From crofting to kayaking, the pupils at Daliburgh School in South Uist have been making the most of their island environment to supplement their classroom learning experience. “In order to promote resilience and confidence in our pupils, as well as helping them to improve their communication skills and develop their own ability to manage risk, we have focused on using our natural environment to enhance our learning environment,” explains Head Teacher Jane MacIntyre.

For the past two years, the outdoor learning programme has involved a variety of learning sessions both on land and on water. 14 kayaks, two Canadian canoes, camping equipment, and an “outdoor classroom” – as well as all the necessary safety equipment – were purchased using over £10,000 of funds raised from Awards 4 All, part of the National Lottery Fund, and local bodies such as the Community Council and local councillors. “Through various outdoor sessions, our pupils could be seen to gain confidence, and by the end of their kayaking block last year, all the P7s were able to demonstrate how to capsize confidently,” says Jane.

Also part of the outdoor learning experience was the inter-house triathlon held in June 2019, which saw pupils from Primary 1 to 7 take part in a competition which covered racing on the cross-country track, paddling in kayaks, and cycling on school bikes. The triathlon was such a success that this year, Primary 7 pupils from other Uist schools will be invited to join in the fun at a transition event that will include camping, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and another inter-house triathlon.

And it’s not just outdoor sporting events the pupils are involved in; they’re learning the importance of looking after and cultivating the land, too. “We are encouraging pupils to make links between their community, their culture, and the curriculum in a way that is relevant to their lives,” explains Jane. Over the past few months, this has included community activities such as local beach clean-ups; outdoor learning visits to different environments, like beaches, forests, and hills; and learning about crofting and growing local produce. Staff from TAGSA Uibhist have also worked with the school to improve and develop the outdoor growing area.

“The children have been learning about the links between sustainability, crofting, and local produce through the work and development of our Crofting Committee, which is made up of pupils from P4-P7, and our Gardening Masterclass (one of the activities offered on a Friday afternoon). Through this, pupils have been cultivating and harvesting their own produce, some of which was turned into chutneys and sold at our Christmas Fayre,” says Jane. The pupils are also responsible for the school’s hens, and the school Crofting Committee is working with local crofters to identify which other animals could be cared for on the school premises in the future.

Pupils are also going to be learning how to develop the school grounds to provide more opportunities for imaginative play, creativity, and problem-solving activities, and a “wild area” is already in development. This learning was enhanced by a training session given as part of the school’s February in-service by Learning Through Landscapes, a UK-based charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. The charity awarded the school the Local Schools Nature Grant, which included £500 worth of outdoor equipment in addition to the training session.

Outdoor learning of the kind that is taking place at Daliburgh School is a key component of the national curriculum; the Curriculum for Excellence states that “integrating learning and outdoor experiences, whether through play in the immediate grounds or adventures further afield, provides relevance and depth to the curriculum in ways that are difficult to achieve indoors.”

And as Jane explains, Daliburgh School is putting this ethos into practice by “enhancing the pupils’ learning experiences by taking advantage of the benefits that island life gives us: our beautiful environment, close community, and rich culture and heritage.”

Pictured: Pupils in the garden, learning about crofting at a sheep sale and on an RSPB visit learning about wildlife.