Let’s go to school, yay! … No, no.

Unfortunately, school-age children don’t often look forward to school. If they are still looking forward to it as new first-graders, the joy usually cools down a lot in the first few months, or even changes completely. All they look forward to is socialising with their peers, occasional sports and other activity days.

The fact is that digitisation and bureaucratisation have kept us very busy. They encourage us to stay behind screens as long as possible, if not for work, then for the addictive elements that, if we are honest, we are also exposed to during our work. As a result, children at school are also behind screens, although not always literally. It is rare to find a teacher who addresses the learning objectives of the subject of learning about the environment in nature with her pupils by going for a walk with them in the nearby woods or meadow. Similarly, experiments in the subject of natural history continue to take place, most of the time strictly in the classroom environment or in biology lessons. Why look for flora and fauna in nature when everything is online? There are excellent videos and photographs that are always accessible. The three subjects in primary school that relate most to learning in nature are the ones we like to teach most, most comfortably and most often, in the classroom, behind four walls.

We often keep pupils indoors and burden them with activities in the afternoons where they will move around. We wonder what conditions teachers would need to have in order to teach more often in nature? Is it the outdoor classroom? What kind of classroom should it be? How do teachers imagine a classroom in nature? A table and benches under a gnarled tree in pleasant sunny weather, where pupils solve problems in their workbooks? Is it used for subjects directly related to nature or also for general education subjects? What about those schools that do not have a nature classroom? Is the outdoor classroom a prerequisite for outdoor learning or just a stimulus and facilitator?

To what extent can teachers there, given the formal conditions (1 chaperone for every 15 pupils, etc.), make outdoor learning a reality? Teachers believe that outdoor learning can be implemented in schools that have a well-organised outdoor classroom. What if there is a forest behind the school with a forest road, a learning path, a sports park ー can this be used for outdoor learning? We wonder what today’s teacher needs to go to a classroom in nature, which is provided by the environment itself, as it is.

We come to the initial problem: we have taken away teachers’ autonomy through bureaucratisation, digitisation and what not.

Pupils find school boring and mostly dislike it. But ー children are naturally curious creatures who are happy to learn. Adults also find it easier to remember content when the conditions for learning are favourable. Our brains are designed to develop their capacities when stimulated. Teaching in nature certainly provides some of these: more favourable conditions for learning (fresh air, experiential learning, learning through movement and play, etc.), visual, auditory and motor stimuli.

As a confirmation of what I have written, I would like to add a thought by the educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who wrote: “All learning should be enjoyable.” By teaching in nature, we can certainly put this thought into practice and contribute to making school a challenge rather than a burden for children.

Mateja Podmenik

Mateja Podmenik is an educator and professor of theology, a chaperone for students, coordinator of the international DigiON project, mother of 3 children, coordinator of workshop providers for workshops in schools.