With London enjoying its status as the world’s first National Park City, we can look forward to many more opportunities for children to get outside, play, learn and connect to nature. In this blog, Cath Prisk explains how we've been able to connect the London National Park City Schools network to Outdoor Classroom Day, and bring the campaign back to its roots.
London has access to some remarkably biodiverse green spaces. We have over 9 million trees. Every school is within 15 minutes’ walk of a green space. Most London schools have some sort of outside space, and many have spectacular grounds. And yet London schoolchildren have less access to the outdoors than many other children across the UK. Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) data, brought to light in Tim Gill's Sowing the Seeds report, highlighted that 1 in 7 of London’s children never go to a green space.
When Anna Portch, a London-based educator came across this stat, she decided to do something to change it. Anna started the Empty Classroom Day campaign, with the goal of showcasing the great work schools already do getting children outside - learning, gardening, playing, exploring - to inspire more schools to follow suit. Empty Classroom Day and was hugely successful from the outset, reaching over 600 school in 15 countries in its first three years.
Outdoor People have been working on the campaign, renamed Outdoor Classroom Day, since 2015, since when it has become a global movement, engaging over 3,000,000 children and over 25,000 schools.
So, when we were asked to head up the London National Park City Schools network a few months ago, we saw a chance to bring the Outdoor Classroom Day full circle, and bring the campaign home.
More than 400 London schools signed up for the campaign in 2019, double the number that participated in 2018. There's still a long way to go to get the same level of take-up as Scotland, where in 2018 over 30% of all schools signed up and a similar number in Western Australia, but it's a sign that the campaign is taking hold.
The GLA is backing some amazing initiatives to help schools to transform their grounds, and make them greener, wilder and healthier. Schools (and communities) can get free Community Tree Packs from the Mayor of London and the Trust for Conservation Volunteers in time for National Tree Week 23 November – 1 December (there's still time to apply through the TCV website). Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust are also offering 30 – 420 free trees to green up playgrounds or make a mini forest school.
In the meantime, we're redoubling our efforts to get London schools to sign up to Outdoor Classroom Day in May 2020, connecting teachers with the huge number of regional and local initiatives that support teachers outside in the capital (any and all ideas and help welcome)!
The recent youth-led climate strikes and environmental uprisings bring home ever clearer that it is critical that children are outdoors every day. Hopefully at some point we’ll no longer be able to say that children are outdoors for less time than prisoners. Hopefully we’ll be saying that children get outside for at least two hours a day, and from that nature connection they are happier, healthier and far more connected to the planet and getting involved in doing good for the planet.
The London National Park City Schools Network will inspire, catalyse, support, join-up and spread best practice through knowledge sharing. It will connect educators across the sector with grassroots initiatives and local organisations as we open up and enhance the green spaces in our communities. The network is free to join, and registration only takes a couple of minutes.
If you are interested in helping, whether here in London, nationally or anywhere in the world, please do get in touch.
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