The sun shining full on my face. That is my stand out number one feel good factor. That moment when you turn a corner, move from the shadows, come out of the door. It just makes me smile! So I just looked up what makes that feel good factor, and it seems there are all sorts of reasons. The Vitamin D, serotonin production, the clear light, the warmth. It makes everything light up. And it helps me remember better, be more creative, feel more positive…
So why, WHY, why does Natural England report* that in an average month during 2013-15 only eight per cent of school-aged children (aged 6-15) in England visited the natural environment with their schools?? As in WENT OUTDOORS. Eight percent.
So 92% didn’t go outdoors to learn. Didn’t take advantage of the cheapest, most accessible boost to learning there is… the sun. This got me thinking. How many youth centres have really taken advantage of the sunny summer we’ve had to ensure all of the young people on their books are using local parks and green spaces? How many have checked to see if local adventure playgrounds are being made use of and that young people know their rights in terms of going off for adventures? Why are so many after school clubs INDOORS?? Why so very few forest kindergartens??
Fact is it is almost impossible to find out as most of the organisations that once surveyed such things have gone, but just reading this esteemed publication suggests simply not enough. Jim Burt of Natural England thinks – hopes! - we are at a turning point in terms of outdoor education… Certainly in Singapore, Finland, Denmark and many other countries with excellent rated systems we also see use of the outdoors promoted and supported. And not just for lessons. Children’s free time outdoors is also recognized as great too.**
This Thursday, October 6th, is Outdoor Classroom Day. Over 1000 schools 32 countries world-wide are signed up to celebrate their playtimes and take at least one lesson outdoors, inspired by the UK’s Empty Classroom Day last June. Project Dirt, the NGO I’ve been supporting to grow this campaign globally, is hoping that these schools will inspire a change in the way schools - and nurseries, youth services and after school settings – think about how they use the outdoors.
We are standing alongside many other NGOs from Australia, the US, Spain, Brazil, and global organisations such as the International Schools Grounds Alliance in wanting to inspire schools to get outdoors more!
We want to see policy change so EVERY school gets 90 minutes playtime a day. So that learning outdoors is part of every child’s every day. So that the outdoors is brought to life as an important part of every child’s world. So that they stand up in their communities to say that the outdoors should be valued every single day. So children have the freedom to play. So it is normal. Maybe it can start from simply celebrating how good the sun on their faces feels….