Whether it’s an organised visit to a museum, creating a ‘forest school’ down at your local park, or planting a school ‘discovery garden’, education outside the classroom (EOTC) can give children new experiences. It also offers students some engaging and exciting ways to learn beyond the usual confines of the classroom.

EOTC recognises that learning takes place everywhere, says Dr Andrea Milligan, the associate dean of teacher education at Victoria University.

“Children, in their daily lives, don’t only learn in the classroom. Their communities, their environment, and including some of the places that they don’t often go to, perhaps like a museum, are part of a whole eco-system of learning experiences.

“The neat thing about education outside the classroom is that it extends those classroom walls. It recognises that children and young people learn in a variety of ways, in a variety of contexts.”

Most educators would argue that it’s “fundamental”, she adds. “Otherwise, you bracket off the school environment from what can be learned beyond the gates.”

Wide variety of programmes

At Maraetai Beach School, on east Auckland’s Pohutukawa Coast, students from Years 1 to 8 get the chance to take part in a wide variety of EOTC programmes.

They include a ‘have a go’ sailing day, shorebird studies and beach clean-ups, marae visits, planting projects, orienteering and other outdoor activities. Years 4 to 8 students also go on school camps.

Principal Mark Keenan says such experiences reinforce learning, by enabling students to make connections between what they have learnt in the classroom and the world beyond the classroom.

“For many students, it is the EOTC activities that they will remember for years to come.”
EOTC also gives students a different way to demonstrate the ‘key competencies’ identified in The New Zealand Curriculum, particularly managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing.

Careful planning by teachers and schools means that EOTC activities align with a school’s curriculum and motivate and inspire children’s thinking, he adds.

“Children learn a lot about risk-taking, working as a team and being resilient when things get tough, especially on school camps and outdoor activities they find challenging. They also gain a better understanding of their local environment and what they can do to have a positive impact on this.”

EOTC does not need to involve expensive camps or trips, Keenan says. “It can be making use of the school environment, local environment and people to reinforce and support the learning taking place in the classroom.”

Access difficulties

But access to EOTC has become more difficult for some schools, says Milligan.

There can be “logistical, practical and economic barriers”, such as financial costs, health and safety requirements and transport issues.

“When you look at the kinds of children who are taken on school trips, they tend to be higher-decile schools; they tend to be predominantly Pākehā, so we need to think about how we enhance participation in Māori and Pacific and lower-decile schools.”

Meanwhile the amount of investment that EOTC requires – from funding for EOTC providers to the time, planning and resources put in by schools – means it needs to really count.

New experiences are highly valued by kids, says Milligan, but the learning can be “quite eclectic”.

“What we want is an education outside the classroom experience that is high interest, really valued and is also really rich learning. We don’t know enough about what the children take [away] and how enduring that learning is.”

Two-year study

Milligan and her co-investigator, Experience Wellington director Dr Sarah Rusholme, are at the start of a two-year study that explores how teachers and informal educators (those who provide EOTC experiences) can create stronger connections between the classroom and informal learning.

They will also look at how EOTC can help students respond to big issues, such as sustainability, diversity and inequality, that face their communities.

“We want to know more about how those learning experiences can shift from simply the detail of an exhibition or the detail of a natural environment, into thinking about some of the big issues that face society and how children can participate as active citizens in some of those issues.”

Schools are driving this change, and EOTC needs to reflect this, she adds.

“It’s shifting the learning focus to ‘how can we connect education outside the classroom to a focus on those big issues, and children’s active citizenship’.

“It’s ratcheting education outside the classroom up several notches.”

Teacher in the Paddock, Bay of Plenty

Teacher in the Paddock gives children the chance to learn first-hand about where food comes from, as well as the opportunity to experience and explore nature.

Kevin Powell, a qualified primary school teacher, and his wife Jane Powell, a gardening and nutrition expert, run the programme on their lifestyle block in Papamoa, in the Bay of Plenty.

Kevin Powell says that “the driving force” behind its October 2014 launch was society’s “disconnect with food”.

Visiting kindergarten and school groups are given the chance to feed the animals, see how milk is produced and make their own butter. Powell is frequently asked ‘why isn’t the cow blue?’ thanks to, what he calls, “the magic marketing power” of milk producers.

Another frequent question – from parents as well as children – is how do the Powells milk
their bulls?

“Our primary industry is dairy and yet no one knows cows have horns. It’s just incredible, we are so disconnected from where food comes from.”

Teacher in the Paddock also offers after-school and holiday sessions and foster and respite care for children struggling in the school system.

Tamariki harvest fruit and nuts and make smoothies and pesto from edible weeds. They
also learn finger knitting and how to whittle wood using a sun-warmed stone.
A big part of the Teacher in the Paddock experience is sensory learning – “touch, taste, see, smell”, says Powell.

“We’ve had a 10-year-old boy come and tell us all the different varieties of cicadas – he’s telling all the other kids and we’re learning too, of course. We’ve had kindy kids come along and tell us a worm’s got nine hearts.

“When you put children in the environment, they will just learn.”

“It’s life skills,” he adds. “These kids are doing this, and they don’t even know they’re doing it, that’s the beautiful thing.”

Cable Car Museum, Wellington

A school visit to Wellington’s Cable Car Museum in Kelburn above the central city usually starts with a 10-minute cable car ride. But from there, each session is often tailor-made for that group, based on their current ‘inquiry’ (study topic), says Museums Wellington senior educator Shelley Gardner.

“A lot of teachers come to us with concepts like, we’re focusing our inquiry on discovery, or we’re focusing on journeys. We try and be as responsive to that as possible.”

One programme, Cool Little Capital, was initially created for a group of Years 5 and 6 students who were thinking about Wellington’s identity and what makes it special.

At the top of the cable car, the students looked out over the harbour and spotted local icons such as Te Papa and the ferry. They also worked with a collection of cardboard cut-outs of recognisable landmarks to create their own ‘cool little capital’.

“It was a fun activity, but it also allowed them to connect with what they saw out there.”
The Cable Car Museum is based in the original 1902 winding house, used to haul cable cars up the hillside until 1978. A winding mechanism dating back to 1930 can be seen in the machine room, while the museum also boasts two cable cars, a badge-making machine and Victorian dress-ups.

The museum’s LEOTC (Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom) programme includes social history experiences as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.

Gardner, an ex-high school teacher, says EOTC provides “really special learning environments” for both tamariki and their kaiako.

“Teachers might say, ‘I didn’t realise so-and-so knew that’, or, ‘that student’s really shy but now they’re talking’.

“There are so many different ways of being able to learn: it’s not just reading or writing. It’s tactile, it’s movement, it’s demonstrating your knowledge that you might not always be able to show in the classroom. The whole experience is very interactive and immersive.”


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