Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Outdoor Play and Learning Teach Critical Life Skills

September 06, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers often think they lack time to take children outside—yet there are many benefits to making the time to do so. Cath Prisk, a children’s policy consultant and the Global Partnerships Manager for the Outdoor Classroom Day campaign at Project Dirt, explains.

Join Project Dirt on Thursday, September 8 at 8pm US Eastern time for #GlobalEdChat on Twitter to ask questions, or to share your own advice and ideas.

By guest blogger Cath Prisk

“Oh WOW!” Enya, a 5-year-old from East London, UK has just picked up a chicken for the first time. She did it quietly, with no fuss, and held it softly for her friends to stroke.

She will remember this experience for life.

She’ll also remember the hours later in the day when she and her new friends built a ‘secret’ den in the forest, where the grown-ups were only allowed if taken quietly by a child...

When we look back at our own childhood, the learning moments that stand out may not be in a classroom and most likely aren’t from a lesson either. They are probably from when we were simply playing outdoors.

And yet in many countries children play outdoors for less than an hour a day; recess and break times at school are being cut; children are held inside to catch up on academic work; media messages rarely emphasise that outdoor time is as essential to a happy childhood as learning to read or good nutrition; and screen times eat away at free time.

At the same time children are becoming more stressed, finding it harder to learn, and becoming ever more disconnected from the environments around them. They have less time to make friends and develop social skills. They have less time to be kind to a classmate, discover a new plant, and watch it grow. They have less time to be themselves.

Whether you think the purpose of education is to learn to read and write, to become courageous or caring, or to foster creative potential, I believe that learning and playing outdoors should be a cornerstone of the curriculum.

Benefits of Being Outdoors
At Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, the children now have four recesses a day. Why? Because last year they took part in an experiment to replicate the Finnish school day, trying out more break times to see if it resulted in more learning. The results have been fantastic, with teachers reporting children are less distracted, make more eye contact, and tattle less. Halfway through the year, despite slightly less time in lessons, children in this elementary school were way ahead of schedule, indicating that children that are more relaxed learn more.

This is further supported by a recently completed four-year, in-depth qualitative assessment on the impact of outdoor learning in 125 schools from deprived communities across the southwest of England. The Natural Connections Demonstration Project found that children, teachers, and whole school communities benefitted from outdoor learning. As well as seeing children’s love of nature increase, and an overall improvement in general well being, teachers saw children simply more engaged with lessons and concentrating more.

Several Canadian corporations and NGOs joined together in 2015 to undertake a comprehensive review of the benefits of physically active outdoor play, concluding that at least 60 minutes a day helps children:


  • Improve their health
  • Do better in school
  • Improve self-esteem and confidence
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Improve their fitness
  • Grow stronger
  • Feel happier
  • Learn new skills

The teachers themselves enjoyed their jobs more too—not an insignificant factor for busy school principals considering reasons to encourage more outdoor learning and play!

We cannot forget that we also need to nurture future stewards of our environment. In Biên Hòa, Dong Nai, Vietnam children from a large shoe factory now attend the award winning Farming Kindergarten, built with a deep understanding that children need to be immersed in nature. Children that play outdoors with green growing things every day develop a profound love of the outdoors, one that fosters a deep understanding of the importance of looking after our environment.

Taking Your First Steps Outdoors
Teachers everywhere are under pressure to achieve results. Outdoor lessons may be recognized as being good for children, but unless it is already part of your schools’ culture, it can seem daunting. But there is lots of help available!

Juliet Robertson, an outdoor learning consultant who has worked with schools around the world, including in Canada, Australia, and Eastern Europe, says: “One small step outside, may be one giant imprint in terms of positive impact.” You can download her short guide to getting started with outdoor learning from the Outdoor Classroom Day library.

Resources to Assist

Have a favorite resource? Please tell us by tweeting to: //twitter.com/OutdoorClassDay or using the #OutdoorClassroomDay hash tag.

Project Dirt is working with NGOs in Brazil, the UK, Finland, Spain, and Portugal and supporting schools in more than 20 other countries to get involved with the Outdoor Classroom Day movement, getting children across the world playing and learning outdoors. Learn more and sign up for Outdoor Classroom Day on Thursday, October 6.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion To Have a Bigger Impact, Here's What You Should Stop Doing in Your Classroom or School
Teachers and leaders often want to lighten their load, but don't know where to start.
6 min read
shutterstock 1051475696
Shutterstock
School & District Management Opinion The Pandemic May Have Eased, But There's No Going Back for Districts
Now's the time to rethink how to address—and solve—problems in education, explain several education leaders.
20 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Someone Spread an Unfounded Rumor About Your School. Here's What to Do Next
Hoaxes have become more pervasive as political tensions rise in schools.
6 min read
Two male leaders squeezing and destroy the word "hoax" in a vice.
Illustration by Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management ACLU Texas Files OCR Complaint Over a District's Anti-Trans Book Ban
The group claims the Keller school district's new policy to remove books about gender fluidity from library shelves violates federal law.
4 min read
Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. The books are banned in several public schools and libraries in the U.S., but young people can read digital versions from anywhere through the library. The Brooklyn Public Library offers free membership to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Banned books are on diplay at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Some of these books are among those banned by school districts in Texas.
Ted Shaffrey/AP