, wood caring, and learned the tango! By Friday afternoon they were presenting an amazing performance first to the younger children, and later to their friends and parents. Many thanks to Marking Rawlings and Elizabeth Keates who adapted the script, cast and directed the production so professionally.

The collaboration with Box of Frogs Theatre Academy (https://www.facebook.com/Box-of-Frogs-Theatre-Academy-109053859244862/) will continue.

W’ll be up and running again next year – Dates provisionally set for Aug 20th-24th, 2018. As ever, in the beautiful gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury.


Summer camp plans for August 2017

Last year we added a new feature to our Forest of Frogs summer camp. Working with Elizabeth Keates, we offered a week of more drama based activities for teenagers. The teenagers were cast in  a shortened version of “A midsummer night’s dream”, and during the week they chose a venue in the gardens to be their stage, practised their lines,  choreographed their movements, and made their costumes. Teenagers less interested in a full acting role played  a part too – developing props, composing music etc. On the final Friday afternoon, they were able to perform their play to an audience of parents and friends, who were treated to a tour of the garden as they followed the troupe through the acts of the play.

Of course, they still wanted to enjoy some of the traditional forest of frogs activities, so they were still able to enjoy campfires, build dens, and do some nature art as well.

Following the success of last year, we plan to do another drama workshop for teenagers. The play will depend on the number of people who enrol, as we want to be sure to take on something which suits those coming. Please see the poster  or contact Sarah Cash, sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com to find out more, and book your place.


Why farmers open to the public

Open Farm Sunday 2016

In 2008 I interviewed 34 about their motivations, and rewards, for hosting visits to their farms. As we approach the month of “Open farm schooldays” and the weekend of Open Farm Sunday, when more than 400 farmers will open their doors to the public, it’s worth revisiting the reasons why they do so.

  1. A belief that the wider public (children and parents alike) had lost touch with the knowledge about where food comes from. Famers are keen to explain how food is produced, and teach children about the source of the food they eat. “It’s important for the agricultural industry to engage with customers and future customers.”
  2. A belief that that children need to be taken out of the classroom to experience different learning opportunities.  “Education of children through hands-on visits to farms rather than books and academic work a better way”.
  3. A desire for children to learn about their local environment. “The school curriculum [comes from] far afield: Africa, S America… but local countryside should be included also”
  4. Many farmers feel privileged to have access to the countryside, and want to share this with others.  “Sharing countryside with people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be there.”
  5. “To show them why we do what we do.” Explaining complicated farming operations to those who might observe this from a distance, justifying the use of current farming practices, including methods of rearing livestock, use of pesticides and herbicides.  “Get people out, see what we do, grow.”
  6. A desire to justify the subsidies that farmers are given. Farmers were well aware that they receive a large amount from the public purse in the form of subsidies and grants, and felt they should show how the money was used, and why it was needed.  “Feel it is part of the social responsibility of farmers to educate the wider public.”
  7. Counteract the bad press of E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks, Mad Cow disease. Farmers want to show counteract these fears by showing that they are farming responsibly.  “show how we make food safe and affordable.”
  8. Promote agricultural careers.  “The more we can interact with children it will affect their decisions about what they want to do and where they want to work.”
  9. Take pride in their work, their industry. “Overcomes “get off my land” perception.” “To promote the industry we spend our lives in.”
  10. In addition to these industry concerns, many farmers said they did it because of the personal rewards of seeing children really enjoying themselves, and discovering about food, farming and the countryside. “Pleasure out of seeing them enjoy themselves.”  This personal, heart-warming reward was, for many, justification in itself to do the visits. “I’m very lucky in what I do.” 


To see the full research report visit http://bit.ly/1XQgyso

#ofs2016; @francesharris00; @outdoorlearnin2

Why Open Farm Sunday?

Open Farm Sunday 2016

Farming is the industry that produces much of our food, and the land on which food is produced is very visible to the public, as we drive by on roads or walk through the countryside. However, the opportunity to see or speak to the farmer, who is the manager of the food production business, is less common. Yet what comes from the farm impacts on our view of the countryside, what we eat, and the local ecology, land use and wider environment.

Open Farm Sunday provides the opportunity to speak to farmers. It is scheduled for the time of year when farms are full of arable crops and livestock (including calves and lambs) but before farmers are busy with harvesting. It’s a chance to meet farmers, hear from them, ask questions, and engage in discussion and debate about what they do and why they do it.

It’s also a chance for farmers to present a realistic view of what farming is all about these days. It’s not all about old men with straw in their hair: farmers can be women as well as men, and young too!

Modern farming is high tech, environmentally aware, caring about the soil, animal welfare and ecology, while also providing food for customers. Farmers are also custodians of miles of public access footpaths and bridleways which provide the opportunity for anyone to get out and take a walk in nature.

Open Farm Sunday has been running for more than 10 years now. On one Sunday, farmers across the country open their gates and invite the public in to find out more about what they do on a daily basis. Events vary, from farm walks to larger events with multiple activities. This year, there will be a range of activities to explain some of the science in farming.

For teachers and schools, Open Farm School days offers the opportunity for a farm visit for a whole class on a school day. If you are a teacher whole is wondering about farm visits, Open Farm Sunday can be a good opportunity to check out a farm visit yourself, prior to arranging to bring the children along.

To find a farm near you, go to https://farmsunday.org/  It promises to be a great day out!

Environmental education and outdoor learning in Bhutan

I’ve just returned from Bhutan, the small Himalayan kingdom renowned for its pursuit of gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross domestic product (GDP). While there, I attended the international conference on GNH, a meeting of hundreds of academics and practitioners all interested in different aspects of GNH, from economic models to promoting the values of GNH.

There are four central pillars of GNH:

-sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development

-conservation of the environment

-preservation and promotion of culture

-good governance

All policies are screened against these four pillars.

GNH is pursued through activities across 9 domains, relating to psychological wellbeing, health, living standards, ecological diversity and resilience, good governance, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, education, and time use.

Of course, my interest was in the educational sphere. My conference paper explored the potential of outdoor learning experiences to support teaching of the values of GNH. My research on learning at forest school shows that the greatest learning at forest school concerns children’s personal, social and emotional development. The impact on children’s engagement with nature  and their sense of valuing nature is also important, and learning in this area is greater than the more widely expected learning about nature itself (e.g. biology, geography).  (See Harris, F. 2015 The nature of learning at forest school, published by Education 3-13 and available online at their website.)

I argued that learning about personal and social development, and engagement and valuing nature, complement the GNH values which are to be embedded in teaching within Bhutanese schools. Outdoor learning will not, in itself, support teaching of all GNH values, but can go a significant way towards teaching in this area. Further, the move to outdoor learning could be an enjoyable change for schools which have taken a fairly formal, traditional approach to learning. The move outdoors can be stimulating as it releases children from the constraints of the 4 walls of the classroom, and the tules for behaviour in the classroom. Outdoor settings provide freedoms: to move, to be noisier, to interact more, which can be a real relief for students who find sitting still or have ADHD. (These ideas are explored further in a paper I am writing at the moment).

A new ‘Green schools for a green Bhutan’ programme is supporting a transition to new learning styles. I was fortunate to be able to visit several schools, and do some work with pupils. I made films for the ‘Royal Tutorial Project’ on plant growth, management of soil fertility and valuing biodiversity. These films, aimed at 13-16 year olds and the general public, are aired on a Sunday evenings on  TV, by the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. A fourth film, showcasing some very successful examples of outdoor learning in schools will, I hope, encourage more teachers to take their children outside.


Countryside Classroom

This week marks the launch of Countryside Classroom, a website which promotes learning about food, farming and the natural environment.


Countryside classroom is the result of the  enthusiasm of a group of organisations who are committed to ensuing that children and young people have the opportunity to experience and understand more about

Food: where it comes from, how it is grown and cooked

Farming: from the care and preparation of the soil through to harvesting crops

The Natural Environment: providing teachers and parents with ideas, knowledge and skills to get children outdoors to explore our natural environment whether it be through forest school or outdoor science lessons orienteering or just recognizing common plants and animals.

Outdoor Learning Experiences has been a part of the development of Countryside Classroom, as a member of the core committee of organisations which worked towards its development and launch. However countryside classroom has only been possible due to the many organisations that have offered learning materials, venues or expertise to ensure that wherever you are located in England, and whatever you want to do, Countryside Classroom has ideas and resources to support you.

Its free, its open to all. Have a look!


Our summer season of events

As the school year comes to an end we have enjoyed a wide range of groups at Outdoor Learning Experiences. Reception and year one children have enjoyed a series of forest school sessions; older children have also enjoyed forest school, including some simple wood carving and campfire cooking. There have also been farm tours, and some orienteering and map reading session.

There will be a short lull for the school holidays, and then the summer camp will run from August 24th – 28th.

Our “forest of frogs summer camp” brings together forest school activities, nature art and craft, and the skills of box of frogs theatre school, to provide a fantastic week at the end of the school holidays. The whole takes place in the wonderful setting of the gardens at St. Paul’s Walden Bury (see stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk), where the children can run and play, develop characters and plot lines, and chose to stage their plays in different areas of the garden. They also go on treasure hunts and develop their map reading skills. Nature art and craft is a big part of it, as they make the most of the willow to weave and build, and use clay and leaves and flowers for lots of nature art and craft. Of course, there is also some forest for camp fires, den making, and toasting marshmallows.

There are still a few spaces left, so it you would like to book for the whole week or just a day or two, please contact sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com or call 07973818254. For further info see the “Forest of Frogs” web page under the  “Annual events” tab.

Upcoming events this summer

Summer is the high season for outdoor learning. We are now fully booked with forest school, farm visits, and some interesting orienteering activities all lined up for a range of schools between now and the end of the summer term.


In addition, Open Farm Sunday will take place on June 7th. From 2:30-5:00 will be offering free farm tours, which give you the opportunity to find out more about the fields, woods and livestock at East Hall Farm. You can also find out more about our cows, and the beef we sell. Farm Sunday runs alongside the opening of the gardens at St. Paul’s Walden Bury.  The Farm tours are free, whereas entry to the gardens (and access to the delicious tea and cakes) has the normal charge, all of which goes to charity (see www.stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk for further details).

In August, we are running the Forest of Frogs summer camp, from Aug 24-28th. The week brings together Forest School and Box of Frogs Theatre School. We will be combining elements of each to provide an interesting but unique summer camp experience which will include forest school activities, drama workshops, and nature art and craft, suitable for children aged 6-13. It will take place in the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury. Orienteering, camp fires, music, drama, art and craft. Opportunities abound for fun and inspiration! To book for individual days or the full week contact sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com.



What’s in a name?

Why Outdoor Learning Experiences? Well, everything we do is outdoors. Children spend most of their time at school indoors, but sometimes there’s s a real benefit in moving outside the classroom, away from the same desks and tables, and learning in a different way. Learning can involve using all our senses, listening, feeling, smelling, seeing, touching, and even sometimes tasting. I have heard some teachers claim that quite a lot of the primary school curriculum could be taught out of doors.  While I am not sure I would go that far, I do think that much more can be taught outdoors than is done so.

So much of science and geography lends itself to outdoor teaching, and aspects of history can be taught outdoors too. It’s about exploring the world and discovering what is out there. Outdoor learning makes things more relevant, and breaks down the separation between “book learning” and “real world learning”.

Learning outdoors, in the natural environment, makes learning a more memorable experience.  Learners experience the weather, whether it is sunshine on their faces, or a memorable rain storm. They smell the aromas, feel the textures of things such as leaves, bark or mud, in their fingers or beneath their feet. They run up or down hills, experience the darkness of the woods and the brightness of the sunshine.

Outdoor learning is not separate from indoor learning: they are linked. Outdoor learning can develop a wider vocabulary, and be the topic of new writing back in the classroom. Visiting a farm or allotment at harvest time can contribute to RE teaching at Harvest festival.  FACE (farming and countryside education) sums this up in a fantastic diagram which depicts all the topics surrounding a tractor, and can be seen among the images appearing on the educational visits page.

Outdoor learning also allows children to develop “soft skills” alongside curriculum topics, outdoors. So team working, overcoming challenges, assessing risk, developing social skills – all these can also be enhanced with learning outdoors.

Take your children outdoors to experience a new way of learning!