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A breath of fresh air

A breath of fresh air

Seeing good in all creation is one of our 12 characteristics as a Mary Ward School. During the past year, staff and students have worked together to bring outdoor learning into both academic and pastoral activities. Our aim is to support the development of student self-esteem, resilience, health, and understanding of and care for the environment.

The Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 created time for people to reconnect with the outdoors. The benefits of spending time outdoors for mental health and wellbeing are well documented, and at St Mary’s we are exploring how to incorporate more opportunities for outdoor learning in Senior School and Sixth Form.

Additional research shows that exposure to nature also has tangible benefits for learning. It has been shown to improve concentration, engagement and self-discipline. Nature also improves learning outcomes, such as retention of knowledge and improved grades, and develops better leadership, communication and problem-solving skills.

Rainforest retreat - biophilic classroom

Thanks to the support of the Circle of Friends, a Tropical Rainforest space has been installed in one of our Sixth Form teaching rooms to create a biophilic classroom.

As students spend the majority of their time indoors, this pilot aims to connect students with nature from inside a built environment. Large plants have been arranged at varying levels to replicate a rainforest environment. In addition, plants have been selected to represent the main layers of the rainforest, with the tallest plant reaching 7ft, and different species reflect the diversity, colour and beauty of the rainforest environment.

Embracing the outdoors

Outdoor classroom in actionWe have added a new outdoor classroom to our learning environment. Crafted from sustainably-sourced, natural redwood timber, this space removes the constraints of an indoor classroom and creates a thriving outdoor working environment, come rain or shine.

All departmental teaching curricula are being adapted to include opportunities for lessons and home-learning tasks that incorporate access to the outdoors.

We are committed to providing students with environments and experiences that continue to inspire them, and we can’t wait to see how this programme continues to develop.

Julia Hutchinson, Geography Teacher and Joint Head of Year 9

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