In November, it often rains here. This day in 2018, Nadia Lienhard still remembers: she had managed to decide everyone – parents, director, colleagues – to take the children to class outside. It was better for the weather to be lenient to convince the parents, but also Christelle Fauquembergue, the regional officer specializing in nursery schools (Atsem) who works alongside her, and “Who does not like the rain”. The sky, finally, is there. A doubt assails her, however: will she manage to teach children things?
→ ANALYSIS. The comeback of outdoor schools
To reassure herself, she has planned a weaving activity. But once outside, students find enough to do with the natural elements. A little excessive even! First observation: in class, it is very framed. Outdoors, you never know how it’s going to turn out. And there, during this first outing, the students all started playing with sticks, which we had to hurry to remove, to avoid accidents! Since then, before entering the meadow next to the school, each child sings the rhyme of the “Three R’s”, a pact for “Self-respect, respect for others and respect for nature”. In three sessions, the question of sticks was settled.
“Nothing has ever seemed so obvious to me as the classroom outside”
Today, the city equips children and its agents with waterproof clothing. And only the strong wind remains an obstacle to the exits, the branches of the trees being able to give way. Parents, for their part, note the disappearance of colds in winter … and the development of their child. As for Nadia Lienhard, after almost thirty years of career in national education, she acquired the certainty that one could learn in nature. “I have always sought to innovate in my practice, from the use of Montessori materials, to non-violent communication, but nothing has ever seemed so obvious to me as the classroom outside”, she explains.
When we meet her, it rains well in Rochefort (Charente-Maritime). The downpour echoes on the roof of the steel shelter placed in the “poplar grove”, the one-hectare meadow in which the kindergarten children of the Liberation primary school enjoy the joys of the outdoor classroom… under the drops. Almost every morning, whether it rains or not, she takes her middle and upper section students there. The majority of teachers are satisfied with one outing per week.
She had the idea while listening to the intervention, during a national congress of public kindergartens in 2018, of Crystèle Ferjou, a pioneer of outdoor education, whose practice has been emulated in more than one hundred establishments of Two Sevres. Nadia Lienhard immediately felt concerned. She had heard of this kind of experience in Germany, but had never thought of doing it. She wants to try the experience ” for them “. “Them” are his students “To difficult lives”. Because Nadia Lienhard has been working at the Liberation school for six years, in a popular district of Rochefort. “Many children are unwilling to learn, explains the teacher. I felt that contact with nature could have a beneficial effect on them. “
Going out every morning, a no-brainer
She succeeds in persuading her colleague from the small nursery section. Together, this fall of 2018, they follow a day of training provided by La Graine, an environmental education network, then set off in search of a place in the neighborhood. Twenty minutes on foot from the school, there is indeed a natural area planted with poplars, but it is impossible to walk there: the grasses rise to more than a meter… The land is cleared by the city and a hillock of earth created to promote children’s motor skills and exploration. The experience begins with an hour of outing, then one morning per week.
→ REPORT. The Caminando school, in the Drôme: when nature promotes the desire to learn
In May 2020, at the end of the first deconfinement, the fires are focused on the outdoor school, a solution to fight against the pandemic. Going out every morning then becomes obvious, and for Nadia a kind of certainty that, “After more than twenty years of searching for an efficient way of teaching, everything is aligned”. The school teacher now knows that it doesn’t take much to do class outside. That it is enough for him to seize what nature offers.
A practice with many benefits
The benefits of learning in nature are manifold. Professor Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois has reviewed hundreds of research studies on the subject. Results published in February 2019 in Frontiers in Psychology show that time spent outdoors reduces stress and improves children’s concentration. It also promotes self-discipline, motivation and commitment to learning. Nature would also encourage cooperation between students and develop their creativity. This healthy practice of “Forest Schools” is common in the countries of Northern Europe, in vogue in Denmark or in Germany, which has 3,000 of them. In France, it remains confidential, even if more and more teachers are looking for today to be formed.