‘Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.’
— John Muir
When I think back to my school days, and compare them to my kids’ experience, it’s amazing how much has changed in such a short space of time. A headteacher friend tells me that innovative approaches and solutions are in ‘fast-forward mode’, and that new thinking to enhance the learning experience is always emerging.
One attention-grabbing new approach is learning in a log cabin, not least because of how eye-catching the appearance of a timber building in your children’s playground is, but also because of the unique benefits teaching this way can deliver.
Getting out of the traditional classroom setting offers the opportunity to create an immersive, inclusive and enriching environment that encourages a creativity boost, a holistic approach to education, and can reconnect students and staff alike with nature.
In this blog, we’ll nail (pun intended) the reasons why learning in a log cabin can be extremely beneficial for students with our seven planks (pun intended) of success, based on feedback from teachers, school business managers, caretakers, parents and students themselves.
Plank 1: An Immersive Learning Environment
Stepping inside a log cabin, you’re struck by the spruce aroma, the rustic charm, and the general calm feeling of the space - an environment that is both cosy and safe while being totally conducive to learning.
Away from the rather sterile walls of a classroom, log cabins emit warmth and exude history (Cabins For Schools huts are based on Finnish Grillkota, used for generations by Scandinavian reindeer herders). Better lighting, perhaps away from electronic stimuli, in airy surroundings, with a warm enveloping sound (the natural quality of the timber is perfect for ventilation and sound) all contribute to surrounding learners in a unique setting.
Teachers talk of students being enveloped in this environment, they report a greater degree of engagement and that being closer to nature sparks more intense, new levels of curiosity. Engaged and curious learners embrace the subject matter of class being taught.
Plank 2: Escape from Technology
Every Monday, my iPhone tells me what my screen time was for the previous week and each week I feel a little pang of guilt and shame. In an increasingly digital world, it’s inevitable that screen time is taking up a significant amount of our time and is becoming a greater part of education.
Studies show that constant exposure to screens can decrease attention spans and increase stress. Learning in a log cabin can offer a refreshing break from technology, allowing your students to ‘disconnect from the matrix and reconnect with the real world’.
A decent screen break can significantly improve focus, reduce student anxiety, and boost mental well-being.
All of this said, a log cabin can also be the perfect place for technology lessons!
Plank 3: Connection to Nature
By their nature, log cabins tend to find themselves planted in the heart of a school’s natural landscapes, nestled in the grounds as far away as possible from the school building; they can offer a profound connection with nature, even in urban settings.
Studies indicate that spending time in natural environments reduces stress, improves cognitive function, and encourages creativity.
Teachers tell us that learning in a log cabin environment encourages students to step outside their comfort zones, especially in cabins with the fire pit option, and embrace a deeper sense of curiosity, wonder and exploration.
Plank 4: Small Group Benefits
Cabins For School cabins can be tailored to accommodate various class sizes, our 17m² with extension, for example, can comfortably accommodate up to 30 pupils!
Typically, log cabins accommodate smaller groups of students though. Whereas in larger classrooms, some students may struggle to engage, smaller groups encourage active participation and better peer-to-peer and student-teacher interactions, thanks to the more intimate learning setting. ‘Open discussions, personalised and focussed attention, and strong relationships between staff and pupils’ is how one teacher sums up the benefits of learning in this way, another talked of ‘Collaborative learning’ as students learn from each other's experiences and perspectives.
Plank 5: Multi-Subject Combined Learning
In one of my favourite pieces of feedback ever, a teacher shared how log cabin learning had opened a world of multi-subject education possibilities. Being in the natural setting of a timber hut, this teacher had engaged her students and leveraged their authentic passion for their building with various subject matters and in doing so ‘made learning real’.
For instance, a stuffy history lesson on crop rotation in 1730 came alive once with a discussion on how farmers might have benefitted from owning a cabin and prompted a student to complete a project on the historical significance of log cabins; natural science lessons are more rich when you can step outside the door and you’re instantly in the natural world surrounding the cabin; and one school had the genius idea of conducting woodwork lessons inside a timber outdoor classroom – where better to inspire a pupil’s best work?
Plank 6: Life Skills
One of the things that jumps out of case studies on the Cabins For Schools website is the opportunity for the teaching and learning of life skills. Springfield School told us of how the firepit in the forest school cabin allowed ‘students to learn about fire in a safe way’ and how they evolved to ‘teaching cooking in the cabin as well. Which is something that the students really enjoy.’
Log cabin learning fosters practical, hands-on experiences that translate neatly into valuable life skills. Even basic things like students maintaining the cabin, or like at Springfield - cooking, all develop self-sufficiency, adaptability, and problem-solving capabilities.
These skills are, of course, beneficial and relevant in an academic setting but also set students up for navigating the real-world, and all its challenges too.
Plank 7: Developing Independence and Responsibility
Students love their log cabin! This organically encourages them to not just feel but exhibit a greater responsibility for their surroundings. A true feeling of ownership can be developed, with kids participating in the upkeep, maintenance and management of their hut not being uncommon. One caretaker told me once how he’d railed against the school purchasing an outdoor classroom because he thought it would be ‘just one more thing to be maintained’. In reality, the cabin almost added nothing to his personal workload as students relished these responsibilities. Log cabin learning can therefore encourage independence, self-discipline, and a sense of ownership of the environment that can have valuable carry through in terms of preparing your students for a future of self-reliance.
While the pursuit of innovative education methods is never ending, log cabin learning can offer an enduring range of benefits that will outlive even a Cabins for School’s 10 year guarantee As discussed, the immersive environment, detachment from technology, reconnection with nature, and emphasis on practical skills can all contribute to a unique and enriching learning experience for your school.
The real return on investment may be more holistic, though. The benefits of a school population that is more ‘engaged with education’ is priceless. The potential to transform education, and our children’s school experience for the better is exponential.
Author Matt Haig wrote, ‘Finland is officially the world’s happiest country. It is also 75 per cent forest. I believe these facts are related.’
Find out more about how your school can enjoy the benefits of an outdoor classroom styled on traditional Finnish grillkota, or a timber built outdoor or eco-classroom.