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The recent spell of excellent weather that has presided over the UK for the past two weeks has got me mulling over the idea of outdoor learning.

With temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, you’re probably thinking one would prefer to swap stuffy classrooms for a beautiful sandy beach rather than attempting to understand the inner workings of John Keats’s mind, sweating on a field with no shade. But, with modern technology and increased fear from adults about child safety contributing to a cultural shift in society that has resulted in less opportunities for children spending time outside, should outdoor learning play more of an important part in the educational sphere?

Over the years there has been increasing evidence about the benefits of outdoor learning and the positive effect it can have on children’s welfare and their performance at school. Research from numerous scientific studies and publications have shown that being outdoors and connecting with nature can not only improve a child’s physical health, but also benefit them academically, socially and emotionally:

  • In 2005, The American Institute for Research found that schools which used outdoor classrooms and experimented with nature based lessons resulted in students improving in subjects such as, science, language arts and maths.
  • Professor Adrian Wells from the University of Manchester in his 2007 paper on metacognitive theory found that children who were exposed to natural settings on a daily basis had a better ability to focus and enhanced cognitive abilities.
  • Environmental psychologists Nancy Wells and Gary Evans’s 2003 study found green environments with lots of plants, especially green plants and vistas were successful in helping to reduce stress in highly stressed children.
  • Doctors Hillary Burdette and Robert Whitaker in their 2005 paper ‘Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children’, argued that children who were given regular opportunities for free and unstructured play would be smarter and have improved social relations with others.

When we consider that children and young people spend a majority of their time at school, making outdoor learning play a more official role in the curriculum would clearly be a step in the right direction to unearth these great benefits. A report published last year by Plymouth and Western Sydney University highlighted numerous studies that have shown that the cultural shift in our society towards being more and more indoors is having a detrimental effect on children’s social skills as well as preventing their physical and emotional development from fully thriving. The report also argued that in order for the benefits of outdoor learning to be fully realised, it needs to be formally implemented into the school curriculum as with so much focus on academic attainment, there is pressure on teachers to remain in the classroom. This results in children missing out on experiences for outdoor learning that can positively benefit them in school and then later in life.

So, should we be doing more outdoor learning? It looks like the answer is a resounding yes.

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