T: +852 2520 5736   F: +852 2865 2815  E: info@chatteris.org.hk

25 Apr 2022

Why we’re taking learning outdoors

As Hong Kong students return to school campuses after a period of online learning, Chatteris’ own Eibhlin McMenamin assesses the merits of an altogether different kind of classroom.

This blog post will look at the importance of teaching and learning outside, for both students and educators. Chatteris is currently developing multiple sustainability and environmental projects, and I was lucky to be a part of many of them in my three years with Chatteris. 

Chatteris Tutor Eibhlin guides students to identify creatures hidden in the undergrowth.
Chatteris Tutor Eibhlin guides students to identify creatures hidden in the undergrowth. With around 40% of its land dedicated as country parks, Hong Kong is rich in wildlife. | Image by Chatteris

What is outdoor learning?

Simply put: outdoor learning is any kind of learning done outside. It has been a part of teaching practice for many years, and is continuing to grow in use. For example, in the UK, it is expected by Ofsted that schools will have a well-used and maintained outdoor space. While in Sweden there are around 200 ‘rain or shine’ primary schools and nurseries, where classes are outside at least 80% of the time. 

Why is outdoor learning useful?

Studies of long term projects have shown positive results for both students and teachers. For example, a UK study found learning outdoors improved everything from student well being to staff professional development. In an education system as high-pressure as Hong Kong’s, it is easy to see the value of this approach.

On Lamma Island's Power Station Beach, a student discusses endangered species with a Chatteris Tutor.
On Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach, a student discusses endangered species with a Chatteris Tutor. Learning in context drives valuable, memorable educational experiences. | Image by Chatteris

Chatteris’ environment-themed camps

The largest environmental project currently run by Chatteris is a series of environment and sustainability focused camps. For a detailed breakdown of the camps’ activities, check out Luke’s post. As part of the camps’ varied schedule, students were taken on a nature walk around Lamma Island. This was a chance for students, many of whom had never been to the island before, to interact with the nature around them. On this walk, students had an illustrated list of animals to spot – I designed and drew this list, and purposefully included species that can be found all around Hong Kong (sparrows, black kites, lantana flowers). The majority of students attending the camps come from Kowloon, one of the most densely populated places on Earth, so giving them the ability to recognise nature in their own neighbourhoods was important.

Bird spotting on Lamma Island.
Bird spotting during a nature walk around Lamma Island. Chatteris’ summer camps aim to develop students’ English language proficiency while building a lasting interest in the environment. | Image by Chatteris

Students’ experience of the outdoor classroom

Students’ enjoyment at being out of the classroom was palpable, even during the summer months, where the average temperature was nearly 30 degrees with around 80% humidity. Student feedback from both camps included: 

“is beautiful and cool 😀 l hope do again!” [sic]

“I thing this summer camp is perfect, some teachers are kind and have smiles all time.” [sic]

“I think we can clean up the rubbish again”

Students also frequently requested that the camps lasted for longer than the two-to-three days of activities planned. Clearly demonstrating both the students’ enjoyment as well as their (potentially new) knowledge of their environment and their willingness to protect it. As someone who attended an inner-city school myself and benefited from outdoor learning (in my case a trip to the Peak District in the UK thanks to First Story), I know what a game changer outdoor learning can be as a student – new possibilities open up when you realise that what you learn can be instantly applied or demonstrated outside. For example, learning that a black kite has a two metre wingspan was interesting to students, but seeing them fly free on Lamma Island and then up-close in Kadoorie Farm’s raptor rehabilitation centre makes it something that our students are unlikely to forget. What I did not expect as a teacher was to be able to notice these changes in the students, and my own joy at watching them see an endemic freshwater crab on Lamma Island, or an endangered leopard cat at Kadoorie Farm for the first time.  

On a Chatteris camp, students engage with the natural environment as they build a sand sculpture.
On a Chatteris camp, students engage with the natural environment as they build a sand sculpture. | Image by Chatteris

Outdoor learning – beneficial for all?

Overall, outdoor learning is an enriching experience for both students and educators. As demonstrated by the success of the environmental camps, it can foster a sense of care for the local environment for students, and can improve the mood and job satisfaction of educators. 

Are you looking to inspire Hong Kong students through diverse, innovative teaching approaches, like Eibhlin? Join us as a Chatteris Tutor.

Leave a Reply