Think about the last time you saw a child grinning wildly, bursting with excitement and eager to explore. Chances are they were outside in the garden or exploring the local playground, not sitting inside trying to grasp alphabet or numbers. But what if you could harness the same energy for both? What if that distant concept became a real-life example embodied in a tree, a rock, a pond?
Outdoor Classroom Day does exactly that – it’s a global campaign celebrating learning and play outdoors, celebrated on 1 November.
The international initiative, led in the UK and Republic of Ireland by national school grounds and education charity Learning through Landscapes and globally by Project Dirt, acts as a catalyst to inspire more time outdoors on a daily basis: both at school and at home.
We know that outdoor learning and play has a huge impact on not only children, but teachers, childminders and parents as well. It helps improve health and wellbeing, social skills, imagination, engagement with learning, concentration and behaviour.
The proof is evident across the world:
- Two in three children globally play outside for less than an hour and a half a day – that’s less than the two hour guideline for maximum security prisoners in the US.*
- Eighty-five per cent of parents believe that their children are more creative when they play without technology. **
- Ninety-two per cent of schools agreed that children engaged more with their learning outdoors. ***
- Learning outside the classroom raises educational standards and that it offers for many their first real contact with the natural environment. ****
As Early Year practitioners, you know how much children enjoy daily time outdoors. You don’t need the statistics.
You’ve seen it. Felt it. Lived it.
Back in 2011, Anna Portch felt it too, so strongly that she founded the movement to stir the enthusiasm of schools and get them to give outdoor learning a go. From there, it has grown into an international campaign — to date, over two million children across the world have committed to getting outdoors to play and learn as part of their school day in 2018. And this number is only growing.
Because this is an initiative that really works. It sparks an opportunity to do something bold and different, reimagining what it means to “teach and learn” by taking children into a brand new setting away from the normality of a classroom, living room or computer screen. We know that Early Years practitioners understand the value of time outdoors but there’s probably even more you can do to make the most of your outdoor spaces. Everything from science to poetry, music to quiet reading can be transformed simply by getting outside, helping children see these lessons and free play from a new perspective.
We cannot deny the mental health benefits of stepping outdoors. Patricia Quigley, Owner of ScallyWags pre-school in Ireland – where outdoor play is a part of daily life – said:
“We hear more and more about stress and trauma in young children. Is it because we are structuring their lives, filling every minute with activities and fostering anxiety?
“Going outdoors inspires children; it creates curiosity and builds teamwork as they help each other. It’s their time, they are happy and independent and every day they say thank you for outdoor time."
We all know that teaching children outdoors can help to ignite a new relationship with the environment, showing children the many different ways nature can boost their happiness and motivation. It’s a crucial part of the campaign; we need to trust that the future of our planet is in safe hands. What better way to do this than by helping children gain a tangible connection to their outdoor spaces and building habits that last not only into primary and secondary school but a lifetime?
We know that some schools and childcare settings are on half term on 1 November, but we invite them to register and celebrate the power of getting outdoors on a day that suits them. We also think this is a brilliant chance to encourage parents to get outdoors during the school break with their children; why not take on the challenge of doing something adventurous outdoors with the family on their time off?
If you would like to deliver more of your curriculum outdoors and further enrich playtimes, it’s the perfect day to take the next step and try something new or, why not use the day to celebrate what you’re doing already and encourage other schools in your area to join in? Whatever you decide to do, get started on your outdoor adventure on Outdoor Classroom Day and prepare to be amazed.
And for those unsure about getting outside in the brisk autumn weather? November’s day reinforces our core belief: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!
Get involved and join the Outdoor Classroom Day movement today by signing up at: www.outdoorclassroomday.org.uk where you can also enter a competition for some fantastic new outdoor wear.
About the author:
Amber is Campaign Co-ordinator for Outdoor Classroom Day, led in the UK and ROI by Learning through Landscapes. As Campaign Co-ordinator, she leads on all press, marketing and communications for the outdoor initiative, working to get as many people as possible across the UK and Ireland prioritising outdoor learning and play.
*Source: Edelman Berland for Unilever, 2016.
**Source: Edelman Berland for Unilever, 2016.
*** Source: Learning in the Natural Environment: Review of social and economic benefits and barriers (NECR092), Natural England
****Source: English Outdoor Council’s Lobbying toolkit