Parents and carers are clearly the most important critical influence in a child’s development.

We support parents and carers to better understand the benefits of the outdoors to children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, behaviour and attainment. We also encourage them to ask their children’s schools what opportunities they provide outside of the classroom for both learning and play.

Understanding the benefits will help you make a case for introducing or increasing practical outdoor learning activities and opportunities for outdoor play.

Learn more about why school grounds are important here.

Foster Carers

Providing children with stability, security and a positive experience of family life is a rewarding and challenging job.

Taking learning and play outside, whether on school grounds or into the local environment, can help facilitate the development of positive relationships.

Learn more about how access to the outdoors can help here.

If you are looking for some simple ideas to take outdoors with your children, please explore our free ideas.

Why school grounds are so important

School grounds are important places. Well developed, used and managed school grounds provide a rich and varied resource for investigative learning and play. Such spaces promote first hand experiences and friendships, and provide opportunities that engage our imagination, fuel our curiosity and feed our natural sense of exploration.

Increasingly, school grounds are becoming the only outside space that children and young people have regular access to, providing a safe refuge where they can learn, play and have fun. For many they represent a child’s only contact with nature.

Regular learning and playing in outdoor environments can improve attainment and behaviour, health and wellbeing, socialisation and teacher job satisfaction.

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Learning & attainment

Learning outdoors brings teaching alive. Fresh air, natural light and access to open spaces stimulate the brain and aide in concentration. Outdoors, noisy behaviour is encouraged, space is available and making a mess is allowed.

It’s not just PE and biology that can be taught outside, but history, art, maths and literacy…in fact the whole curriculum can be taken outdoors! Outside, the relationship between teachers and pupils changes and concepts that are abstract theories in the classroom become practical real-world experiences.

Conducting core curriculum outside also results in improved attainment. Teachers find that students are more engaged when learning outdoors and that there is a positive impact on their behaviour while students report that their lessons are more enjoyable.

Every child and young person benefits when experiential outdoor learning is an integral part of their education and the professionals working with them have the support and knowledge to make the most of their outdoor learning opportunities.

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Nature & biodiversity

Learning in natural spaces outside of the classroom offers children and young people the direct, extended and deeply engaging experiences with the natural world required to form meaningful attachments to it.

Outdoors, the impact of changing seasons assumes greater significance and children can learn to take care of nature, from growing food to designing wildlife habitats. The creation of natural environments in school grounds means that everyone gets to enjoy and to value nature as well as take responsibility for it. And children who value nature and understand their relationship to it are more likely to become adults who act to preserve it.

The importance of contact with nature for children and young adults should help shape school policy, curriculum and practice, as well as inform school grounds development.

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Social Development

School grounds have a huge impact on social and emotional development and their design and management affects the behavior and happiness of those who spend time in them, children, young people and adults alike.

The school ground is a classroom for lessons in life. It is a key place for children to socialize, to make friends, to observe others and to find solitude.

Children’s behaviour becomes disruptive when these opportunities are not available and they find themselves bored or confined; some want to socialize in groups, some want to be on their own and some want to let off steam.

Through sensitive design, different behaviours can be accommodated and the tensions that lead to conflict can be reduced. School grounds should and can be spaces for children and young people to grow, develop and express themselves positively.

“Natural spaces are essential for human development and wellbeing. And none more so than those we set aside for the use of our children.”

Sir David Attenborough

Conserving Wonder

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Health & wellbeing

As more children spend less time outside, the impact on their mental and physical health is becoming a growing concern. For many children, school grounds are the only place they have the freedom to experience the outdoors and be active every day.

Providing more games equipment for children at breaktime can increase physical activity. Simple loose play objects such as hoops and skipping ropes inspire exercise. Playground markings promote running games. Resources to encourage activity such as climbing, jumping and swinging, help children exercise without even realising it.

The more muscles and senses are exercised during physical activity, the more the brain develops its capacity for learning. Physical activity also helps the body burn off the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. And activity is so much more appealing when there’s a school ground full of playmates to play with.

But the benefits of a well thought out school ground extend beyond physical health; simply spending time outdoors everyday can promote positive mental health when they provide access to plants, wildlife and the changing seasons.

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Risk in play

Well-designed outdoor spaces develop children’s confidence to take risks and meet challenges while learning how to be safe. Risk-taking is essential for the healthy development of children and young people; with every reasonable risk there is a benefit for the child.

Children need to be able to challenge themselves, discover their own boundaries and learn how to assess and manage risk into the future. Ensuring that learning and play activities in school grounds have beneficial levels of risk provides children and young people with these essential development opportunities.

The best school grounds provide access to reasonable risk activities free from unacceptable hazard. School grounds should not be as safe as possible, but as safe as necessary.

“Since the world is full of risks, children need to learn to recognise and respond to them in order to protect themselves and to develop their own risk-assessment capabilities.”

Ubud-Höör Declaration

Risk in Play and Learning,
International School Grounds Alliance (2017)

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Community engagement

There are many parents who are unhappy with the poor outdoor environments at their child’s school and many who would like to be more involved in their child’s school life.

Children and young people learn by watching and doing. If we want our children to learn that they can make a valuable contribution to wider society, then we need to show them what that looks like and give them real-life opportunities to do so.

School ground improvement projects are a great way for parents, pupil and communities to work together. The wide variety of things to do, from fundraising activities to manual labour, means that these projects appeal to a wide range of skill sets and interests.

Improvement projects also offer opportunities for pupils to take a leading role in managing and changing their world. What’s more, because the results are visible to the entire community, such projects generate a shared sense of enduring pride.

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Research

The benefits of outdoor learning and play for children and young people are clear. Research from around the world continues to highlight the importance to children and young adults of regular outdoor activity, experiential learning and play and contact with the natural world.

As the only UK charity specialising in outdoor learning and play in education, LtL has built up a comprehensive library of research that supports and influences our work within the educational and environmental community.

If you are looking to inspire yourself as an educator, to help build a substantiated case for increased outdoor learning and play on your child’s school ground or are interested in the impact the design and use of school grounds has on children’s education and development, please explore the evidence here.

Foster Carers

Foster carers often face special challenges with the children they nurture. Outdoor activities and access to the natural environment can help.

Many looked after children are affected by trauma, caused by their experiences of abuse and neglect. This may also be combined with an increased occurrence of loss and change, the separation of sibling groups, placement disruptions and special educational needs.

The latest research indicates that these children are more likely than other children to have poor outcomes, including poor educational achievement, and to be diagnosed with mental health disorders.

It is essential that the systems underpinning the provision for looked after children do not erode their right to explore and learn through play, including outdoor play in nature. Developing a relationship with nature is an essential part of childhood development that supports them in reaching their full potential.

Read the “Looked After Children and the Natural Environment” briefing paper for more information about the benefits to and rights of looked after children to play outdoors and how going outside can improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

We also have a number of resources available here to support foster carers and social care professionals to provide high-quality, frequent and regular activities and play outside and in the natural environment.

Looked after children and the natural environment

This briefing paper is aimed at foster carers and social care professionals working with looked after children and focusses on the benefits of spending time together outdoors.

It outlines why it is especially important for looked after children to access outdoor play in nature. It discusses the benefits to and rights of children to play, offering ideas on types of outdoor play in nature while promoting a risk–benefit approach to care.

The paper was written by Holly Gordon of BAAF (British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering) for Learning through Landscapes with support from Play Wales. It is available in Welsh upon request.

Is your child’s school facing the threat of losing significant areas of their grounds?

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