Children need space to learn, and the outdoors gives them room to be louder, more active, more curious. Outdoor education doesn’t depend on a purpose-built outdoor classroom or adventure camp, though – it’s more about taking the lesson elsewhere. It’s the quality of teaching that is of paramount importance rather than where it occurs.
Learning outdoors can take place on campus, in the local area, at an adventure centre, or overseas. It can last an hour, an afternoon or – when it comes to the annual residential trip – as long as a week or more.
Residential trips are always a highlight of any school calendar. They should be carefully sequenced trips that get more adventurous, more challenging as students move up the school – and they should be closely linked to the curriculum. Most schools will have a 'challenge by choice' ethos; rather than forcing students to take risks, they encourage them to have a go and to step outside of their comfort zone.
While there are plenty of other schools in Singapore offering overseas trips and camps, there are few that have it as such a core part of the educational programme as UWCSEA. Its campuses are also well-equipped to train its students for these trips, with facilities including climbing walls, outdoor high rope courses, and kayaks.
Other schools that prioritise outdoor education include Singapore American School, which runs a Classroom Without Walls (CWW) programme in its Middle School; this sees students head off for annual team-building trips.
“Once students return to the classroom, the lessons learned at CWW will support and enhance student learning throughout the rest of the school year,” says SAS.
Also, Tanglin’s “progressive and meaningful” outdoor education programme focuses on offering each year group a new experience that builds upon the learning that happened on previous trips. It’s a learning journey that prepares them for paddling a raft safely along the Ganges River, mountain biking on plantation roads in Malaysia, or navigating their own way through Tibet.
While excursions and trips can be a more costly side of outdoor education, there are plenty of other ways to deliver outdoor learning on a budget, so affordable schools in Singapore are just as likely to prioritise learning in the great outdoors as those at the top-end.
One of Singapore’s low-cost schools is The Grange Institution (TGI), where outdoor learning is focused on connecting its students with nature to encourage them to protect it. It also plays a key role in delivering TGI’s curriculum, which combines the Cambridge Primary Curriculum with the International Primary Curriculum (IPC).
This $19,000-a-year school offers a wealth of educational benefits in the fresh air. The school’s Green Granger programme uses plants and nature to raise awareness of environmental issues, the Garden-Table project grows fruit and vegetables to be eaten in school, there’s a Young Botanist learning block for Early Years, and a 10-week Nature Explorers enrichment programme that uses nature to learn about design and construction, art, science, and technology. TGI also plans to introduce the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Eco-School and Forest Schools Programme in 2022.
TGI Principal Eugene Low says:
“By being outdoors and interacting with the natural environment, children’s sense of curiosity will be heightened, leading them to be more engaged, motivated and active in learning. Our experiential learning develops better psychomotor, affective and cognitive skills in children, enabling them to become well-rounded learners.”
One of Singapore’s most well-equipped campuses for outdoor learning is CIS – where students move out of the comfort zone of a classroom and into the Outdoor Discovery Centres at its Lakeside and Tanjong Katong campuses. Worlds away from the confines of the classroom, students climb and explore the mud kitchen, sound garden, eco pond, gazebos for performances, bike tracks, play fort and art wall – all while learning literacy, science and maths.
A spokesperson for CIS says:
“We make it a point to integrate outdoor learning into our concept-based curriculum. While we have formal programmes, experiential learning is fundamental to learning at CIS.
“Kindergarten and younger primary students are immersed in learning at CIS’ Outdoor Discovery Centres, where they have hands-on experiences with nature. They are given tasks that guide them in applying their observations of the natural world to concepts like math, science and literacy.”
You don’t always need a vast campus or state-of-the-art facilities to deliver outdoor learning, though. For example, TGI’s small campus in Serangoon features an eco-darden with a specially curated ‘food forest’.
Mr Low explains:
“Students learn to identify and name different varieties of common flowers, fruits and vegetables. They get to examine the features of these produce up close and get to taste and smell different herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil and curry leaves.
"The students also get to discover others such as kedongdong (or ambarella), mulberry, miracle berry and sugarcane, which are not so commonly seen in Singapore anymore.”