Almost a third of children now play outside for 30 minutes or less a day - that is less access to the outdoors than a high-security prisoner receives. When I saw this headline in the news earlier this year I was shocked. But looking further into research* carried out by Persil as part of their ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign, the findings are indeed truly worrying. Having interviewed 12,000 parents across 10 countries, Persil discovered: • One in five children doesn’t play outside at all on an average day. • Children spend twice as much time on screens inside as they do playing outside. However, the parents interviewed agreed that their children were losing access to the types of play that have great benefit for their wellbeing, with 97 per cent feeling that without play, their children’s learning would suffer. Persil has involved the esteemed educationalists Sir Ken Robinson and Dr Stuart Brown in its research. Both avidly advocate outdoor play as an extremely important way of developing vital life skills. “Play is a highly beneficial and deeply natural way in which kids learn… Play has deeply important roles in the development of intellectual skills, in social skills, in developing empathy, in stretching our imaginations and exploring our creativity.” -Sir Ken Robinson speaking as part of Persil Dirt is Good campaign As educators, I am sure we are all aware of the increase in the indoor-based pastimes of the pupils we teach, but the extent of the problem is very evident in this research. Therefore, it means that our schools need to be even more involved in providing quality outdoor experiences. These activities may be forest school-based activities, of which I am a whole hearted supporter, or involve linking the curriculum as much as possible with access to the outdoors. It doesn’t matter whether we have a woodland on our doorstep (very few of us are lucky enough to have this) or simply a schoolyard - as creative teachers we can use the outdoors to inspire our pupils. We are all aware of how important it is for children to take part in physical activities in order to develop strong bones. We also want them to build resilience of character, increase their perseverance and problem-solving skills, whilst promoting quality social and interaction skills. All of these aspects can be developed within the outdoor learning environment. We want our children to be creative learners and thinkers and it is vital that we give them the opportunity to explore without dictating where their explorations will take them. “Our ideas interact with events and are capable of profound change. If events can be construed, they can be misconstrued, and re-construed. “ -Sir Ken Robinson**
Using our outdoor environment, whether for a phonics session or as a starter ‘hook’ for a written literacy activity, allows us to inspire children who may be more difficult to engage otherwise. I have seen children shine when accessing learning opportunities outdoors as opposed to within a classroom environment. We all have our preferred learning style and schema and if our children are interested and engaged in an activity, they are more likely to persevere for extended periods. The learning opportunities we provide may be more open-ended opportunities e.g. within a forest school session or with a specific goal e.g. as part of a class mathematical investigation. However, both provide opportunities for children to apply and develop skills, whilst being in control of their own learning. As a result, they increase in confidence developing pride in their own achievements. ‘I enjoy doing the orienteering … [We] did that for maths. So we, like, you’d have to work out equations to find … out the number which you had to go to on the map … It was a fun way of doing maths which I think a lot of people enjoyed’. -Pupil quote taken from Natural England Commissioned Report 2016*** Outdoor ‘challenges’ also provide us with opportunities to observe a pupil’s problem-solving strategies when overcoming any obstacles, allowing us to see their strengths and achievements, whilst providing us with identifiable next steps in their learning journey. All in all, I truly feel that it is vital that we get our children outdoors, in order to educate, inspire and allow them to have fun.
- Research was conducted by Edelman Berland, an independent market research firm. Fieldwork was conducted in February and March 2016 in US, Brazil, UK, Turkey, Portugal, South Africa, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and India. **Robinson, Ken 2001. Out of our minds: learning to be creative. Chichester. Capstone
***Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016: Final Report
• For more information about our courses on how outdoor learning can improve attainment visit: http://learningandtraining.co.uk/