Augusta Lewis reflects on the benefits of children learning outdoors
Childhood is changing. Over the last few decades children have started spending significantly less time outdoors, and much more time indoors.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Whilst the variety of recent advances in digital technology has bought undeniable benefits into our homes and schools, we can access information about anything we can think of in a matter of seconds, it also has drawbacks. Children can sometimes sit for hours transfixed by the screen. Increasingly, evidence is emerging of the scale of compulsive use of the internet and gaming amongst children and young people. The rise in sedentary activity in childhood is one of the main factors in the obesity epidemic. According to Public Health Wales one in four children in Wales has a BMI classified as overweight or obese.
Securing our children’s health and wellbeing is a key priority for educators. A UNICEF study of children across Europe found that alongside family time, children were far more likely to mention being outdoors as part of a good day, than playing on games consoles or watching television.
The Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) is a perceptive and bold response to some of the crisis of our times. But how can it be delivered to challenge some of the trends we see emerging in the 21st century that affect the children and young people of Wales?
This is where schools might have a role to play. Good teachers recognise that there are different learner types, and whilst some may thrive in the classroom, all will benefit from real-world multi-sensory encounters outdoors. These sort of enriched learning opportunities can enhance learning across subject areas. It can provide opportunities for physical exercise and team work, whilst offering chances to engage in tasks that challenge and manage risk enhancing self-esteem.
The new curriculum for Wales, as outlined by Professor Donaldson in ‘Successful Futures’ places emphasis on thematic learning across subject areas. For instance, studying a local woodland and stream can present opportunities for measuring change, handling data, using digital technology, exploring scientific processes and local history at the same time. Positive experiences in the outdoors in childhood can lead to more positive attitudes toward the environment, and more pro-social activities in adulthood. Increased outdoor learning, from 3 to 18 years, provides a perfect vehicle for delivering many of the core aims of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, as well as delivering the new curriculum for Wales in an exciting and dynamic way.
Investigating the properties of materials, water speed and depth
Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools (PODS) developed in 2010 out of a series of conversations between local authority education advisors, pioneering headteachers, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Darwin Science. From these meetings, it emerged that there was a shared interest in promoting outdoor learning as vehicle for delivery of the National Curriculum. Since then PODS has grown into a dynamic partnership drawing together experience and expertise from a range of organisations including Healthy Schools, Eco Schools, Sustainable Schools, National Trust, Field Studies Council, Sport Pembrokeshire, Farming and Countryside Education and others. In the last year we have hosted numerous free professional development opportunities for teachers from taking more learning across the Foundation Phase, Numerical Reasoning, STEM and Digital Competency outdoors. We work with schools to help them develop their outdoor areas, and gain skills and confidence in using those areas in innovative ways to enrich their delivery of the National Curriculum. Every year in Pembrokeshire we hold a celebration of outdoor learning for pupils recognising their school’s achievements.
Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools celebration event 2017. Orielton FSC.
As ‘Qualified for Life: A New Curriculum for Wales- a curriculum for life’ (p13) states:
‘Successful Futures emphasises the importance of rich experiences being integral to the curriculum and to deep learning…At its heart, the Pupil Offer is about finding successful ways of igniting interests, stimulating passions and increasing confidence in our children and young people.’
Could an achievable, economic and genuine way to do this be to lift more learning out of the classroom and into the open air?
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Images are courtesy of Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools.