Skip to main content

Professor Helen Bilton – University of Reading

Show access keys
  • Professor Helen Bilton

    Classrooms without walls

Professor Helen Bilton

Professor Helen Bilton is widely regarded as the UK's leading educational specialist on outdoor education but more importantly she is a crusader, an ambassador for using the outdoors as a learning environment.

"I think researchers have a duty to bang on about something. If they think it's that important they should keep going on about it. They have a duty ... to the world ... to keep the crusade going ... through whatever governments."

Since 1982, Professor Helen Bilton has researched and campaigned on the importance of learning outdoors. Helen originally trained as a nursery school teacher and was completely blown away by her first lecture: Jackie Brunner discussing the garden in the nursery school.

"I was completely buzzed. Why wouldn't you go outside? It's another space all of us have to exist in. It doesn't matter what age you are. Where does it say that the best place to educate somebody is inside four walls?"

Helen has brought a wealth of experience from working as a teacher into training future teachers and now as Programme Director for the MA Education. She has written extensively on outdoor learning and her first book Outdoor Learning in the Early Years, Management and Innovation was the first complete text on the subject since 1936.

"The importance of nature and the informality of teaching children outside resonated with me on a basic human level. Being able to embrace the outdoors and use it effectively as a source of inspiration and development is an incredible skill that we should all have."

Helen's first teaching job was in Hackney with children who lived in tower blocks.

"I felt it was vital these children experienced outdoor play as they were otherwise spending most of their time in cramped living spaces. We took the approach that we would be outside come rain or shine."

 Helen's passion and enthusiasm for her subject is highly infectious. Outdoor play has taken her to countries where the benefits of learning outside are only just starting to be recognised.

"There are so many different benefits to be had from using the outdoors; for example, health in terms of light, fresh air and exercise. Cognitively there is so much to learn about in terms of nature and the environment. When outside, children behave differently and are more competent socially and emotionally. They have more of a can-do approach, so children are successful, academically, emotionally and physically."

Helen continues to campaign and educate on outdoor learning and is keen to look further into the health benefits for children, looking at current practice in countries such as Canada.

We use Javascript to improve your experience on reading.ac.uk, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.

Back to top