It is well documented that many children are not provided with the opportunities for outdoor play, discovery and learning. The Guardian reported in 2016 that 75% of children spent less time outdoors each day than the average prisoner (less than an hour per day).

We all know that outdoor play is essential to the health and development of our children, but the increase in screen time and a lack of safe outdoor play spaces has led to an increase in time spent indoors.

The Covid-19 lockdown certainly hasn’t helped either, with many children’s lessons online.

As a special educational needs school, focusing on children with social, emotional and mental health issues (SEMH), we know only too well the huge benefits that being able to learn outside of the classroom can bring. Many of our children find it difficult to build new relationships, lack confidence and find busy, noisy environments uncomfortable and threatening.

According to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, the main benefits of learning outdoors include the appreciation and respect for the natural world around us, learning to engage with the local community and providing a peaceful and relaxing place to further develop social skills. There is no doubt that connecting with nature allows for an increased sense of health and wellbeing.

In addition, as a special school, we have seen significant improvements in a child’s self-esteem, problem solving ability, team working skills and new relationships.

Some of our pupils come to us having not stepped inside a classroom for months or even years due to a range of reasons that could include delays in approval of Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs), mainstream school expulsion or extreme levels of anxiety – for these children the thought of stepping inside a classroom is incredibly daunting and it is therefore critical that we as a school take all the careful steps to make this transition as smooth as possible.

At Highgate Hill House School we are fortunate to be surrounded by acres of beautiful countryside, beaches, water and animals enabling us to maximise a range of activities to better engage and develop trust with all our children. Some examples include Art at the beach, Maths in the supermarket, PE on the moors…. the list goes on. Our staff and children are very inventive at finding new ways to use our surroundings to the fullest. Our ambition is to ensure our children are “Happy and Successful in Life”.

Classrooms don’t need four walls – improved behaviour, concentration, motivation and performance and of course a child’s happiness are proof enough for us.