Developing a whole setting approach to learning in, about and for the natural environment

Developing a whole setting approach to learning in, about and for the natural environment

To ensure all your learners reap the benefits of learning in, about and for the biggest and best classroom we have in Wales; our natural environment, adopt a whole setting approach   Here’s some top tips on how to achieve this.

Have a common goal

From senior leadership to governors, caretakers to cleaners, everyone connected with your setting should be aware of, understand and support what you are trying to achieve.  By effectively communicating your goal of getting your whole setting connected to the natural environment you will in turn help to raise its profile.  Ensure you’ve got a slot on the team meeting agenda, organise informal outdoor meetings to discuss further or pen an all-setting email - spread the word.  Providing they have had an opportunity to discuss and input, staff at all levels can be brought on board and you will know that everyone at your setting is embracing the challenge as a united front and reaping the multiple benefits.


Whatever you are doing indoors, carry on the learning outdoors – it shouldn’t be a timetabled extra.  View spending time in the natural environment as a normal part of your teaching and learning and an opportunity to consolidate the excellent practice already in place, not as a separate activity.

Develop your grounds and make use of local spaces

Less is best – leave your grounds as natural as possible.  If tarmac or concrete dominate, then consider how you green up your space and encourage wildlife by introducing plants and shrubs in pots and planters.  Can you use the space in all weathers?  Is there a shaded space or a corner which would lend itself perfectly to a tarpaulin shelter?  Once you’ve spent some time making use of your grounds you will begin to think about the space differently.  No longer will your grounds just be a place for your learners to go wild in at breaktime, they will be important places for teaching, learning and investigation whilst cohabiting with nature.  If the opportunity arises, head out further afield and explore local parks and natural habitats to enhance, progress and link learning to your learners’ local cynefin.

Give it time – as much as possible!

If you or your setting aren’t really giving sufficient time to learning and playing outside, ask why.  What are the barriers that are preventing you and how can you move past them?  Get advice from your LEA advisors / local play workers/ healthy schools coordinators, and other practitioners to help you move forward.  Anything is better than nothing.  Ensure everyone at your setting has the opportunity to spend time learning in the natural environment.  Start small and build up frequency and duration as confidence and understanding of the benefits grow.


Again, less is more.  This isn’t about taking indoor things outside.  Leave natural loose parts such as sticks, stones, shells, leaves, soil, etc. for children to utilise.  Why not have a box of multi-purpose resources available for learners to dip into with for example trowels, collecting pots or paintbrushes available.  Work with colleagues to put aside some time to make resources which you can have ready to rock in a dedicated rucksack so when the opportunity or mood arises you can just grab and head outside.  This might include flash cards, 1-100 number cards, letter cards and identification sheets.

Communicate with parents, guardians, and the local community

Communication can be key to long term sustainability.  Explain your whole setting approach, what you are doing and the benefits to the children.  Be up front that the learners will get a bit dirty and will be out in all weathers.  If parents and guardians understand why you are undertaking certain activities and what benefits the learners will get out of taking part, they are less likely to complain about a bit of washing.  If appropriate, share your practice on social media, on a display board or on your webpage so everyone in the community can see what is happening and how it relates to your settings’ ethos.  Your learners will be keen to share what they have been doing with family and friends and it will help build a wider appreciation of your goal.

Ask and thou might get!

Don’t be afraid to put out a shout out if you need plants, seeds, lengths of wood etc.  Parents, grandparents, and the wider community will often be glad to help, and you may get lots of donations, saving valuable funds for other purposes.

Network and be nosy

Ask to go and visit a group or setting that are renowned for their whole setting approach to outdoor learning and be inspired.  Find out about their outdoor learning journey and how they make best use of their grounds.  Network and meet with others to discuss ideas and progress – share your highs and lows, what can you learn from them?  A participatory, supportive approach will help to enthuse, support, and excite.

CPD – Carry on learning

The responsibility of embedding outdoor learning across your setting shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of just one member of staff.  Working in isolation will make achieving the goal difficult, will have little weight internally and if that staff member leaves there is a real risk that things will lose momentum and fizzle out.  To ensure outdoor learning is valued and integrated across your setting, support and investment from your settings’ leadership is imperative.  Investing time and money in both informal and accredited CPD can help develop practice and understanding and there are a range of both national and local organisations on hand to support.  Allowing staff to work together or alongside each other to develop their practice will help build confidence and best practice across your setting.

Take the plunge!

Take some baby steps and just have a go!  See what works well for you, you’re setting and your learners.  Sometimes all it needs is a little bit of inspiration and willingness to try something new to discover the wealth of benefits learning in, learning about, and learning for the natural environment can offer. 

Review and revisit

What’s working well?  What could be improved?  Regularly evaluating your efforts will help determine what impact you are having and will support your setting to identify achievements and successes.

Embed your whole school approach

To ensure the importance of your whole school approach is recognised and integrated across your setting, ensure it is noted in your setting’s documentation.  What are the financial implications?  What are the development needs of staff?  How does it factor in your settings’ ethos?  Embedding your vision in policies and procedures will help to highlight the importance your setting places on having a whole school approach to outdoor learning and contribute to a holistic approach across the setting.

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