Today we celebrate outdoor classroom day, in the UK and Ireland so far almost half a million children are signed up to be involved as part of their schools contribution to the event. Whilst this is great news for the half a million, there are another 8 million school aged children (according to Ofsted figures) who aren’t signed up yet.
Surely that just means they aren’t involved in the event I hear you say! Well, here’s the sad part of the story…
During my research for writing this piece I came across some rather unsettling statistics, according to some sources children between 2-5 years old spend up to 32 hours a week in front of screens, that’s the equivalent to a full-time adult job! A survey quoted by ministers that was performed by Persil as part of their market research suggests that at least 74% of children play outside for less than 1 hour a day, this 1 hour a day incidentally is the UN guideline minimum for outside exercise for prisoners. Our children could be described as being held prisoner by technology and this comparison would not be complete exaggeration according to these figures!
Sadly, the picture does not improve much in schools, with the Environment Secretary Liz Truss quoting only 10% of children as having access to outdoor learning. This means only 850,000 students have regular outdoor learning opportunities. This is in spite of increased curriculum links to outdoor learning and a freeing up of the PE budget to allow spending on adventurous and outdoor play and activities.
So why is this important anyway? Apart from the documented health and mental health benefits to being outdoors, Ofsted has produced some research that specifically looks at outdoor learning and has worked with the Learning Outside the Classroom Council to look at the impacts on learning, this is what they found;
“When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards & improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.”
As well as this Ofsted has produced guidance for schools on how to implement pupil premium funding for outdoor learning.
It is not just Ofsted that support this either, ROSPA have produced a report suggesting that we are in danger of raising a risk averse generation with potentially catastrophic results with future adolescents being unable to function effectively due to poor understanding of risk and how to manage it.
So where’s the good news? Well, there is a lot of help out there in terms of ideas and resources for teachers, the Woodland Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife trust all have ideas and resources on their websites mainly aimed at primary age learners, and more general support guidance and ideas are available from Learning Outside the Classroom and the Institute for Outdoor Learning. There are a host of local organisations as well that help with training and other advice and guidance for schools, in fact we (The Outdoors Group) are offering a free twilight session currently to schools to help implement more effective outdoor learning and provide advice and guidance to help provide more for learners.
Ultimately what we need to demonstrate is that a tipping point is being reached, people are more aware than ever of the potential issues of excessive technology use in young children and adolescents, and of the benefits of getting learners engaged in the outdoors. Increasing evidence is available to suggest this is not just something we ‘feel’ to be right, but something that is also backed up by research and a rigorous evidence based approach.
What needs to happen more than anything else however, is we need to be visible about the good work we do for learners in the outdoors, which is why I believe we should all be signing up to the outdoor classroom pledge today and nail our colours to the mast. It is after all the consensus of the learning community through action that will have the most effect. So I hope you will join me today in the sun to help engage learners in the wider outdoor world in which they are living.
Author: Shevek Pring, Director of The Outdoors Group