You might not think that Outdoor Classroom Day is something we participate in here at The Outdoors Group; after all, for us…every day is an outdoor classroom day! But we believe in leading by example, sharing good practice and to be honest, we love any chance to get involved with the wider outdoor learning community and to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
The roots of Outdoor Classroom Day originated in 2012 with the ‘Empty Classroom Day’ in London and since then has gone strength to strength. Now after a partnership with Unilever’s ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign and consultation from leading experts around the word, Outdoor Classroom Day was officially born as an international movement last year. They state their goals simply as being ‘to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning and play’ and then moving on to explain that ‘campaign days act as a catalyst for more time outdoors every day, both at school and beyond.’ These are motivations that we can definitely get behind, we love to celebrate being outdoors, every day, come rain or shine!
Our team here is beautifully and wildly diverse in both approach and personality but the one thing we all have in common is a shared passion for outdoor learning and getting kids outside to play, explore, discover and learn. Whether that is through our Toddler Clubs, Home Education Groups, Intervention work, with our School Groups or Holiday Clubs and Birthday Parties, we love taking a group of children who spend much of their time in a traditional classroom environment or indoors and spending some quality time with them in our woodlands around Devon.
With a 2015 Connected Kids report (from market researcher Childwise) saying that children aged 5-16 spend an average of 6.5 hours in front of a screen and a 2016 study reporting that, on average, British children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, it is clear that getting children outside as part of their learning and just in general, is more important than ever!
But getting children outside to learn and play means different things to different people so I thought we’d take a look at how it works for us at The Outdoors Group. We take a slightly different approach to the Outdoor Classroom Day folks. Their website is full of structured activities you can do outside of the classroom; they are quite literally taking maths and science outside with autumnal equations using leaves and pinecones and creating water wheels to fulfil their physics curriculum. Whilst this kind of learning absolutely has a place and is beneficial, especially to a harried teacher trying to meet their targets, we look at it from another angle.
For us, outdoor learning isn’t about simply moving the classroom outside. It’s about embracing child-led, autonomous learning and play. It’s about giving kids freedom that they don’t readily have access to in their day-to-day lives. These days, many children live a life jam packed with activities and schedules. At any given point, there is often an adult in their lives telling them where to be and what they should be doing. And when there isn’t, they are so used to being directed that they are unsure how to use their precious free time. This is not a finger-pointing statement, just a widely acknowledged observation of the culture that we are living in. And as parents and educators, it’s hard to break out of that culture, for both habitual and often simply practical reasons.
However, this is why we take the approach we do. The absolute joy on a child’s face when they realise that they can choose what they do at Forest School is priceless. Forest School is often the only time in a week when a child has complete control over how they use their time. As long as they stick to the basic rules of respecting others around them and their environment and staying safe, they are free to do whatever they like. Some like to build dens and practice their fire-lighting skills, some choose to do a woodworking project or hunt for bugs and others simply play, learning without even realising it as they navigate the woods and interact with their peers.
And the why? Well, where to start! Allowing this freedom and autonomous play encourages independence, exploration and self-motivation as they drive their own learning and projects. And through these skills, we almost always see a significant improvement in self-esteem/confidence, cooperation and reasoning as their ‘soft’ skills develop at an impressive rate. Additionally, physical skills such as motor skills (both gross and fine) and proprioception (the awareness of the position and movement of one’s self in your surroundings) see a sharp increase in development as they navigate the unpredictable physical surroundings that woodlands offer. Much research has been done to back up these conclusions and if you’re interested, you can read about it more on the Forest Research website and the Loughborough University website.
On 7th November this year, we likely won’t be doing anything different to usual across our Forest School settings, but we will definitely be embracing the ethos of Outdoor Classroom Day as we continue on our mission to inspire the next generation of children in Devon to develop a love and respect of the outdoors. We hope that as a result of their time spent with us, these children will go home and ask to be outside more, learning through exploring and adventures in their gardens, local parks and further afield. And we hope that the adults in their life do their best to say yes and share this passion for outdoor learning with them!
Author: Hannah Durdin, Forest School Practitioner and Admin Assistant for The Outdoors Group
Date: 4 November 2019