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Highland primaries take the classroom outside

Outdoor classrooms at Brora and Helmsdale primary schools
Helmsdale primary nursery pupils are already spending time in their new outdoor classroom.

Two Highland primary schools are getting the chance to test their green fingers with brand new outdoor classroom spaces.

Three new outdoor classrooms, one at Brora and two at Helmsdale Primary School, are allowing students to learn outside while staying safe from the weather.

The classrooms are the result of a joint fundraising and construction effort from parents, staff and community partners.

These new outdoor spaces are the latest in an ongoing push towards more outdoor learning across the Highlands. And teachers are saying that the opportunities they provide children are indispensable.

A fitting place to spark the imagination

The coastal communities around Brora and Helmsdale schools have strong connections to the sea, crofting and a rich geological history. Head teacher of both schools, Dawn McKenzie, said that pupils are already taking advantage of the new space.

“The key benefits of outdoor learning are allowing people to immerse themselves in their own environment, relating their learning to their environment and being able to apply that learning.

outdoor classrooms at Brora and Helmsdale primary school with wildflower gardens in front.
The wildflowers outside Helmsdale Primary School make a nice complement to the new outdoor classroom. Supplied by Highland Council

“The dynamic and flexible space will undoubtedly enhance creative learning and play, it’s a multi-purpose space to be enjoyed in all weathers and being surrounded by our wildflower garden is an enjoyable environment for both the children and staff.”

She added that the outdoor space is available for pupils of all ages and that staff members are working on new ways to incorporate the space into their curriculum.

Highland outdoor classrooms: A joint effort

The Brora and Helmsdale outdoor classrooms were funded by the Lord Leverhulme Charitable Trust, Gwen Mayor Fund, Balcas, community funds and donations.

Parents and staff pitched in to get the structures off the ground and Highland Council education committee chairman John Finlayson said the hard work has paid off.

An inside look at the new outdoor classroom at Brora Primary School. Supplied by Highland Council.

“Having this space will spark imaginations and support children in exploring spaces and places in creative ways.

“It takes a great deal of planning and coordination to bring together such valuable spaces and I commend all those involved in making it all come together.”

Teaching moves outdoors

After schools reopened following the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, many schools began to look outside for learning opportunities. Fresh air and open space are still premium commodities as the pandemic keeps a grip on society.

Teachers are able to tap into a variety of cultural and natural resources when putting together outdoor learning programmes.

Providing equal learning opportunities for all pupils, connecting children to their local communities and an emphasis on eco-friendly lessons are just some of the staples of outdoor learning in the Highlands.

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