Independent Thinking on Nature-Based Learning

Improving learning and well-being by teaching with nature in mind

By: Alexia Barrable


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Published: September 2022, September 2022
ISBN : 9781781354087
Size: 198 x 126mm
Pages : 264
Format: Paperback

Written by Dr Alexia Barrable, Independent Thinking on Nature-Based Learning: Improving learning and well-being by teaching with nature in mind is an engaging and insightful take on how educators can deliver more outdoor- and nature-oriented learning opportunities for the benefit of their pupils’ mental and physical well-being.

Foreword by Ian Gilbert.

At a time of unprecedented challenges in relation not only to the climate crisis but also to children’s and adolescents’ mental health, connecting to nature offers an accessible and desirable way forward for today’s learners – especially those living in urban surroundings. 

Bringing together evidence from psychology, environmental science and education, Alexia aims to support teachers as they provide meaningful experiences rooted in learning about and through nature. The book can be used in two ways: to inspire individual sessions in nature, or to support teachers in building a cohesive outdoor-learning curriculum throughout the school. 

Featuring practical advice, case studies and discussion of original theory, the book aims to inspire, motivate and stimulate educators to engage with alternative approaches to teaching in the outdoors and with nature in mind – and in such a way that promotes students’ learning and fosters a long-lasting relationship with nature.

Independent Thinking on Nature-Based Learning shares case studies and examples of good practice from a variety of settings – ranging from kindergarten to secondary. Detailing the physical and psychological benefits of being outdoors, the book suggests ways to help build young people’s connection with nature and support their autonomy in natural spaces. Alexia offers ideas on how to weave nature and the outdoors into the very fabric of the curriculum – for example, in relation to art, literature and technology.

Suitable for teachers and outdoor-learning leaders in early years through to secondary schools.

Independent Thinking on Nature-Based Learning is one of a number of books in the Independent Thinking On… series from the award-winning Independent Thinking Press.


Picture for author Alexia Barrable

Alexia Barrable

Dr Alexia Barrable was born in Greece and had a wild childhood climbing trees and rescuing tortoises. After moving to the UK in her early teens, she went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge, where she qualified as a teacher. Alexia has a PhD in psychology in education and conducts research on the human–nature relationship. She is passionate about spreading the word of the benefits of, and opportunities offered by, nature-based learning.


  1. This is a highly readable, useful summary of why nature matters and its positive impact. It is essential reading for any educator that places health and well-being at the heart of their curriculum and explains why children and staff need frequent and regular time in natural spaces for learning and play. More than that, Alexia explains how to ensure that this time is mediated sensitively to best effect. It is a call to literally ‘green’ our practice. 

  2. Alexia Barrable’s timely book concisely takes us through the multitudinous benefits of regular contact with the natural world. The book is aimed at educators of children, but the content contains valuable lessons for us all. This is in the form of citing research on brain function and behaviour which illustrates why these benefits accrue but, just as importantly for teachers, there are many practical examples to show them how and why access to nature is vital, both inside and outside the classroom. 

    Before plunging the reader into the delights of being immersed in nature, Alexia gives a thought-provoking overview of how and why most ‘modern’ humans have become divorced from the natural world and the damaging consequences of this. She argues that it’s not a case of ‘getting back to nature’ because we are inextricably part of it. Within this, she decries the notion that nature should be seen as an external pristine and unspoilt entity but rather something that we should notice, study and celebrate even in the most urban of circumstances. 

    The subject matter is complex and interrelated, but Alexia skilfully guides the reader through this by the way the chapters are put together, each giving very useful and insightful case studies and takeaways to add clarity and realism for the busy teacher. Throughout the book, there are illustrative examples of excellent pedagogical consideration and techniques which facilitate successful learning for all. The chapter on inclusion amply shows that nature-based learning should be accessible for all and can be particularly effective for children with special needs. 

    The relevance of the content in the context of the everyday reality of schools is enhanced by the descriptions of how this type of learning can permeate all subjects and also the ‘attainment’ agenda. However, this is not at the expense of showing the benefits of less easily measurable outcomes such as happier, more attentive children who need to be partners in learning rather than passive receivers of it. 

    The gamut of learning enhancement via nature immersion that Alexia describes is indeed impressive. This ranges from gross and fine motor skills development to managing risks, improving autonomy and social and collaborative skills. 

    Alexia’s book should have a high profile within all teacher training and CPD for teachers who have never really encountered this approach. Although the title is Nature-Based Learning it could legitimately be called just High-Quality Learning, for indeed this is what it advocates and illustrates. 

    The book shows us that most people have some sort of nature-deficit disorder and that the worst period of COVID-19 showed us the value of being outdoors. This period also showed how disadvantaged people and their children suffered disproportionately from lack of access to green (non-AstroTurfed) space and how this needs to be remedied. It’s also timely as we face the climate crisis and biodiversity loss because we desperately need everyone to have knowledge and empathy for nature. 

    As a head teacher of 20 years, I learned much from this book as well as being reminded about how valuable nature-based learning is and how we ignore it at our peril. If every school adopted its practices in full, the education system would have little to worry about and we would have much less to worry about regarding the education system.

  3. Dr Alexia Barrable’s book is not the first that aims to address our deteriorating relationship with the other-than-human world. But not many books manage to both inspire and educate in the way that this one does. Dr Barrable draws the reader effortlessly into the depths of thought needed without using jargon or overly complicated narrative. It is a text that will be useful to teachers, lecturers, students, parents, carers and anyone who would like to learn more about how and why we should help our children feel more connected to nature. Drawing on her vast experience as a teacher, lecturer and mother, and as the daughter of a committed naturalist, Dr Barrable delivers expert advice on how we can help children cultivate a love for the natural world. Her key message is that we cannot connect to nature just by being in contact with it. She shows how empathy and compassion need to be nurtured whilst also referencing a range of published research that demonstrates the significance of an improved relationship with nature. It is the combination of tried and tested practical examples, linked to relevant academic research, that makes this book such a gem for educators and anyone interested in igniting and developing children’s love of nature. The book is organised around common educational themes, using accessible case studies as examples, so that the reader may dip in and out or follow the coherent linear path from start to finish. Perhaps most importantly, it is a book that calls for action. Not in a desperate short-term rush to solve a crisis-type plea, but rather an optimistic calling that confidently leads the reader to follow nature’s natural pull. A serious topic and a joyful read that any teacher would be grateful for.

  4. Every child deserves a teacher who has read Alexia's latest book, and it couldn't come at a better time following the global experience of a pandemic. Bringing together her extensive understanding of research related to nature connection and nature-based learning, this enjoyable read is inspiring and practical; relevant for teachers across early years to secondary and for student teachers. The short case studies are invaluable and it comes with activities to help everyone take steps forward in nature-based learning.

  5. I loved reading this book! Not only is it accessible and engaging, it offers support and challenge to educators in considering, and adopting, nature-based practice. It is an invitation to become part of a conversation; a movement, a culture shift, where we relearn to be part of nature – not apart from nature. Full of provocations, tips and examples, this book is sure to become an essential addition to the practitioner toolbox.

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