Forget laptops, interactive whiteboards, the internet and video conferencing. The learning environment of the future is likely to be decidedly low-tech.

The latest trend in teaching is to get children out of the classroom and into the great outdoors. Research in recent years suggests youngsters are more receptive to learning in a natural environment where their senses are more stimulated.

Instead of sitting at a desk focusing on a board or plugged into the latest trendy high-tech gadgetry, there is a growing belief in education circles that children's creativity is enhanced outside the classroom.

The Government's Growing Schools programme launched three years ago seeks to "enable schools to make better use of the outdoor classroom as a context for teaching and learning".

More recently it launched a Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto spelling out the philosophy behind outdoor learning and urges more schools to do it.

Hallfield School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, is the latest to turn to the wild side, creating a range of outdoor experiences for pupils.

Fiona Hims, director of studies at the independent preparatory school on Church Road, said: "It is a way of enhancing what they do.

"When you talk about the tide and leaves in a classroom they look at you blankly because they are not aware of it. Children are naturally curious and it improves their creativity.

"If you take them outdoors they are hearing bird sounds. They are aware of the weather. There are sounds and things happening outside that don't happen in the classroom."

Ms Hims believes children are often more focused and better behaved when they are taken outside.

"Even with an interactive whiteboard children can be stifled. The outdoors is our best natural resource. Children behave differently. They are more relaxed.

"Children now are so driven by what is required of them they are almost scared to express their creativity in their world.

"They are looking for the right answer from the teacher. But that inhibits their ability to think for themselves."

By taking them outside the classroom, said Ms Hims, youngsters' imagination became fired up and they were more motivated as learners.

"You have to be sensible about it," she added. "If it was minus 17 you wouldn't take them outside. But even by putting on hats and gloves they are learning something."

Hallfield has about 20 acres of leafy grounds in which its pupils can learn. Many inner city state schools are not so lucky.

But according to Ms Hims such schools can still find ways of using their limited out-door environment or arrange to take pupils to nearby parks.

"Even things like puddles are a great re-source," she said.

A poll by the Children's Play Council last year found four out of five children would rather play outdoors than indoors.

The Government's Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto states: "There is strong evidence that good quality learning outside the classroom adds much value to classroom learning. It can lead to a deeper understanding of the concepts that span traditional subject boundaries and which are frequently difficult to teach using classroom methods alone.

"It provides a context for learning in many areas: general and subject based knowledge; thinking and problem-solving skills; life skills such as co-operation and interpersonal communication."


The outdoor learning trend has been pioneered by the Forest School movement, a Scandinavian drive that aims to inspire pupils through 'positive outdoor experiences'.

Increasing numbers of schools in the West Midlands are involved in it and in Birmingham park rangers help teachers join the programme.

The city has more than 8,000 acres of park space providing an ideal environment for out-of-class learning.

Simon Needle, manager of Woodgate Valley Park in Bartley Green, claimed the use of the city's outdoor spaces by schools had 'mushroomed' in recent years.

"There has been a general trend to more sessions outdoors so much so that people like the out-of-learning support service provide teachers based at various centres throughout the city to provide their own environmental education.

"The Forest School movement is a different ethos to what you would normally do in schools. It allows children to explore in a safe outdoor environment no matter what the weather. They learn by creating dens and fires and getting dirty."