Outdoor learning.

Celebrate Outdoor Classroom Day with John Muir Trust

7 November 2019

Guest blogger

At the Lake District National Park we are encouraging teachers to get outside and give their pupils some hands on experience of the real world for Outdoor Classroom Day. Our John Muir Award Manager for Cumbria, Graham Watson, shares his experience of outdoor learning and how your pupils can get involved.

“For some reason my brain and thoughts get space to breathe, and I often come up with new ideas or clarity when outdoors that doesn't happen at my desk.” - Braw Outdoor survey respondent

Why hands on outdoor experience?

Sat at a table, I was asked to write a short paragraph on what it was like to be in an English country garden, I struggled. My focus split between what I might see or hear and how I was setting out the paragraph. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to easily do what I thought was a simple thing to my own satisfaction.

Ten minutes later we went out into the garden and asked to do the same thing. What followed was a truly satisfying stream of words tumbling onto my notepad inspired by sounds whispering, crashing, rumbling and roaring, smells fragrant and pungent and stinky, sights near and far, colours vivid and delicate, movement of trees and birds and mini-beasts. My mind was racing to keep up, to fit everything in, a whole multi-dimensional array of experiences creating a stream of words just waiting to be crafted into that paragraph. And now I wanted to write that paragraph! Sure, it will need structuring but that’s just a matter of shifting around all that great material I’ve gathered, and I’ll really want to get that sense of being outside across.

What teacher wouldn’t want that raw material to play with?

And then of course there’s the pressing need to look after our world, taken up as never before by young people across the world. By giving them hands on experience of the real world we give them a local grounding and understanding, inspiration to think global and act local.

“No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”. - David Attenborough

What would you do if you went outside on Outdoor Classroom Day? Here’s five simple ideas using minimal resources that you can do right now:

1. Find something natural and create an acrostic poem about it

Find out more on ‘The Lost Words’ – poster examples of poems about Bramble, Dandelion, Kingfisher; an Explorer’s Guide; and a Literacy and Nature Resource Guide.

2. Mud stick painting

Using just mud, a stick and an A5 piece of card paint a picture of the landscape. For double the fun sit back to back and get one person to describe what they are looking at for the other to paint. 

3. Find colours in nature.

Match colour of clothing to natural objects, or find shades of one colour and arrange them in a graded spectrum. 

Coloured paper.

4. Collage the view

Collect natural materials and use them to make a collage picture of the view. 

Collage the view

5. Create a sound card

Sit in silence for three minutes and draw or write what you hear across a strip of card.


I hope you enjoy these ideas! There are many more in our book, Mission: Explore National Parks.

Want to do more?  

Get involved using the John Muir Award! Outdoor learning can be all year round, and take place at your school, local park or further afield. That's why the Lake District National Park support and promote the John Muir Award. Find out more about John Muir Award and how to get started.


“We don’t need another John Muir. We need thousands of John Muirs” - Cameron McNeish.

See you out there!

Guest blogger

Graham Watson

Graham Watson, John Muir Award Cumbria Manager

The John Muir Trust is a charity that was founded in 1983. We believe wild places are essential for the wellbeing of people and wildlife.

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