Taking the primary curriculum outdoors

Written by: HTU | Published:

With the pressures of the curriculum and key stage 2 tests, it can be difficult to take pupils outside of the classroom. However, Heather Crawford offers some ideas for how outdoor learning can link into the primary curriculum

Busy school days can mean that finding time to evidence character development in children or find creative ways to keep them engaged in core subjects can become a bit of a struggle. Learning Outside the Classroom as a concept has been around for some years now and is embraced by many schools as an excellent way of keeping learning fun and exciting.

Time has shown that taking lessons outside, even if only into the schoolyard or local park, can embed learning and provide innovative ways to enhance classroom-based learning. To help the creative juices flow, here are some ideas for how you can use Learning Outside the Classroom to enhance your provision across a range of subjects.


Lessons covering height, times-tables, fractions and distance can be practiced and reinforced by activities such as climbing (many schools have a low-level climbing wall in the playground), by measuring the height of a wall, calculating areas, estimating the number of climbing holds and creating graphs showing how high each person climbed. 

English, PSHE and science

Evidencing character development or “distance travelled” can be difficult for teachers. Class exercises such as creative writing following a night under the stars – during which children learn about constellations, watch shooting stars and satellites – can illustrate how children have developed their knowledge and understanding. A term-long programme which is supported by the development of personal action plans can assist children in understanding their strengths and show which areas they need to improve upon. This can be especially beneficial when children are about to make the transition into year 7. Programmes that are developed a piece at a time by the children themselves while outside in woodland or by a pond or river will give greater depth to the experience. 

Science (and PSHE)

Many schools are once again offering cycling proficiency training, something which provides opportunities for understanding force, reactions and momentum. This training can also supplement PSHE lessons by developing abilities in the perception and understanding of risk, balance and judgement in addition to teaching valuable lessons in resilience – picking oneself up, dusting down, analysing what happened and having another attempt when something fails to go quite the way they might have initially planned.


Circus skills such as juggling, diablo and plate-spinning cannot only be great fun, they can also be used to reinforce scientific concepts.

Geography and science

Environmental lessons, which often start out in school gardens and ponds, can be developed and expanded by transferring that knowledge to other environments. While there may be many different locations such as woodland, rivers and beaches to be explored – some of which might even be on your doorstep – there could be all sorts of reasons why some children have never had an opportunity to visit them. Children can work in groups to explore a new location. They can learn how the area was formed, discover and identify the local habitat, record information and build maps with different layers to show how the different elements come together to create the ecosystem. 

Geography (and mathematics)

Orienteering is perfect for reinforcing angles, distance, time, and understanding place and impact. It is easy to set up an orienteering course around school grounds or a local park. These can be regularly changed to keep the lesson interesting and build in progression.

Geography (history and PSHE)

Shelter-building can be done relatively easily in school grounds or local environments with the use of poles, tarpaulins or bracken and grasses. This exercise can not only teach children how and where to build a shelter, to ensure they are both weather-tight and protected, but it can also help them connect with the communities they may be studying.

History and design and technology

A trip to explore bridges or an aqueduct can help children to understand the history of the location and the design of such structures – this learning can be further enhanced by building their own scale models. With the next four years commemorating the First World War, class visits to local cemeteries and war memorials could inspire investigation into some of these place names. Children could take part in activities such as filling sandbags, in order to understand how trenches were shored up. They could also be encouraged to investigate how the war affected their local community. In some parts of the country teachers might encourage children to analyse the landscape to see how it might have been changed by airfields and bomb craters. In fact, this topic provides excellent opportunity for using outdoor learning to enhance many other subjects, such as geography, history, maths, English, science, languages, art, design, music, PE and RE.

Art and design

Producing a piece of environmental art, allows children an opportunity to express how they have worked, both as individuals and as part of a team. Ideas could include a sculpture to enhance school grounds, a temporary design made by placing petals on a puddle or pond, or even a giant picture formed by footprints or “snow angels” on snowy days. As well as developing their knowledge of the local habitat by collecting stones, moss, cones and branches etc for their artwork, this activity will also expose them to the colour wheel, different forms of art and a range of artists. These exercises can also combine with science, geography and English. 


Using available software back at school, photographs and sound recordings taken on a field trip could be manipulated to either create a film of their experience, or used as background to a news report about a new location they have studied and the threats it faces or the opportunities it provides. 


The natural world has provided much inspiration for composers over the centuries. Children could use the modern environment – fences, lamp-posts, gates, tarmac, gravel, trees, streams, traffic, the sounds from a playground, and so on, to explore notation and rhythm and create a modern composition. Encouraging the class to write a piece of poetry inspired by the natural world that can then be set to their composition incorporates language into the exercise.


Walks on local footpaths (while practising map-reading skills), volleyball on the beach, or joining forces with a local canoe or sailing club are just some of a myriad of activities provide interesting and alternative ways to take PE outside of the school environment. A simple game of rounders, played either in school or at the local park, can provide the ideal opportunity to develop a better understanding of maths (measuring time, distance and averages) as well as science (momentum and force). 


Self-confidence and social understanding can be developed by blindfold walks, with children learning to trust each other and themselves, communicate effectively and better understand how it might feel to have a disability. Night walks can take this to a different level by allowing children to experience a familiar environment in a new way. 


Learning Outside the Classroom enhances classroom-based teaching by providing teachers an opportunity to take a step back and observe the development of their students. This informal learning environment provides a liberating sense of freedom for children, allowing them to experience both risk and the importance of making positive decisions in a safe environment – both life-skills that are essential to their physical and mental wellbeing. It also encourages learning through “structured play” and hopefully provides some creative ideas for teachers to help enhance and embed learning.

  • Heather Crawford is training general manager at Kingswood Outdoor Education and Adventure Centres. She has worked as a lecturer in outdoor education both at higher and further education levels and also as a practitioner. 

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