Learning in the great outdoors

Helen Rowe, Marr Countryside Ranger; Alan Smith, CNPA Outdoor Pictured from left, Learning Officer; Alison Hammerton; Ann Wilkinson Geography Teacher at Alford Academy; Catriona Reid from SNH and Toni Clark, outdoor learning specialist.
Helen Rowe, Marr Countryside Ranger; Alan Smith, CNPA Outdoor Pictured from left, Learning Officer; Alison Hammerton; Ann Wilkinson Geography Teacher at Alford Academy; Catriona Reid from SNH and Toni Clark, outdoor learning specialist.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have been helping teachers to gain more confidence in taking children out of the classroom for outdoor learning in the Park’s National Nature Reserves with new educational resources.

They have produced comprehensive information about the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve which gives teachers everything from travel information and health and safety to educational activities and supporting activity cards. The packs also ensure that the activities suggested are closely aligned with Curriculum for Excellence.

At the Burn O’ Vat Visitor Centre near Dinnet, staff from both organisations along with Alison Hammerton, Educations Scotland’s Development Officer for Outdoor Learning with the National Parks, gave teachers an introduction to the packs, advice on how to get the best from the resources and the opportunity to try an outdoor session using the information provided.

Elspeth Grant, the CNPA’s Education and Inclusion Officer who was involved in developing the packs said: “Using these resources to plan educational visits will help make learning both rewarding and stimulating for those taking part as well as being aligned to Curriculum for Excellence. The packs provide a starting place for those leading groups to develop their own approaches and activities as they become more familiar with outdoor learning in these areas.”

Dougie Pollok from SNH, who worked closely on the scheme, said: “This initiative will improve the kids’ health and wellbeing by getting them out into the fresh air to see our stunning plants and animals in the Cairngorms. And their new ‘classrooms’ will have some of the best views in Britain! The 50 or so National Nature Reserves represent the very best of our nature in Scotland and we are delighted these Cairngorms reserves will play a vital part in the project. The educational packs are a valuable resource and will help schools experience our wildlife and land at first-hand.”

Alison Hammerton added: “The resources give teachers the basics of what they need but it’s good to be able to offer them a practical session where they can experience the opportunities offered by the place and try out the activities for themselves. This helps build confidence in taking their pupils there in the near future. All the research we have done suggests that next to financial resources, a lack of confidence in taking children outdoors for learning was one of the biggest barriers. We hope that the resources, the wealth of support available from the National Parks and Education Scotland and events like this, will help overcome that barrier.”

Attending the event was teacher Julie Strang from Ballater Primary School, she said: “We are very lucky to have the support of the National Park in creating educational opportunities for schools. I am excited to have a great local resource to take pupils to for outdoor learning.”