5 Benefits of Bringing Literature Outdoors

In September, schools will need to continue to take measures to limit the spread of infection. From ‘bubbles’ and handwashing, to disinfecting resources and surfaces, keeping the virus at bay is going to be a primary safeguarding concern. As Coronavirus spreads far less easily outdoors, perhaps now is a good time to consider taking literature outside!

1. Sights, sounds and smells

Giving children the chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the settings of stories that they read is the perfect way to take them deeper into the world of the story. Much well-loved children’s literature takes place in an outdoor setting – from timeless classics like Winnie the PoohThe Tale of Peter Rabbit and Watership Down to more recent examples like Emily Hughes’s beautifully illustrated Wild and Sita Brahmachari’s Where the River Runs Gold. The multisensory experience of being outdoors can spark the imagination of the most resistant readers and writers.

2. Bringing the story to life

The outdoors can be used to recreate dramatic settings and moments of stories to bring them to life. Author Lucy Strange describes doing this at a Pop Up event: “In The Secret of Nightingale Wood, the character Moth lives in an old caravan in the woods. To start the day, the children were taken to a hut at the Greenwood Centre with a similarly magical feeling. A brave volunteer was asked to knock at the door, at which point I emerged and said hello to the children. We then discussed the moment in the story in which Henry meets Moth for the first time. Some of the children volunteered to show off their drama skills and act out this moment, using the hut as a wonderfully theatrical backdrop.”

3. Motivation to write

Animals and the outdoors can be great writing motivators. Tom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers, explains: “People in general, but children in particular are instinctively drawn to animals, and the outdoors. They are excited to learn about wildlife and to show off that knowledge. And in writing workshops I’ve known children elect to write (usually wonderful stories) about animals as diverse as bacteria, tigers, rabbits, pandas, koalas, sharks, jaguars… and the occasional Tyrannosaurus Rex. The key to why the outdoors and animals facilitate writing in children, I think, lies in the familiarity but utter strangeness of the worlds that animals inhabit. We become aware of the lives of all of the animals that call this place home, and how different their lives must be [from ours].”

4. Attention to Detail

Pupils often struggle with description – we’ve all read stories written by pupils that are lacking in detail or that suffer from inappropriate adjectives. Lucy Strange describes how the real thing can support pupils to write more vividly: “Sometimes we think we can describe the ocean or a mountain or a cloudy sky just by imagining it, and sometimes we can, but when you are describing nature, you’ll find there are lots of details that surprise you when you take a moment to examine them in the real world. These details will help to make your writing feel authentic and original.”

5. A Breath of Fresh Air

Spending time outside has benefits for physical and mental health, including increased exercise, lower anxiety levels, higher vitamin D levels, improved sleep and more.  Many pupils in lockdown will have had limited chances to enjoy the outdoors. The Office for National Statistics reported in May that 1 in 8 British households do not have a garden, with the proportion rising in London. Black people are four times less likely than white people to have access to an outdoor space. On a recent panel hosted by Teach First, a headteacher reported visiting homes where the families had not been outside at all and had even been nervous about opening windows during the early stages of the pandemic. Outdoor learning could help to combat these negative effects, improve pupils’ health and wellbeing and form part of your school’s ‘recovery curriculum’.