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Outdoor Education

What is Outdoor Education?


One useful definition is as follows: “Outdoor education usually refers to organized learning in an outdoor setting. Outdoor Learning has become a more contemporary term for arguably the same thing, but it reflects well the distinction between discovery/active learning ('experiential learning') and didactic education, which is more the domain of mainstream education.”


Outdoor education programmes usually involve residential or journey-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous, memorable challenges, including the challenges of communal activities.


Some typical aims of outdoor education are to:

  • Learn how to overcome adversity

  • Enhance personal and social development

  • Develop a deeper relationship with nature.


Why Outdoors?


The best known current proponent of the importance of the outdoors is the journalist Richard Louv, notably in his book Last Child in the Woods (2005). His strongest claim is that spending too little time outdoors can cause a wide variety of problems which he summarises as Nature Deficit Disorder. Symptoms include depression, anxiety and ADHD.


He is not the first, of course, to highlight the dangers of being alienated from one's environment; the lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle calls it memorably the “Extinction of Experience” (1993).

This claim is not accepted by the psychiatric profession but has served to relaunch a broad movement, The New Nature Movement, exemplified in the USA by Free Range Kids, Green Hour and the Children and Nature Network and allied in the UK by the 'Slow Parenting' movement (eg Carl Honore) and Tom Hodgkinson's 'The Idle Parent' (2009). 


Louv's recent book, The Nature Principle (2011), while sounding both like the ultimate self-help manual and a reprise of the ancient Fall-Expulsion from Eden story, actually makes a very interesting claim: 


“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”


Although controversial, some medical professionals are listening: in Oregon “GPs will start formally prescribing "family time" to be spent in a park; the parks department will check they show up, and the health department will study the results.” Some seems a bit New Age: Natural Awareness is being touted as an intervention for addiction by Geoffey McMullen. The general term for these therapies is Ecotherapy.


This type of intervention has deeper academic roots in what was called, not very catchingly, Attention Restoration Therapy, devised in the 1980s by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, two American Professors of Psychology. Their evidence strongly suggests that exposure to Nature can reduce stress and thereby improve attention.


Virginia State Parks, flickr, CC BY (2.0)

Sun on Trees.jpg

Photo by Stefan Marks (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


PxHere. CC0


Artist Impressions on Lord Baden-Powell, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Ernest Thompson Seton. Source: (CC0)


Modern outdoor education is derived from a number of different inspirations, some of which are explored here. The first local authority outdoor education centre was founded by Derbyshire Council in 1951. In turn this was inspired by the first Outward Bound school which was established in 1941 in Aberdovey and the Scouting movement, established in 1908.


1. Scouts


1.1 Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts

Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts as an organization in 1908, a few months after the first scout encampment at Brownsea Island, near Poole in Dorset, in 1907. Baden-Powell got the idea while with the British Army in South Africa. To advance his ideas, Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys, which describes the Scout method of outdoor activities aiming at developing character, citizenship, and personal fitness qualities among youth. Many boys joined Scouting activities, resulting in the movement growing rapidly to become the world's largest voluntary youth organization. There are more than 28 million Scouts, young people and adults, male and female, in 160 countries and territories.


1.2 Pioneers

Baden-Powell was directly influenced by many similar groups, including two American youth leaders, Dan Beard who founded the Sons of Daniel Boone in 1905 and the extraordinary Ernest Thompson Seton (aka 'Black Wolf', Frank Zappa-lookalike) who founded the League of Woodcraft Indians in 1902. The story of the latter is that Seton's property had been vandalized by a group of boys from the local school. After having to repaint his gate a number of times, he went to the school, and invited the boys to the property for a weekend, rather than prosecuting them. He sat down with them and told them stories about Native Americans and nature.


One of the best known stories about Thompson Seton is that when he turned 21 his father presented him with an invoice for all the expenses incurred during his upbringing, including his birth. Stories differ as to whether he paid the invoice but it is agreed that he never spoke to his father again!

1.3 Dissenters

The splits and arguments between the American pioneers of scouting were many and unpleasant but the dissension in English ranks was much more eccentric and mild, although perhaps equally damaging to the reputation of scouting. 


1.3.1. After disputes over the lack of democracy and growing militarism, Sir Francis Vane led the independent British Boy Scouts into the Legion of World Scouts, the first international scout organisation, now called the Order of World Scouts.


1.3.2 Ernest Westlake, a Quaker geologist, set up the pacifist Order of Woodcraft Chivalry in 1916; this still exists as a small neo-pagan order. Westlake's dream was a Forest School, one of which was opened in the New Forest by his son in 1929 and ran until 1940. It led to the creation of Forest School Camps (FSC) which is now an outdoor education organisation.7


1.3.3. The charismatic John Hargrave (aka 'White Fox') set up the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift (KKK) in 1920 as another anti-war alternative to the increasingly militaristic Scouts. Later Hargrave tried to turn Kibbo Kift into a political movement, the Green Shirts, backing Major Douglas's Theory of Social Credit but his increasing autocracy - and refusal to become the Labour Party's youth wing - alienated many. 


1.3.4. Leslie Paul left the KKK in 1925 to found the Woodcraft Folk. This organisation still exists and has strong links with the Cooperative Movement, the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Forest School Camps (FSC).


1.4. Predecessors in the UK

1.4.1. The Boys' Brigade was founded in Glasgow in 1883 by Sir William Alexander Smith to develop “Christian manliness” by the use of a semi-military discipline and order, gymnastics, summer camps and religious services and classes. As of 2003, there were 500,000 Boys' Brigade members in 60 countries. In the UK & Ireland there are 60,000 members in 1,500 companies (groups). Their main UK centre is Felden Lodge Training & Conference Centre, set in 32 acres near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.


1.4.2. The YMCA goes back even earlier (founded in 1844 by Sir George Williams) but while its motto is “Empowering young people” it is not directly relevant as it was specifically designed to provide healthy activities to young men in major cities.


1.5 Predecessors in Germany: Wandervogel

Wandervogel is the name adopted by a popular 'back to nature' movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name means 'wandering or migratory bird' or 'vagabond' and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom. Although it soon split into the usual myriad independent organisations there was nevertheless the feeling of a common, though nationalistic, movement based around outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking and sports. It inspired the wonderful Wandertag law, whereby all schools had to have a “wandering day” of expeditions once a month. Wandervogel were banned by the Nazis but many aspects of their organisation were copied by the Hitler Youth. 


Source: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Kim Traynor, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Wribln, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Schools


2.1. Outdoor Adventure


Sports have for a long time played an important role in school life, especially perhaps in the big public schools. In fact it can be claimed that it was the traditional English public schools who created many of the sports that later swept the world by organising and codifying the rules. For example, Richard Mulcaster, Head of St Paul's School around 1600, is known as the Father of Football. But the introduction of outdoor adventure into school life is largely down to the drive and determination of one, relatively unheralded, man, Kurt Hahn, with his many initiatives and remarkable energy.


2.1.1. Outward Bound


The first Outward Bound centre was opened in Aberdovey, Wales in 1940 by Kurt Hahn, following his work in the development of Gordonstoun school and what is now known as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Outward Bound's founding mission was to help young seamen survive harsh conditions at sea by teaching confidence, tenacity, perseverance. The name is from a nautical expression that refers to the moment a ship leaves the pier. This is signified by the nautical flag, the Blue Peter (white rectangle inside blue rectangle). Outward Bound (OB) is now an international, non-profit, independent, outdoor education organization with 40 affiliated schools around the world.


The Outward Bound Trust is now an educational charity and the UK's leading provider of bursary-assisted outdoor learning. It has four centres: Aberdovey in Wales, Loch Eil in Scotland, Howtown and Ullswater in the Lake District in England. 


2.1.2. Duke of Edinburgh

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award (commonly abbreviated DofE), is an award given for completing a programme of activities that can be undertaken by anyone aged 14 to 24. DofE programmes take between 1 and 4 years to complete, depending upon the route taken. All programmes must be completed by the participant's 25th birthday. Around 275,000 participants are taking part in their DofE programme at any time in the United Kingdom.


The DofE Award was first announced in 1956 for boys aged 15 to 18. It was first administered by Sir John Hunt, who led the Ascent of Everest in 1953. It was designed to attract boys who had not been interested in joining one of the main British youth movements, such as the The Scout Association.


2.1.3 Round Square

Hahn also inspired the United World Colleges (12 international schools) and the Round Square association of schools (now over 100) that share an educational philosophy that supports the growth of the "whole person”, based upon the Round Square "IDEALS": Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership, Service. UK schools include Abbotsholme, Gordonstoun, Sedburgh & Wellington College.


2.2 Forest schools or Waldkindergarten

Perhaps the best known current initiative is the Forest School movement. But it turns out that this also has deep, and generally forgotten, roots.


2.2.1 The first fully outdoor nursery or forest kindergarten in the UK, Secret Garden in Fife, was started in 2008 by Cathy Beche. Before that Clare Warden of Mindstretchers in 2006 set up mostly outdoor nurseries or Nature Kindergartens, Whistlebrae Nature Kindergarten and Auchlone Nature Kindergarten in Perth and Kinross, Scotland.


2.2.2 Bridgwater College, Somerset, established the Early Excellence Centre in 1995 after a group of nursery teacher trainees visited Denmark. In 1997 they devised a forest school training course, and a national outreach team in 2000 to train leaders across the UK.


2.2.3 The usual claim is that forest schools originated in Denmark in the 1980s, when it was introduced as part of an expansion of nursery provision. But this was actually a rediscovery of a Swedish idea: in 1957 Goesta Frohm (c) created the "Skogsmulle" concept to promote learning about nature, water, mountains and pollution in what became “Rain and Shine Schools”. Before that, but less well documented, a Danish woman, Ella Fla3tau, was creating forest kindergartens for her family and friends from about 1952. But in fact the history of forest schools goes back much further than that.


2.2.4 Firstly, Laona, Wisconsin claims the world's first school forest (rather than forest school). Harry Russell, Dean of the College of Agriculture, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, conceived the idea of school forests. In 1927 a tract of land was purchased for the Laona school forest. The idea was implemented by Wakelin McNeel, the famous radio personality 'Ranger Mac' who also founded the nationally acclaimed environmental education camp Upham Woods which is attended by 10,000 youths each year.


2.2.5 Even earlier than this, in 1914, the socialist activists Rachel and Margaret McMillan set up an "Open-Air Nursery School and Training Centre” in Peckham, London. Unusually the McMillans had been born in New York but emigrated to Scotland. Within a few weeks there were thirty children at the school ranging from eighteen months to seven years. Rachel McMillan died in 1917 but Margaret continued the run the Peckham Nursery. She also served on the London County Council and wrote a series of influential books including The Nursery School (1919) and Nursery Schools: A Practical Handbook (1920). The experience of the Open-Air Nursery was documented in 1923 in a book by E. Stevinson which can be read online.


“THE Open-Air Nursery School is a garden, round the walls of which are built long, low shelters. The garden belongs to the children, and in planning it we must sweep away all our own grown-up, pre-conceived idea. "Necessities, but no luxuries," must be our motto in the Nursery School to-day, while the economy axe still hangs threateningly over our heads.”


We also know that Cambridge had its own “experimental Open Air School” which was founded c1920 by the Education Authority on a farm site after pressure from educationalist and activist, Leah Manning. Frustratingly, we have not been able to track down any further information.


2.3 German Origins: Hahn, Neufert and Froebel

Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) was an extraordinarily influential educational practitioner. He founded Salem Castle School in Germany in 1920, inspired by his reading of Plato. Hahn was exiled in 1933 after openly criticising Hitler. He founded Gordonstoun in 1934 in Scotland, where one of his first pupils was Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who had also been at Salem Castle School. Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward followed, although Charles hated its Spartan austerity.


“...There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion. There is compulsion and there is attraction. You can preach at them; that is a hook without a worm. You can say "you must volunteer." That is the devil. And you can tell them, "you are needed". That hardly ever fails.”


Hermann Neufert is not at all well known now, but he, together with a school doctor, Dr Bendix, founded the first open air school in the world. This, known as Waldschule (forest school), opened in Charlottenburg in the outskirts of Berlin in 1904, as documented in Anne-Marie Châtelet's study A Breath of Fresh Air (2008). It was widely imitated, by Belgium in 1904, Switzerland, Italy, France (ecole forestiere) and England in 1907 and in Spain (escuela del bosque) and the USA in 1908. The motivation behind open air schools was health related – to prevent tuberculosis – but the educational results were surprisingly good.








Friedrich Froebel was the true originator of forest schools. He established the first 'kindergarten' or 'children's garden', in Bad Blankenburg, Germany between 1837 and 1840. Froebel's main insight was to identify the importance of 'activities' in learning. He introduced the concepts of 'free play' and learning through games, but within a century, this 'garden' concept had evolved into something more like traditional schooling with children spending more time indoors.

2.4 Current Impulses


There is a growing movement to open up the classroom to the outdoors. This is partly exemplified by the Forest School movement but is more general than that. One prominent and articulate proponent is the Campaign for Adventure who say: 


Our proposition is that having Outdoor and Adventurous Activities as part of the Physical Education curriculum induces a belief that its main aim is to promote physical development, whereas, in fact, it makes a distinctive contribution to whole person development, including personal, interpersonal, spiritual and moral development. PE is primarily associated with sport and games; outdoor learning primarily with adventure and enterprise, which is in the realm of PSHE.


As the White Paper on Public Health says: 'Taking risks, experimenting and pushing boundaries is an important part of growing up. Young people need opportunities to learn about their world in ways that provide challenge and excitement through positive things to do…'. Outdoor learning provides just such an opportunity. Adolescents especially need to take risks to achieve their adult identity. In doing so, they have to master a set of skills for navigating uncertainty. The rest of the curriculum is relatively predetermined and structured; outdoor learning, by contrast, confronts students with novel situations in which they are challenged by choice, and have to live with the consequences of their choice. Hence they learn repeatedly to think through the consequences of their actions as they carry out the tasks and solve the problems built into outdoor programmes. The same habit is transferable to other risk situations, like drug-taking and conception.


They also learn the importance of mutual trust and dependence: if they let go of a rope, someone else will fall. Some tasks can only be accomplished if they work as a team. Teams need team spirit and team roles. Games also develop these, but only within a codified set of rules. Real life, however, for which outdoor learning is good preparation, does not always have such explicit rules, and is often a risky business. The sea does not shake hands with you after an adventurous sail. Mastering skills for life must involve real risks. Learning how to identify, assess and manage risks is a statutory aim of the school curriculum. Learning how to balance risks against benefits is an important life skill. Linking risk with responsibility is also an important outcome of outdoor learning, because responsible risk-taking is an essential ingredient of enterprise.


Conventional learning is generally incremental: knowledge is built up bit by bit. Outdoor learning, however, is often transformative: unforgettable 'magic moments' cause breakthroughs in self-understanding and self-regard. It is impressive how some young people seem to grow up almost overnight. Ask them what a well-designed outdoor programme did for them, and you will often be amazed at what they say. It is the testimony of young people themselves, rather than that of the learning providers, that is the most convincing argument for making outdoor learning an integral part of the whole school curriculum.


Waldschule, Charlottenburg. Source: Architecture of Early Childhood.


Outward Bound Logo

Richardncobs, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Source:, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Admarkroundsquare, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons



In Donaldismo Veritas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Ranger Mac. Source:,



Source:, CC BY-SA


Kurt Hahn Plaque. dotx3, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Friedrich Froebel. Source: Public Domain.


Townsend Centre. Source:


White Hall. Source: Derbyshire County Council.


PGL. Source: MaxPixel's contributors | Credit: here

3. Outdoor Centres

    1. Townsend Centre

      In 1929 Bournemouth Rotary created the Townsend Centre on the Jurassic coast in Swanage, “opened to give the poorest children from the dark slums of the great cities a holiday in healthy surroundings.”


    2. Margaret McMillan House

      In 1936 the Duke of York (King George VI) opened Margaret McMillan House in 26 acres in Kent. The first purpose built outdoor centre created in memory of Margaret McMillan, one of the pioneers behind the movement for outdoor education.


    3. White Hall Outdoor Education Centre

      “Situated in a stunning location in the beautiful Peak District National Park, White Hall Outdoor Education Centre has given thousands of young people wonderful, memorable experiences since it opened in 1951 as Britain's first local education authority outdoor centre.”


    4. PGL

      PGL is the best known private provider of adventure stays. It takes its name from the initials of its founder - Peter Gordon Lawrence (and not from its nickname 'Parents Get Lost') - who started leading canoe trips down the River Wye in 1957. The initial market was young adults but during the early years PGL established a key position in the organised school group travel market.


      At the beginning of the 2010 season, PGL had 21 centres in the UK, 2 centres in Spain, 10 centres in France, contracts with numerous ski resorts and 'Action Stations' at Eurocamp in France and 'Go Active' at 7 Pontins sites in the UK (Prestatyn, Southport, Blackpool, Camber, Brean, Pakefield). Some of the largest centres are Boreatton Park (Shropshire) and Caythorpe Court (Lincolnshire).                                                                                                                                                                                                    The purchase in 2005 of 3D Education and Adventure, their biggest competitor, gave the company two more centres on the south coast, one on the Isle of Wight.                                                                                                

    5. Widehorizons​                                                                                                                                      In 1965 the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) was developed as the education authority for the twelve inner London boroughs. During the next five years ILEA acquired five outdoor education centers: Townsend Centre, Ty’n y Berth, Bryn Coedwig, Horton Kirby and Margaret McMillan House. In 2004 Widehorizons was formed to operate the six outdoor centres that the ILEA used to run, as a result of a joint initiative on the part of the London boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham, after continued budget cuts in Outdoor Education.                                                                                                                                                                        

    6. Cutbacks.                                                                                                                                                                                   Big cuts to funding have started to take effect on LEA budgets and North Yorkshire closed two of its four outdoor learning centres in 2011. Wigan Council handed over the running of its two outdoor education centres to a charitable trust in 2012. Leicestershire were looking to close one and transfer the running of another outdoor centre in 2012. Worcestershire has recently (2013) announced plans to close its Llanrug Outdoor Education Centre, in Snowdonia.                                                                                                               COVID UPDATE: estimates are circulating that around 30 outdoor education centres have been forced to close over the last two years. See for example reports here and here.

Organisations and Partnerships

  • FSA.​ In June 2012 the Forest School Association was established. It is an independent body, affiliated to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, and chaired by Jon Cree. 

  • FACEFarming and Countryside Education: “Our aim is to educate children and young people about food and farming in a sustainable countryside."

  • IOLThe Institute for Outdoor Learning “encourages outdoor learning by developing quality, safety and opportunity to experience outdoor activity provision and by supporting and enhancing the good practice of those who work in the outdoors.”

  • CLOTCThe Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the national voice for learning outside the classroom. “We believe that every young person (0-19yrs) should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances.”

  • OEAPThe Outdoor Education Advisers' Panel. “The OEAP support all staff in Children's Services and schools taking young people outdoors to engage and enhance learning.”

  • AmbitionFormerly known as Clubs for Young People, this is a national charity whose members are a network of umbrella youth organisations in cities, counties and countries throughout the UK. Through its network Ambition works with more than 3,500 voluntary youth clubs, youth groups and projects, supporting over 350,000 young people.

  • NYA. ​The National Youth Agency supports youth workers “helping young people in their personal and social development, equipping them with the practical skills they need to be resilient in challenging times, and positive contributors to future economic growth.” Since 2007 local authorities have been required to secure ‘positive activities’, including youth work, for young people in their area. These activities should be shaped by what young people say they want, and should help put them on the ‘path to success’.

  • NCVYS.The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services was founded in 1936 by representatives of 11 of England's largest youth organisations (including the YMXA, Boys Brigade, Boy Scouts Association). They met under the auspices of the 'National Council of Social Services', now the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), of which NCVYS has remained a member. NCVYS has three guiding values: Initiative, Responsibility and Equality.

  • NCVOThe National Council for Voluntary Organisations is the umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector in England with a membership of over 10,000 voluntary organisations from large national bodies to community groups, volunteer centres, and development agencies working at a local level.

Organisation Logos.jpg

But does any of it do any good?


There is by now a very large body of research clearly showing positive benefits from increased interaction with Nature. For example:

  • In 2006 the Forestry Commission produced an evaluation on the benefits of forest schools in England and Wales. The findings were very positive (O'Brien, L and Murray, R, 2006).


  • Roland Gorges (in Gorges R. Waldkindergartenkinder Im Ersten Schuljahr) found that children who had been to a forest kindergarten were above average, compared by teachers to those who had not, in all areas of skill tested, including: skills, reading, maths, asking questions & interest in learning, positive social behaviour.


  • Playing outside for prolonged periods has been shown to have a positive impact on children's development, particularly in the areas of balance and agility, but also manual dexterity, physical coordination, tactile sensitivity, and depth perception (University of Colorado, 2007).


  • Children who attend forest kindergartens experience fewer injuries due to accidents and are less likely to injure themselves in a fall (Grahn et al, 1997).


  • A child's ability to assess risks improves, for example in handling fire and dangerous tools (Honoré, 2008)


  • Several recent large studies in Japan, with control groups in built-up environments doing the same activities, have shown that spending time simply walking or contemplating in a forest setting is associated with lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, reduced heart rate (Park et al, 2010).


  • Research by Ulrich (Ulrich, 1979 and Chang, 2007) in which he showed photographs of nature scenes to students who were about to take an examination, reported a subjective reduction in fear, and a more positive outlook, when compared to those students who were shown photographs of urban built scenes.


  • In a study by MIND (MIND, 2007) 44% of participants who walked through an indoor shopping centre experienced reduced self-esteem compared to 90% of participants on a green walk reporting increased self-esteem. 71% reported decreased levels of depression & tension following the green walk. Whilst 22% reported an increase in depression after the walk through the shopping centre.


  • In a residential care facility, elderly residents performed activities both in a classroom and in the garden. In the garden environment cortisol levels were significantly lower indicating reduced stress levels. (Rodiek, 2002)


  • “Outdoor activities reduce stress hormones among children aged six. High cortisone levels indicate stress, and stress has a documented bad influence on memory capacity. Outdoor activities give better learning in a pure logical sense.” Anders Szczepanski, National Centre for Outdoor Environmental Education, Linköping University.

  • “The children within I Ur och Skur pre- schools are more than twice as focused as children within a normal pre-school. Their motor skills are better, they are less frustrated, restless and sick.” Patrick Grahn, Senior Lecturer, Institution of Landscape Planning, National Agriculture University of Sweden.


  • “The brain wants to have fun! A little child doesn’t have to go to school to be able to learn to walk and talk. Outdoor activities are especially important for children who don’t fit in the traditional classroom. The outdoor pedagogical classroom values, activates and uses other abilities rather than the verbal. I call this outdoor pedagogy for good health.” Nina Nelson, Senior Lecturer and Senior Physician, Children’s Clinic, Linköping University Hospital.

Nature Quotes

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.


Play is the highest form of research


The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky


An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing

Charlotte Mason

One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener's own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.

Wendell Berry

Our Children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water come from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

Wendell Berry

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, An eternity in an hour.

William Blake

Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.

John Burroughs

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to…The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures

Vincent van Gogh

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core", and I think the same is true of human beings.

David Sobel

Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood.

Richard Louv

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

Rachel Carson

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.

Mohandas Gandhi

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Can we teach children to look at a flower and see all the things it represents: beauty, the health of an ecosystem, and the potential for healing?

Richard Louv

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).

Richard Louv

Let Nature be your teacher.

William Wordsworth

For the child. . ., it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. . . . It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.

Rachel Carson

Without continuous hands-on experience, it is impossible for children to acquire a deep intuitive understanding of the natural world that is the foundation of sustainable development

Robin Moore & Herb Wong

Let children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.

Maria Montessori

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished

Lao Tzu


All 'back to nature' movements can trace their roots back to the great nineteenth century Romantic reaction against the Classical promotion of rationalism as the necessary and sufficient solution to all civilisation's ills. Thus it is in the work of writers like Thoreau (1817-62) and, ultimately, Rousseau (1712-1778) that the deep origins can be found.


“Nature wants children to be children before being men. If we want to pervert this order, we shall produce pernicious fruits which will be immature and insipid and will not be long in rotting….Childhood has its ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling which are proper to it.”


The current Nature Movement can very roughly seen as the fourth wave after the initial Romantic movement, (ii) the setting up of mass movements like scouting and John Muir's Sierra Club in the early 1900s, (iii) the 'back to the land' movement before & after the Second World War that partly inspired the Hippie movement of the Sixties (as shown by Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog in 1968). This was also the start of the environmental movement as marked by writers such as Aldo Leopold (eg 1948). The Land Settlement Association (from 1934), as exemplified in the Abingtons, can also be seen as an offshoot of the same drives.


The decline of the this third wave was very marked: in the 1980s Outward Bound almost went bankrupt; the Land Settlement Association closed in 1983; and in the 90s scout memberships went into steep declines. The next two or three decades (up to the start of the financial crisis in 2008) certainly represented the triumph of a scientific and consumerist materialism that had very little room for notions of an emotional bond with Nature. Now the tide is slowly turning, partly driven by fears about possible human impact on the climate, but more, I think, because of the inexorable march of the machines.


Going back to Richard Louv's Nature Principle:

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need”. 


The Granger Collection, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0via

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