OUTDOOR learning has transformed the curriculum at a school in Pembrokeshire, with children applying classroom learning to wide open spaces.

Over the last academic year pupils at Johnston Community Primary have planted a wild flower meadow, created a vegetable patch, looked after chickens, learned bushcraft skills, and much more.

The wide-ranging programme, which includes the use of a nearby woodland area and field, has enabled children to take responsibility for different projects as well as use the outdoors for all manner of learning, with everything from meadow studies to Shakespeare in the open air.

“The pandemic caused schools to think carefully about the experiences that pupils are offered,” said headteacher Gareth Thomas.

“In light of lockdowns and periods of school closure we were very aware that pupils screen time had increased dramatically, especially through the winter months.

“We decided to use the pandemic to kick-start our ambition to offer pupils rich and engaging experiences in our wonderful outdoor environment.”

Pupils say they love the expanded outdoor learning, saying they enjoy being in the fresh air, learning new skills and having an adventure.

“It gives us the opportunity to learn about animal and plants in their own habitats,” said one pupil, while another said: “You are doing more practical things and you have to use your brain in a different way.”

One of the key features of the outdoor programme is the seven-acre field adjoining the school site, which was leased to the school in 2017. To help launch the programme, a massive effort got underway to clear the field, with help from rangers from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

“We discovered that we actually had the use of a small section of woodland as well, with a small stream, which we constructed a wooden bridge over in order to access a fire pit area,” said Gareth. “All of a sudden, it felt like something special was taking place and a parent built us what can only be described as a 'chicken palace', ready for us to introduce chickens for pupils to look after.

“Beginning in September 2020 we began introducing outdoor learning into the curriculum and engaging pupils in our outdoor spaces. From this point on, things really started to grow. Each class started to develop their learning, taking responsibility for activities and planning challenges week to week.”

Years three and four began forest school activities led by education officers at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Year five used the outdoors as an environment to apply maths skills in a real-life context, from calculating the heights of trees to planning how much fencing was needed for growing areas.

“Almost immediately, the work in maths gained momentum, and the success was apparent as learners flourished during outdoor activities,” said Gareth.

Pupils took complete responsibility for nurturing the plants, with many choosing to give up break and lunch times in order to water them, as well as organising and planning the different areas.

“The pandemic shone a spotlight on the fact that helping children to engage with nature, solving challenges and problems outside is more important than ever and is something that our current mobile phone driven generation are in danger of missing,” said Gareth.

To see some of the outdoor learning taking place at Johnston, visit the school's website.