Learning in the heart of nature at a Belgian primary school

The non-profit organisation La Leçon Verte offers outdoor educational activities for children, so that they can learn in new ways and in an inspiring environment. One of the schools that engages in these activities is Martin V, a primary school in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Géraldine Flament, teacher at primary school Martin V: My name is Géraldine Flament. I am a teacher at primary school Martin V in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. I have been a teacher for around 20 years. At the moment, I am a first-grade teacher, so the children are six to seven years old. It is now the third year of working with La Leçon Verte and of being really involved in the initiative of outdoor education. This means that once a week, I work outside with children. Outdoor education allows me to do activities during the learning process, as I will sometimes discover new topics in the classroom. But instead of working a lot using sheets and papers, we go outside, we play games. As part of these games, we may play tag, hide-and-seek or dominoes, and we may combine words and images or do calculations – but all of it takes place outside. And since we’re outside, since we are in motion, since the children play, they will remember what we do much better.

Laurence Denis, coordinator at La Leçon Verte: According to La Leçon Verte, outdoor education is about going out regularly. “Regularly” means at least once a month, in a green area inside or next to the school, to teach subjects such as early learning activities, French and Maths, in the outdoors and with the help of the outdoors. What are our goals? First, the initiative is about training teachers. We support them during the whole year, once a month, to help them become self-sufficient in their practices related to outdoor education. The second goal we pursue is to reconnect children with nature. Observe, touch, explore, collaborate: all of this can create – if regularly organised – a feeling of joy, a feeling of wonder among children. We offer teaching methods that are much more comprehensive. We see things as a whole, so we work on concrete matters – on the five senses, on motion, or on living beings – and we use various methods, so that each child can benefit.

On each trip, we work on nine different skills or methods, so that each child can find what suits him or her best. We work on creativity, imagination, psychomotor education, and so on; and the three subjects we incorporate are early learning activities, French and Maths. Today, it’s October: the theme is autumn and mushrooms. The broader theme for the whole year is classifying living things. This means in September, we will work on trees; in October on autumn and mushrooms; in November on birds, etcetera, so they can learn more about all living things. Early learning activities are about “What is a living thing? What are the characteristics of these living things?” Today, for example, we worked on French and handwriting: children had their totem and they had to rewrite it and/or their name with the ink of the “shaggy ink cap” mushroom.

Géraldine Flament: Some children may find it difficult to sit properly in the classroom, to listen, to work, to focus… it was sometimes hard to create a connection with them. The outdoor activities help me to create a positive connection with these children, too. This allows me to find what is best in every child. Children reconnect with nature, and every child finds a different kind of passion outdoors – the outcomes are great.