BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 01 Nov '18

‘A lack of real-world experience is putting children – and the planet – at risk’

A new report released on Outdoor Classroom Day (01 Nov) proves getting outdoors is important to children’s mental health and environmental awareness.

Today marks the return of Outdoor Classroom Day, the worldwide campaign that calls on millions of children around the world to get outdoors and prioritise outdoor learning and play.

This year, over 530,000 children across the UK and Republic of Ireland (ROI) will be ditching their desks for the school grounds in support of the global initiative.

However, a new report from national education charity Learning through Landscapes and Project Dirt warns that even more children and young people need to get outside. It says that without gaining real-world outdoor experiences, they will not be prepared for the future or to tackle the world’s biggest problems, including climate breakdown.

Benefits of outdoor learning

The ‘Muddy Hands’ report reveals that children who are outdoors more to play and learn understand and care for the environment more. It also shows that these children are less stressed, more able to cope with being a teenager and later in life, more physically active and healthier.

The report also reveals that children who spend more time outside go to school more often, are more creative, can focus their attention better, have better fine motor skills and are happier.

The report includes the first global survey of this scale asking schools about their attitudes towards outdoor play and learning. It’s made up of data collected between 2017 and 2018 as well as a wide selection of literature on outdoor learning and play.

‘In a time where children are spending less and less time outdoors, it is vital that we ask ourselves what the impact of that is for them and for future generations.

‘We know that play is how children learn, and that a love of the environment is fostered through an understanding and connection to it.

‘Here at Learning through Landscapes, we believe that the solution is simple and can start with schools – more time outdoors has been proven time and again to impact learning, health, wellbeing and that all important connection to the natural world.’

CARLEY SEFTON
CEO at Learning through Landscapes

Environmental awareness

83% of UK and ROI schools surveyed for ‘Muddy Hands’ said that children had a better understanding of the environment after playing outdoors.
These results reinforce the wealth of literature suggesting that environmental stewardship and connection with place is strongly connected with the amount of time we are immersed in it as children.

One study found that direct experiences with nature had a bigger impact on subsequent engagement with pro-environmental behaviour than formal education.

A generation of environmentally aware, resilient problem-solvers is what the world needs to survive. That’s why Outdoor Classroom Day campaigners advocate that outdoor play and learning should be part of every day for every child, at school and at home.

‘It’s time for the outdoors to be taken seriously. The evidence is there – children who play outdoors are more resilient and adaptable and make better decisions.

‘They are happier, healthier and less likely to experience mental health issues. Learning through experience gives lessons real-life meaning – a child who builds and looks after a bee hotel will care more about the insects’ survival than learning about the diminishing bee population from a textbook.

‘Play and learning outdoors is simply critical to the survival of people and the planet.’

CATH PRISK
Outdoor Classroom Day global campaign director and author of ‘Muddy Hands’

‘this is worrying’

The study also indicated that in the UK and ROI 91% of teachers felt children were happier after taking part in lessons outdoors, and 86% saw an improvement in children’s fine motor and gross motor skills having spent time playing outdoors.

However, despite the clear benefits, only 32% of these schools spent between an hour and an hour and a half on outdoor play, and just 12% provided outdoor lessons every day.

‘We can’t forget that these results are coming from teachers and schools who actually care about outdoor play, having previously taken part in Outdoor Classroom Day. And yet the figures for time spent outdoors are still so low; this is worrying.

‘We need a national movement to reach the schools that might not yet see the importance of time spent outdoors for children and young people. It’s something we will continue pushing through the campaign until ALL schools have access to 90 minutes of outdoor learning and play, every single day.’

CARLEY SEFTON
CEO at Learning through Landscapes

Despite the disappointing research results, the numbers are growing. Since taking part in Outdoor Classroom Day in the UK and ROI, 38% of schools surveyed increased their outdoor lessons and 19% increased their time for outdoor play.

With 99% of teachers worldwide believing that playtime outdoors throughout the day is critical for children to reach their full potential, ‘Muddy Hands’ stands as a vital resource to reinforce the message that more needs to be done to ensure children are spending enough time outside, whatever the weather.