Project Raithby encompasses an integrated sport, education, life skill and leadership development pathway for under-resourced children in Raithby and the surrounding areas. We are combining all the Forward Foundation divisions, also adding the outdoor learning environment as well as a farming component, to establish a fully encompassing development pathway. The outdoor learning environment is an enormous part of the physical development of Project Raithby. This blog post will discuss outdoor learning and the outdoor learning environment; where the inspiration for this project came from; we will touch on Forward Foundation’s vision for this project, and lastly, we will briefly provide a glimpse into what is currently happening with the development of Project Raithby.

An outdoor learning environment is full of diverse natural features designed to promote and facilitate structured and unstructured play, learning and physical activity.

The United Kingdom Forest School Association defines outdoor learning as an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults’ regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on regular learning experiences in a local woodland environment (UK Forest Schools 2002).  Soezin Krog (2010) also elaborates that outdoor learning involves movement and sensory stimulation which lead to the development of neural pathways which are crucial for children’s learning readiness. Research shows that “direct, ongoing experiences of nature in relatively familiar settings remains a vital source for children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development” (Kellert, 2005:81). Outdoor learning develops children’s resilience and subsequent confidence which is directly linked to their well-being and propensity to take risks and initiative, heightened levels of self-belief, positive attitude and independence (Greenfeld 2004; De Clercq 2012).

Connecting children’s learning to land and natural ecosystems is a priority of the Forward Foundation, a philosophy that is not mainstream in our country’s educational system. Inspiration for the proposed project comes from the Forest School methodology implemented in Britain in 1993, but which originated in Scandinavia (Stigsgaard 1978, cited in Williams-Siegfredson 2005).  It is also inspired by the establishment in 2002 of the Natuurspeeltuin De Speeldernis in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Furthermore, it draws from the UNICEF child-friendly city initiatives (2002) which developed as a result of environments, especially in the developing world, that were too unsafe and detrimental for children to live and play in. UNICEF called for environments that are:

  • secure and “safe” for children
  • stimulating and supportive
  • built on existing structures and capacities within a community
  • fully participatory in terms of the design and implementation of settings
  • providing integrated services and programmes
  • inclusive and non-discriminatory

The development of an outdoor learning environment can create a child-friendly space for children to learn and play in.

The vision for the establishment of the outdoor play and learning environment is framed within the Global Summit on Childhood: Goals for the decade 2012-2022, and highlights Pillar 4: creative play and physical activity, and Pillar 5: Appreciation and stewardship of the natural environment. Forward Foundation envisions to create child-friendly spaces in natural environments for children (ages 2–9 years) which fosters their holistic (physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and moral development) through risk-based play and outdoor learning opportunities.

Forward Foundation has secured land to establish the unique outdoor learning environment. Our team is currently busy raising funds, and investing in the planning, so that when the time comes, we are ready to kick of the physical development. Keep an eye on our social media to see what we have planned for Nelson Mandela Day as a connection to Project Raithby.

Project Raithby holds enormous potential. The outdoor learning environment is not mainstream in our country’s educational system – which makes the concept combined with an integrated sport, education, life skill and leadership development pathway for under-resourced children, unique. We are excited to see this project grow!


Reference list

Krog, S. 2010. Movement programmes as a means to learning readiness. Doctoral thesis. University of South Africa.

Greenfield, C. (2004). ‘Can run, play on bikes, jump the zoom slide, and play on the swings’: Exploring the value of outdoor play. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 29(2),1-5.

De Clercq, B. (Red) (2012). Kleuters & Ik, Dossier Buitenspel, Jg 28 (4), p. 13-31. Averbode: CEGO PUblishers.

Williams-Siegfredson, J. (2005) The Competent Child: developing children’s skills and confidence using the outdoor environment: a Danish perspective. Paper presented at BERA 2005, 15-17 September 2005, University of Glamorgan, Wales.

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