Promoting outdoor learning – a network for nature schools

The project is aimed at encouraging nature schools around the Baltic region, with different traditions, to learn from each other.

“During the first year we really wondered what was going to come of it,” says Karin Beronius from Uppsala University. In 2010, as part of Nordplus horisontal, she started a joint project about outdoor learning with schools in the Baltic States. “But the project just grew and grew, and now we have a strong network that has generated new projects.”

Karin works at the field station by Lake Erken, which belongs to the Department of Ecology & Genetics at Uppsala University. She teaches visiting school classes and organises research schools. She has worked extensively in the area of outdoor learning and wanted to continue to develop her ideas in partnership with others.

“It started with us observing good learning results for natural sciences when learning took place in an authentic environment. This applies to all ages, not just children,” says Karin.

Nature schools around the Baltic Sea

Karin’s idea received a good response in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and a project aimed at encouraging nature schools around the Baltic region started to take shape. A nature school is a place where pupils from traditional schools can occasionally visit to learn about nature in the countryside; the project’s starting point was that the area has different traditions and these could be used in order for pupils to learn from each other.

Why outdoor learning?

According to Karin, outdoor learning helps all pupils to achieve their learning objectives, particularly through variation.

“It’s not good to be outside all the time, but it’s good for a change! The theoretical background can be obtained inside, but there is also a value in seeing things and discovering them with your own eyes. Knowledge becomes real in another way. You learn that you can find the answers yourself and that you don’t have to rely on other people’s knowledge.”

Strong network

The network in the Baltic region, which Karin has helped to build, has created strong ties between the participating schools. “Our relationships and activities are positive and stable, providing so much energy,” says Karin.

“It’s enjoyable and has led to true friendships, but it has also given the nature schools a great deal.”

One example is the close relationship and cooperation found between Baltic nature schools and educational administrators and schools, which has now spread to Sweden.

Different types of exchange

There have even been exchanges between schools in the various countries, with classes and teachers visiting each other.  Some school classes write to each other. Uppsala University uses examples from Baltic nature schools in its teaching and there is also knowledge exchange through the project’s annual courses for teachers in the region.

The future

Previously, the courses that are part of the project were organised in Sweden, but from 2013 responsibility for this will be shared between the countries.

“The aim is to make better use of the range of knowledge,” says Karin Beronius. “All countries have their own specialisations. For example, in Lithuania they are very skilled at making fantastic gardens and greenhouses. We want to learn more about that!” 

2013 will also see the first day specially dedicated to outdoor learning. A new educational handbook, the project’s third, will be handed out to teachers.