This paper considers the recent growth in different kinds of learning outside the classroom, especially the Forest Schools movement. It shows how many of the activities commonly associated with Forest Schools involve mainstream curriculum content delivered into outdoor settings. It also shows how the aim of many of these practices is to develop children’s skills and attitudes in outdoor settings that they then take back into the classroom to impact positively on learning and achievement. In proposing a different way of thinking about learning outdoors, the paper suggests that there is an important distinction between an education in the outdoors, and what might be called an education of the outdoors. To further explore this distinction, it turns to the work of two thinkers known for their reflections on the outdoors – the 19th century philosopher and essayist, Henry David Thoreau, and the 20th century writer, Anna (Nan) Shepherd. Through a close reading of Thoreau’s celebrated work, ‘Walden’, and Shepherd’s work, ‘The Living Mountain’, the paper argues that both works provide perspectives on experience and perception and knowledge and time – through being in the outdoors – that offer rich educative possibilities not afforded by some iterations of outdoor learning. It suggests that an education of the outdoors is one characterised by a form of attention: not one that supports achievement of curricular objectives, but rather one that opens pupils to a different way of encountering and engaging with the world such that they experience a presence to themselves and their environment that can be transformative.
- outdoor education