The many benefits of school trips and outdoor adventure residentials

Written by: Headteacher Update | Published:
Key skills: Inspiring Learning has delivered outdoor experiences to more than 180,000 children (image: supplied)

Challenge, play, explore, discover, socialise, reflect – primary schools are being offered crucial support to get pupils learning outdoors, with all the benefits these activities bring...

A wealth of evidence suggests that outdoor learning in the form of residential programmes and school trips can be a major contributor to good health and mental wellbeing for our children.

Primary-aged children taking part in activities often display improvements in their resilience, self-confidence, and their ability to get on with and relate to peers, which in turn boosts their sense of belonging.

Team-work builds trust, as well as skills such as collaboration and communication – all of which can support attentiveness, concentration, and performance in the classroom.

There has never been a more important time for children to explore the great outdoors. Lockdowns and fewer personal interactions thanks to social distancing during the pandemic left many feeling lonely. There is growing anecdotal evidence which suggests some pupils are finding unstructured playground play and socialisation much more difficult now following two years of living with Covid.

The on-going cost of living crisis is also limiting opportunities for families while affecting the ability of schools to pay for, organise, and host outdoor adventures and trips for pupils.

At the same time, one particularly depressing study places Britain 14th among European nations for our population’s connectedness to nature, with the worst impacts felt by children in urban areas, those from poorer homes, and ethnic minorities (Richardson et al, 2022).

Life-enhancing experiences

Studies carried out by Dr John Allan, the head of learning and impact at the award-winning company Inspiring Learning, show that carefully constructed and facilitated outdoor learning can bring lasting benefits to primary children, especially when it comes to preparing them for transition (Slee & Allan, 2019; Allan et al, 2014).

Over the years, the organisation has delivered outdoor experiences to more than 180,000 children and is one of the most trusted and respected companies in the sector.

Dr Allan explained: “It is most beneficial for vulnerable pupils, including those from disadvantaged households. Compared to school-based induction activities for year 7 pupils, outdoor residentials which focus upon the skills needed for life in secondary school deliver the strongest scale of change in pupils’ psychological wellbeing.”

Dr Allan’s study into the effectiveness of outdoor activities and residentials – entitled Getting the right fit (Allan et al, 2014) – found such activities promoted self-determination and high levels of autonomy, resulting in feelings of independence and control, as well as motivation, which are all vital when transitioning to a new phase of education.

He continued: “Pupils feel proud and content of their accomplishments, become more independent, build confidence and competence, and feel valued as a member of their group.

“Authentic outdoor learning, whereby pupils adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude to learning infused with appropriate key stage curriculum content such as writing and numeracy, empowers children to work with others in becoming responsible for their development, even when things don’t go to plan.

“Building bounce-back and bounce-forward ability – resilience – applies to primary school children at all key stages of their education,” he added.

Kingswood, which is part of Inspiring Learning, delivers sports, outdoor, environmental and adventure programmes which inspire confidence and resilience, and enhance children’s development beyond the residential experience – especially important as they begin the journey of transferring from the relative safety of a familiar primary school to a large secondary.

Kingswood’s pre and post-activity learning toolkits contain a selection of cross-curricular learning activities relevant to subjects including English, maths, science, and PE and can be used both as a pre-visit preparation or post-visit follow-up. Meanwhile, the Kingswood Confidence Tracker is a unique tool which allows schools to evidence and evaluate the benefits of their residential trip and the impact it has on children – which is important for evidencing curriculum success for Ofsted or when feeding back to parents.

Aiming high: Kingswood's activities support children across six key areas: challenge, play, explore, discover, social, reflect (image: supplied)

Principles of effective outdoor activities

Outdoor learning works upon the principle of challenge by choice, as Dr Allan explained: “Children’s confidence and resilience is ensured by channelling workable ratios of pupils towards self-directed and shared tasks, allowing them the freedom to succeed and fail with challenges akin to those faced in school but on a neutral testing ground.

“The impact of these outdoor activities provides the impetus for schools delivering active programmes in their own grounds, particularly those targeted at more vulnerable groups.”

Kingswood and its educational partner Enrich Education have developed an Enrich School Orienteering and Outdoor Learning Digital Hub which is home to more than 200 cross-curricular physical activity plans.

Each activity links with one of the six Kingswood curriculum categories – challenge, play, explore, discover, social, reflect – and all activities contain a teacher’s activity plan and children’s resource sheets where required.

Dr Allan continued: “For the games that use orienteering control markers, there is a set of downloadable markers in the pack. This pack enables schools to create opportunities to introduce outdoor adventurous activities to children, developing initial orienteering skills, and helping to foster a love for outdoor learning.”

A lasting impact

The benefits of outdoor learning activities need to outlive the memory of the experience, so follow-up events are important to keep momentum.

Dr Allan explained: “When teachers have actively collaborated with experienced outdoor facilitators within an outdoor residential setting, they themselves become more confident in delivering similar follow-up outdoor activities in local green spaces and school settings.

“These can be shaped to meet the needs of pupils and specific aims of the school. This form of CPD for staff can be enhanced through Kingswood’s learning toolkit resources.

“Lasting benefits for children’s development are best achieved by the deployment of a well-crafted combination of positive and realistic interactions within an outdoor setting and by structured reflective practices. A third important focus is developing relationships with staff and pupils.

“Emotion-focused, meaningful outdoor learning with ‘transfer in mind’ and intentionally creating positive habits for children across different contexts of learning encourages these positive behaviours to endure in school.”

Kingswood enables schools and parents to track the children’s confidence following the residential. Curriculum integration and active reflective practices within the pre and post-activity learning toolkits keep outdoor learning experiences alive and relevant within, for example, traditional lessons and assemblies.

“These should never be one-off experiences but should have a long-term impact on children,” Dr Allan added.

Unforgettable: 'It was a rite of passage for them ahead of transition to secondary and we really saw them blossom and flourish' (image: supplied)

Case study: St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School

Before year 6 left St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School in Hythe for the last time in July 2022, staff had one more treat for them – a residential trip to Kingswood’s activity and residential centre in Ashford, Kent.

The aim was to encourage the 33 pupils to leave their own comfort zones in preparation for the move to secondary school. As each child’s comfort zone will be different, for some this meant being away from home for the first time, for others it was trying something they had previously found scary or had never done before.

Headteacher Nicola Clarke said: “The children felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. Each one worked at their own level of challenge, but they all came away with a great sense of achievement, freedom, and independence.

“It was a rite of passage for them ahead of transition to secondary and we really saw them blossom and flourish.”

Among the pupils who really stood out was a child with special needs: “The child’s parents were concerned about them coming but he was absolutely in his element and pushed himself. Another child, who has anxiety, benefited from feeling supported and encouraged by their classmates and set challenges at their own level. This pupil’s self-esteem grew, and they too pushed themselves further.

“Some made tiny steps to begin with, but then added layer upon layer of challenges. Importantly, friendships were cemented, and new ones made, and the children came away with memories that will last a lifetime.”

Further information & resources

For more than 35 years, Kingswood has been running transformative trips, encouraging both adults and young people to build confidence and resilience. It runs activity centres across the UK and beyond. Kingswood is part of the Inspiring Learning family of outdoor learning and residential organisations. Visit &


  • Allan, J., McKenna, J., Buckland, H., Bell, R. (2014) Getting the right fit: Tailoring outdoor adventure residential experiences for the transition of schoolchildren, Physical Education Matters, 8, 37-42.
  • Richardson, M., Hamlin, I., Elliott, L.R. et al. (2022) Country-level factors in a failing relationship with nature: Nature connectedness as a key metric for a sustainable future. Ambio 51, 2201–2213:
  • Slee, V. & Allan, J. (2019) Purposeful outdoor learning empowers children to deal with school transitions, Sports, 7, 1-14.

Headteacher Update Knowledge Bank

This article has been published by Headteacher Update with sponsorship from Kingswood. It has been written and produced to a brief agreed in advance with Kingswood.

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