Ahead of Outdoor Classroom Day, here’s why learning outside is so good for children.
Many adults remember sitting in a school classroom as a child and wishing they were outside. Now their own kids have the chance to fulfil that wish, on Outdoor Classroom Day.
The day, on May 23, is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play, and last year at least 3.5 million children worldwide took part, including over 550,000 in the UK. More than 415,000 children have registered to take part this year so far – but organisers are urging more schools to get involved by signing up on the Outdoor Classroom Day website .
The campaign is led in the UK and Ireland by Learning through Landscapes (LTL), a charity dedicated to enhancing children’s outdoor learning and play, and supported by Persil – whose research found 62% of parents wish their child would spend more time playing outside, and 97% of teachers say outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential. In addition, 88% of teachers note children are happier after playing outdoors.
Carley Sefton, CEO of LTL, says: “Spending quality time outdoors is crucial in building more happy, creative and engaged children; and that’s why we wholeheartedly believe in the powerful impact of Outdoor Classroom Day. It’s proven that outdoor learning and play increases social skills, imagination, engagement with learning, concentration and behaviour.”
LTL say these are the main benefits of getting outside for children…
1. It improves learning
Studies show outdoor learning can create improvements across all academic disciplines, helping with problem-solving and enthusiasm for learning; and can contribute to improved test scores. Preschool children who spend a lot of time outdoors consistently score better in tests for executive function, attention and short-term memory than children who spend less time outside, and the ‘outdoor children’ continue to do better in tests at primary school.
2. It makes children want to protect the environment
Children who are outdoors in nearby spaces often love their environment and grow up wanting to protect it. A 2014 review of research found spending time in nature is part of a “balanced diet” of childhood experiences that promote children’s healthy development, wellbeing and positive environmental attitudes and values.
3. It gets kids more active
GPS tracking studies in the UK have found children are more than two-and-a-half times more active outdoors than indoors.
4. It boosts mental health
Research from around the world points to the ability of nature to restore our sense of wellbeing. Children feel better and perform better after they’ve been outdoors, and a study by the Finnish Forest Research Institute found people began to feel psychologically restored after just 15 minutes of sitting outside in both a park or a forest.
5. It creates healthier kids and teachers
A wealth of studies show children come to school more often, can concentrate better, physically sit at their desks for longer, see better and learn more if they spend more time outside Active free play is also critical in helping children develop balance, co-ordination and improved motor fitness. Plus a 2016 Natural England study found 72% of teachers said getting outdoors to teach regularly improved their own health and mental wellbeing, 69% said it increased their job satisfaction, and 79% said it improved their teaching practice.
6. It improves resilience
Outdoor Classroom Day’s Muddy Hands Report says: “Getting outdoors helps children feel calmer, helps process their day and builds the holy grail of capabilities: resilience.”
7. It makes children happier
The report also points out that if children aren’t having fun, and are stressed for a long time, it can have severe consequences on their emotional and mental health. “Play brings happiness and improves children’s quality of life drastically. One of the striking findings of the Outdoor Classroom Day 2017 survey was how much agreement there was that children are happier after playing outside and while taking lessons outdoors,” the report says. “Above all else, being outdoors simply makes us feel alive, feel joy – and feeling joy on a regular basis is an essential foundation for a good childhood and healthy later life.”