Environmental organisations call for inquiry into ‘vital role of outdoor learning’

Exposure to natural environment can boost wellbeing and educational attainment of children, and must form part of Coronavirus recovery plans, organisations say

Harry Cockburn
Friday 09 October 2020 14:06
Research indicates more time spent outdoors in natural environments improves children’s health, behaviour, and educational attainment, and benefits teachers too
Research indicates more time spent outdoors in natural environments improves children’s health, behaviour, and educational attainment, and benefits teachers too

Greater time spent learning outdoors and interacting with the natural world can boost children’s educational attainment, resilience, and wellbeing, and should therefore be the subject of a government enquiry, 32 environmental and youth organisations have said.

In a letter to Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, the group Our Bright Future, which includes representatives from The Wildlife Trusts, The National Youth Agency, the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Friends of the Earth, has set out why the recovery period from the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to reassess “how we socialise, work and learn”.

The pandemic has left hundreds of thousands of pupils across the UK isolated from their support network of friends and has had “a profound impact on their physical and mental wellbeing”, the letter says, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with mental health needs disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“It is evident that our world cannot return to the way it was before this crisis. But one thing we should all take with us as we begin to step forward together is a strong connection to nature,” the group says.

Speaking to The Independent, Roberta Antonaci, policy and advocacy manager at The Wildlife Trusts said the letter highlights the “increasing evidence supporting the idea that outdoor learning is beneficial for children”.

She said Natural England research found, in 2016, that 90 per cent of pupils said that learning outdoors made them feel happier and healthier.

“There is also a big impact on their attainment,” she said. “Research commissioned by the Scottish government shows there is increasingly strong evidence that experiences in nature can boost academic learning, not only in nature-related subjects, but in subject areas unrelated to the outdoor context.”

She added: “We want to see the government acknowledge as a result of this enquiry the role that outdoor learning can play to boost mental and physical health, educational attainment for children, and that actions are taken to make it part of the normal curriculum.

“We want nature to be part of the solution going forward, but we need more support from the government.”

The letter said: “We believe now is the perfect time for an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and wellbeing.

“This would help identify any barriers which stop children connecting with nature during school time, and the steps the government can take to ensure every child can learn within, about and from nature.”

The research by Natural England, highlighted by Our Bright Future, also found 79 per cent of teachers reported positive impacts on their teaching practice, and 72 per cent reported their own improved health and wellbeing. Furthermore, 85 per cent of schools saw a positive impact on pupils’ behaviour.

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