Dr. Aristea Kyriakou is the Co-Founder and Director of the European Outdoor Education Hub and a distinguished academic, holding a Doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, as a scholar of the Onassis Foundation. She has further honed her expertise with a post-doctoral fellowship and has earned a Master of Research (MRes) from the University of Aberdeen and a Master of Science (MSc) specializing in Outdoor Environmental Education and Outdoor Life from Linköping University, Sweden. Dr. Kyriakou has orchestrated numerous educational programs in Sweden, Scotland, and Switzerland and is actively engaged in European-wide initiatives. Additionally, she serves as an Ambassador of the European Climate Pact, advocating for sustainable educational practices and environmental responsibility.
In the heart of Greece, a revolutionary tide is turning in the primary educational system. For the first time, public primary schools and kindergartens are witnessing the introduction of Outdoor Education—a transformative approach to learning that the European Outdoor Education Hub (EOE Hub) is pioneering through the Schooler Planet, an innovative education program promoting outdoor education and sustainable living practices in schools in Greece and beyond, funded by the Athanasios and Marina Martinos Foundation.
Navigating the Challenge
The problem of disconnection from nature and communities is pervasive among students, contributing to environmental and social issues that threaten our planet and wellbeing. The traditional classroom model has limited students’ interactions with the natural world, which is vital for their health and the development of environmental awareness. As a result, many students suffer from a range of health problems, including obesity, anxiety, and depression, due to limited time spent outdoors. Furthermore, the absence of structured outdoor education often leads to an inadequate understanding and appreciation of the natural world. This gap in knowledge can extend to students being unaware of the impact their daily actions have on the environment, such as energy consumption and waste production.
The EOE Hub’s initiative seeks to remedy these challenges by transforming school grounds into dynamic learning landscapes for discovery. By weaving academic concepts with the rich tapestry of the natural world, the EOE Hub aims to reconnect students with their local environments and communities. This innovative approach fosters a holistic learning experience that goes beyond traditional education, aiming to enhance both students’ and teachers’ engagement with the natural world. The result is a multisensory educational journey that not only addresses the disconnection challenge but also promotes health, wellbeing, and environmental awareness among young learners.
Is this all new?
Outdoor Education, once primarily associated with environmental studies or relegated to the realm of extracurricular activities has been transformed by the European Outdoor Education Hub (EOE Hub) into a core element of Greece’s school curriculum. This shift transcends the traditional use of classroom spaces, reimagining educational environments to foster a holistic learning experience. By weaving academic concepts with the rich tapestry of the natural world, the EOE Hub has turned school grounds into vibrant arenas for discovery, offering a multisensory educational journey that fully engages both students and teachers.
Milestones of Change
The inaugural pilot project of Outdoor Education, ‘Schooler Planet,’ has been launched across five distinct classes in four different public schools, engaging over 100 students and training more than 50 teachers. Over the span of three months, this initiative has achieved five significant milestones:
- Elevated Lesson Engagement: All participating teachers have reported a remarkable increase in student engagement during and after the implementation of the Schooler Planet project. The invigorating outdoor environment has revitalized the educational experience, sparking renewed enthusiasm among students.
- Amplified Cognitive Outcomes: More than 80 interactive activities which were designed across 10 workshops have made complex concepts accessible. This tactile approach has enabled students to easily comprehend intricate ideas, transforming learning into an enjoyable and purposeful pursuit. Participating students exclaimed “These were the best days of my life”, illustrating the profound impact of the project, particularly for students residing in urban environments.
- Empowering Educators: The EOE Hub has hosted numerous practical workshops for teachers, equipping them with essential skills to integrate dynamic outdoor education strategies into the national curriculum. More importantly, these workshops were conducted on-site, enabling teachers to directly apply these strategies within the familiar context of their own school grounds. Initially, participating educators had seldom, if ever, used their school grounds for implementing classes. By the end of the project, 100% of them demonstrated not only a newfound comfort with but also a commitment to continuing outdoor teaching and learning practices.
- Health-Conscious Habits Cultivation: The schools involved in the Schooler Planet initiative have taken significant strides in nurturing health-conscious habits in students. By actively promoting physical activities, during language classes, math, physics etc., within the school’s green spaces, the program has given attention to students’ physical fitness levels and agility. Moreover, regular exposure to sunlight during school hours has been instrumental in improving the students’ mood. These outdoor activities have also been linked to reducing stress, fostering social skills, and improving concentration, all of which are essential for mental health and academic success.
- Advanced Curriculum Resources: The EOE Hub’s commitment to innovation extends to the development of research-validated materials designed for primary grades and kindergarten. These resources provide teachers with robust and inventive tools to conduct outdoor learning sessions with efficacy and sustainability in mind. Notably, teachers who initially reported being unfamiliar with outdoor education concluded the project prepared and motivated to continue integrating these strategies in the future.
Looking forward: A Blueprint for Nature-Based Learning
As the European Outdoor Education Hub (EOE Hub) continues to chart new territories in Outdoor Education across Greece, its programs notably excel, going beyond mere alignment to enhance national curricular objectives. The Schooler Planet initiative empowers educators to expand their classrooms into the natural world, ensuring that lessons encompass essential academic content while also addressing critical environmental issues such as climate change and global warming.
What differentiates this organization from similar ones is the commitment to comprehensive and on-site support. We provide ongoing professional development for teachers, enriching their pedagogical toolkit to confidently facilitate outdoor learning in their own school grounds. At this crucial juncture towards a sustainable educational paradigm, the EOE Hub extends an invitation to educational institutions across Europe to join us. Together, we can develop learning environments that nurture awareness, ignite curiosity, and instill a deep respect for our planet.