Measuring the benefits of time spent outdoors

Find out more

Assessing the effectiveness of outdoor learning

Read our report evaluating the residential programme at Rippledown.

“Children gain a greater sense of their own competence, nature connection, hope and dietary awareness.”

The Bay Trust is working in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University. Dr Joe Hinds, a Social-Environmental Psychologist at CCCU is gathering data and helping our Outdoor Learning Tutor, Dr Sarah O’Malley assess the effectiveness of our outdoor learning programmes.

Influencing the development of future generations 

There has been a trend of research to show that time spent outdoors has improved children’s personal development, with school grades along with social skills improving. It is important to positively influence the development of the next generation’s well being and environmental awareness. As future policy makers it helps to develop environmental stewardship and the necessary skills to prevent further environmental damage.

The earlier children ‘learn’ these things the better as they are likely to retain the essence of what has been learned. Some children benefit from physical activities to enhance or act as an alternative to their academic achievements. Sarah and Joe’s study adds to the growing body of research that links children’s personal development with time spent outdoors.

Improvements can be seen in

  • Academic performance
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive development.
While many publications are about children, this study involves children. It prioritises the voices of learners. This study is small and adds to the ongoing debate on the value of outdoor learning and play in child development.

Testimonials for The John Muir Award

From a pupil

Through Bridging the Gap, I got to know children in my year group much better, which meant I made some great friends. Every week, eight children (including me), were lucky enough to avoid school. Instead, we went outside to have some great fun – even in the snow!

We built dens, swung in hammocks, climbed trees, built snowmen, navigated minefields (don’t worry, these were only made of logs!), walked to the top of cliffs, cleared paths, looked for wildlife, made bird feeders, created reindeers from wood, toasted marshmallows, started fires, used tools, had a picnic on the beach, skimmed stones and even conquered some of our fears. It was an exhilarating experience! Cheers Terry and thank you Pete for spending your time with us. I will never forget it.

Finley Gilmurray

Year 5, Green Park Community Primary School

From a teacher

It was a fantastic experience as a teacher to be able to observe a group of our students outside of the school setting. I saw a transformation in each and every student. They started off very much in their comfort zones, not talking much to those outside their immediate circle of friends. Over the weeks they started to interact with others and by the end of the program they had bonded into one team, able to openly say what they thought in a positive way and supported each other in what they did. I am very proud of what they achieved and how they have taken that experience and become more confident in all that they do at school.

Chantal Hurn

Year 5 Teacher, Green Park Community Primary School

Research into outdoor learning  – study groups

We are examining the social, personal and educational outcomes of outdoor education. Our research takes place at Rippledown and The Pines Garden. It contributes to growing evidence that outdoor learning is fundamental to a child’s education.

School residential visits

Our outdoor education team work with teachers to create bespoke education programmes, tailored to the learning needs of individual groups. So far we have found out that the outdoor learning programme at
Rippledown helps children gain a:

  • greater sense of their own competence
  • stronger connection with nature
  • stronger resilience
  • healthier dietary awareness.

There is significant interest in our research results. Both within Kent’s outdoor education networks and at a national level.

The John Muir Award

The John Muir Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places. They run an award for completing activities that connect people with nature and wild places. This award programme is part of the Up on the Downs project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Bay Trust tutors are working with 14 to 18 years olds who are not so well suited to the classroom environment. The award activities help students recognise their abilities and the opportunities available to them in an outdoor environment.

The Bay Trust and CCCU are examining the impact of the John Muir award on young people’s:

  • environmental learning
  • personal outcomes
  • educational experiences

The research is important as it:

  • Provides evidence for the value of outdoor experiences
  • Listens to the voice of young people
  • Provides evidence to the Heritage Lottery Fund of the value and impacts of their funding in the local area

Outdoor learning and child development

Our study is small and adds to the ongoing debate on the value of outdoor learning and play in child development. Here are some links to further reading to provide a wider context to the work we are doing with CCCU.

Evaluating Learning Away

This report identifies the impacts of Learning Away residentials as well as what it is about the overnight stay that brings about such positive powerful outcomes for young people, long after their return to school.

Natural Connections Project

A report demonstrating clear evidence that: getting children outdoors is fantastic for their health, wellbeing and learning. Outdoor learning can set them on a pathway to happy, healthy and environmentally sustainable lifestyles.


The RSPB believes that connecting with nature should be a part of every child’s life. They have joined forces to form The Wild Network and support its film-led campaign Project Wild Thing: reconnecting kids and nature.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Residential learning is ‘brilliant’ when it is led by teachers, co-designed with students, and fully integrated into the curriculum. Independent evaluators at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation* have found that, by working in this way, schools can achieve significant breakthroughs in learner engagement and progress, whilst achieving positive outcomes for teachers and the school as a whole. Read more here.

*Paul Hamlyn (1926–2001), believed in a fair society in which people could achieve their potential, free from prejudice and disadvantage. He wanted to improve opportunities and life chances for young people.

Partnered with


Dr Joe Hinds Senior Lecturer at CCCU is gathering data and helping us assess the effectiveness of our outdoor learning programmes.

John Muir Trust

A conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places.

Portal House

A good school striving to provide outstanding education for students who have significant emotional, social and mental health needs.

Partner with us

We are always looking to partner with other charities and groups interested in outdoor learning, sustainability and environmental education.

Get in touch

Dr Sarah O'Malley

Dr Sarah O'Malley

Outdoor Learning Research Advisor

Sarah conducts research into outdoor learing. Her experience is in teaching and developing programmes on environmental topics.


Get in touch

Call Sarah on: 01304 851 737 (ext. 2006)