Volunteers and Outdoor Learning
Why work with volunteers?
One of the biggest perceived barriers for Outdoor Learning in schools is simply often a matter of numbers. The nature of the outdoor environment means a higher ratio of adults to children is often useful and good practice in terms of health and safety. This is the simplest level at which volunteers can assist in outdoor learning activities.
However, the value of working with volunteers is so much more than just having an extra pair of hands. Involving volunteers from a variety of backgrounds, with specialist knowledge and skills, can help schools be more effective in achieving their objectives, and will add value to the pupils’ learning experiences schools. Volunteers may have experience in assisting with Forest Schools or an encyclopaedic knowledge of the natural world, which can be shared with teachers and children. Others may have land management skills which could help improve school grounds or knowledge of local community life, which could be shared through an outdoor local history lesson.
Evidence indicates that people are very willing to be involved in their local schools. Welcoming volunteers to assist in outdoor learning can be incredibly positive for schools, volunteers and communities as a whole.
What’s in it for me as a volunteer?
Volunteering should be a two way thing. By working with schools through outdoor learning volunteers have the opportunity to share their enthusiasm and specialist knowledge, develop new skills and gain experience in working with a wide range of young people in the school environment. For some, this can be a route to employment, or a chance to try something new which may lead to a career change.
For others, volunteering appeals because of its social benefits. These include meeting new people and making new friends, having a chance to socialise and getting to know the local community.
Some of the less obvious benefits of volunteering include enhanced personal development, more positive social engagement, raised self-esteem and a number of positive outcomes for individual’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
(Source: Volunteering England (2008) Volunteering and Health: What impact does it really have? http://www.volunteering.org.uk/images/stories/Volunteering-England/Documents/Main-Documents/Summary-Report-21st-July-2008.pdf?phpMyAdmin=fuakgJYSIwzKOgYI-wY1ZX-gx50)
Engaging Volunteers - The benefits of a Volunteer Policy
To ensure volunteers feel valued and schools benefit from engaging with volunteers, it is worth considering creating a Volunteer Policy.
A volunteer policy is important because:
- It gives cohesion and consistency to all the elements in your school that affect volunteers (recruitment, expenses, health and safety and so on).
- It is key to involving a diversity of volunteers, because it helps to define the role of volunteers within the organisation, and how they can expect to be treated.
- It demonstrates the schools care and commitment to its volunteer programme and to its individual volunteers.
- It ensures fairness and consistency, by ensuring decisions are not made on an ad hoc basis, and that all volunteers are treated equally and fairly.
- It enables volunteers to know where they stand. It offers them some security, in that they know how they can expect to be treated, and where they can turn to if they feel that things are going wrong.
- It helps ensure that paid staff, senior management and trustees fully understand why volunteers are involved, and what role they have within the school.
Source: National Centre for Volunteering (2002) Get it Right from the Start. Volunteers’ Week Planning Group.
Key Elements of a Volunteer Policy
- Statement of Intent
- Volunteer Promotion and Recruitment
- Volunteer Induction
- Volunteer Support and Supervision
- Volunteer Expenses
- Health and Safety
- Equal Opportunities & Diversity
- Problem Solving
- Volunteer Recognition & Retention
How do I recruit volunteers for my school?
The best way to recruit volunteers is through local Volunteer Centres and Organisations. These are fantastic sources of volunteers and can advertise volunteer roles through the National Do-it website, which matches volunteers to roles that you can offer. A useful way of finding your local centre is through the Volunteering England website http://www.volunteering.org.uk/
Other excellent ways include more local approaches, through school newsletters, local Community groups, local web pages and local media sources such as newspapers.
How do I get involved as a volunteer?
Contact your local Volunteer Centre (see Volunteering England link) and they will be able to let you know about any schools that are registered with them, who might be looking for volunteers. Most use the Do-it website http://www.do-it.org.uk/ to advertise roles.
If you are a member of a Community group of ‘Friends of’ group and feel you have something to offer schools to help them with their outdoor learning objectives then get in touch with your local school to discuss possibilities. Some inspirational case studies can be found here.
National Volunteering Website
Do-it Volunteer Recruitment Website
Research on Volunteering
Developing sustainable volunteering within the Natural Connections Demonstration Project http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/1995537
Volunteering and Health – What impact does it really have?
Institute for Volunteering Research