Our Kids Do Better In Nature

 Meeting some wonderful kids in their own Outdoor Classroom.

Meeting some wonderful kids in their own Outdoor Classroom.

Check out this simple and wonderful way to get your kids outdoors more! 

I’m proud to be an ambassador for Outdoor Classroom Day, which is led by Nature Play with support from OMO. And I love this day, because it’s a simple, sensible way to get out kids learning and playing outdoors more often. During this campaign I’ve met some teachers and educators who are passionate about the science behind the benefits of getting outdoors. 

When I was a little girl I used to spend a lot of time in our local park either feeding the ducks with stale bread (which they loved) or rolling down the steep hills racing my sisters to see who could get to the bottom of the hill first and in one piece! Although I’d get covered in grass and slightly itchy skin it was so much fun. The three of us would just laugh and laugh…

The only organised activity I did was ballet lessons on a Saturday morning. Otherwise my sisters and I used to play together with our Barbies in our tiny backyard. Although my own daughters also love playing with their Barbies and toys outside they have a lot more commitments after school compared to what I ever did.

Although I try not to make our afternoons too busy my daughters have much less free time to just daydream and play outdoors. And we’re all guilty of getting on our devices as a way of unwinding, instead of getting into the big, beautiful outdoors.

But I’m all for supporting parents because I know we’re all doing our best for our families. Lets take the guilt off one another and instead look for simple but effective ways to get outside more. And that’s why I’m a fan of Outdoor Classroom Day.

And an easy way to literally ‘take the pressure down’, is by stopping and getting outdoors. I instantly feel better in the fresh air. My daughters and I love to dance in our backyard, despite my ‘daggy mum dancing’. 

I’ve never been a fan of homework but when we can I like to bring the girl’s books outside and its amazing how much less stressful it becomes doing maths and spelling outdoors. 

Check out this Q& A I’ve done with Associate Professor, Tonia Gray, who is a specialist in pedagogy and learning, at the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University. She has all the facts and figures to prove that kids do better when they play and learn outdoors.

 

1.   How much time do Aussie kids spend outdoors?

 Unfortunately much less that we did growing up. Across the world, children are getting less time to play outdoors than maximum security prisoners!  In Australia, two in three kids spend under an hour playing outdoors each day.

When it comes to our schools, 58% of primary schools allocate more than one hour a day to outdoor play, and when it comes to learning, less than one in six children have lessons taken outside each day. 

2.   Why is it so little (we live in one of the best climates in the world)? Why do you think we’ve lost touch with getting back to nature?

I don’t think it’s been a conscious shift, but our modern lives has changed the upbringing of many children.

A new survey of 1000+ parents for Outdoor Classroom Day has found safety concerns and over-scheduling children’s lives are getting in the way of free play outside. Technology is the greatest challenge, with parents reporting their children are spending three times as much time on devices or watching TV outside school hours than playing outdoors.

3.   I know I feel better if I’m outdoors- but apart from the ‘feeling’ we get, what does research reveal are the benefits of getting our kids outdoors?

There are huge benefits to getting our children outdoors, which I’ve dedicated my career to studying. According to a new report which reviewed more than 100 studies from around the world, when children play and learn outdoors, they can actually learn more. They are calmer, confident and more open to learning. They show improvements in social skills, imagination, creativity, teamwork, concentration, and behaviour.

Outdoor play is not only critical for children’s development, but it is also central to the enjoyment of a happy and healthy childhood. This is why the UN have included the right to play in an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children.

Children are more likely to develop anxiety and depression in their teens (or even earlier) if they are not given free, unstructured play.

A number of robust research studies which show that encouraging children to play freely can improve their educational outcomes. The fun, curiosity and sense of wonder that comes from play is a crucial part of childhood, and is essential to health, wellbeing and learning.

4.   How much time should our kids be learning and playing outdoors?

We don’t have a ‘magic number’ for how much time kids should be spending outdoors. In short - as much as possible! Finnish students, who regularly rank at the top in OECD maths, science and reading tests and wellbeing indicators, are required to be outside for 15 minutes every hour, even in winter.

5.   So what is the experience of some other Scandinavian countries with how they get their kids outdoors?

In Switzerland, 75% of children walk to school independently from the ages of four or five, rising to almost 100%  by age nine or ten. Schools enforce the value of walking to school because of the physical exercise, the benefits of making and developing friendships and as a way of cultivating a stronger connection to place.

A Norwegian study showed that pre-school children who enjoyed large amounts of outdoor time consistently scored better on standardised tests for executive function, attention and short-term memory than those at pre-schools with fewer outdoor hours. The study also showed even after the children started at primary school, those who’d had more outdoor time during pre-school continued to score better on standardised testing.

6.  I’m a busy mum, and like so many of us, try to keep my kids busy... but getting them outdoors doesn’t have to be difficult, does it?

Definitely not! It can start very simply with asking ourselves more often: Can we be doing this outside?”

From nature trails, making bird feeders, bug collecting, designing the perfect eco-garden or a mini boot camp - there are so many options for outdoor adventures. As parents we need to remind ourselves we are ‘role models’. So can you think about having a digital detox – off the screen and into green? 

7.   I have to confess I spend too much time on my phone, and deliberately try to lose it when my girls are home! But not all technology is bad is it?

Not at all - it’s all about moderation. 

But we need to be careful to remind ourselves to get back to basics and the simple things like getting outdoors, free unstructured play - or wild play, - as regularly as possible, to reap the benefits of nature.

8.   Schools already have so much responsibility, and often we ask more and more of them. But getting kids learning outdoors doesn’t have to be difficult does it?

Australia is one of very few nations where outdoor learning is identified as part of the curriculum. It recognises that any topic, subject area and competence can be taught (or learned) outdoors. 

But the data shows there’s a big difference across the states in opportunities for outdoor learning and play. Teachers are feeling the pressures of curriculum work, and face the challenge of parents who perceive outdoor learning as time not well spent.

99% of Aussie teachers agree that time outdoors is critical for children to reach their full potential and 85% of teachers in Australia want more time to take lessons outdoors.

Getting outdoors is good for teachers too. One trend that emerged was that staff wellbeing had also improved - the teachers are happier as well. When you get outside of your classroom and breathe fresh air, it takes a bit of the everyday stress of being cooped up all day away.

9.   So what is Outdoor Classroom Day and why is it a good place to start?

Launched in Australia in 2017, Outdoor Classroom Day is a global movement founded in 2011 to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning and play. Its mission is to show children, teachers and parents how good outdoor play and learning can be for one day – 1 November – so that schools start to make it part of every day.

 

Outdoor Classroom Day is led in Australia by Nature Play and supported by OMO, with 300,000 children expected to take part this year. That’s around one in ten primary school students.

On the day schools across the world take at least one class outdoors, teaching essential skills and raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play and learning.

All you need to do is get your kids school to register, and go to outdoorclassroomday.com.au for more information.

This article is sponsored by Nature Play and OMO for OMO Outdoor Classroom Day.