Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

England has today moved to the next phase in the easing of the national lockdown, and the UK’s devolved nations are also in the process of gradually easing their restrictions. Now that spring has arrived, the evenings are getting longer and (hopefully) the weather begins to get warmer, there is much focus on outdoor activities, especially as the risk of Covid spreading is much lower outside than inside. On this website we have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of play and outdoor learning for children’s intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. And we have also been pointing out that ideas drawn up as short-term measures to support with post-lockdown recovery may well have long-term potential too.

In March, for example, we posted about a letter to the prime minister from a group of academics, highlighting the damage that lockdown has done to children’s health and wellbeing and stressing the importance of outdoor learning in the recovery process: “…children should be encouraged and supported to spend time outdoors, playing with other children and being physically active.”

We also featured research from the Youth Sport Trust showing the effects of lockdown on children’s activity levels. The charity said that its findings show “the urgent need for a renewed focus on sport and physical education” following the easing of lockdown.

However, as this Guardian article from 2019 makes clear, the pandemic is not the only reason why children are playing out less than they used to. As well as featuring a parent, a campaigner, an educationist and a street-play facilitator, all battling to reverse what is actually a long-term trend, the article also quotes the respected writer Michael Rosen:

We must have some free play: play as investigation; play as an activity that takes place without knowing what the outcome will be. I mean, how did any of our great inventions happen?

Michael Rosen, quoted in the Guardian article Children are stuck inside more than ever – how can we give them back their freedom?

Learning through Landscapes is a UK charity dedicated to improving our connection with nature by spending time outdoors. Sir David Attenborough is a patron. On their website they outline their vision:

…a society where the benefits of regular time outdoors are valued and appreciated, and outdoor learning, play and connection with nature is recognised as a fundamental part of education, at every stage, for every child and young person.

from the Learning through Landscapes website

In addition to guidance on play and outdoor learning, their website offers ideas and free downloadable resources to support teachers and parents.

Life-based learning emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor play and outdoor learning more generally.

Learning through Landscapes features in the Links area of the Forum website. There is a page for each of the nine life-based learning themes, with links (a) to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning (b) to a range of information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

We are always looking to expand the Links area of the website and welcome suggestions for additional links to high-quality websites. You can contact us here.

Image at the head of this article by FotoRieth from Pixabay

Click here to watch our latest video on the Body theme

More About Body Learning

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

England has today moved to the next phase in the easing of the national lockdown, and the UK’s devolved nations ...
Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Adventurers, explorers and people involved in sport, including figures such as Clive Woodward, have joined with leaders of outdoor centres, ...

Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Adventurers, explorers and people involved in sport, including figures such as Clive Woodward, have joined with leaders of outdoor centres, schools and charities, and others concerned with children’s wellbeing in signing a letter to the prime minister this week, urging him to allow outdoor education to resume as soon as possible in order to “save this valuable sector”.

The letter highlights the damage that the pandemic has done to children’s health and wellbeing. It also describes the impact of the pandemic on outdoor education as “catastrophic”.

It argues that outdoor education “has a unique role to play in helping to restore and rebuild [children’s] confidence and mental health” and that “the benefits to health and wellbeing and to socio-emotional learning outcomes (including self-confidence, teamwork and resilience) have been well-evidenced.” In particular, it notes the benefits of outdoor education for disadvantaged children and for children who live in inner cities.

Organisations that have supported the message of the letter include the Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (AHOEC) and the Institute for Outdoor Learning.

Click here to read the full letter.

Earlier this week we applauded Youth Sport Trust’s call to make the remainder of this school year one of ‘active recovery’, adding that this was an idea for the long term and not just for a few weeks and months.

In February we highlighted PlayFirstUK, a group of academics who asked the education secretary to prioritise outdoor play over extra lessons and longer school days for children in the coming months as the country emerges out of lockdown.

Life-based learning emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor play and outdoor learning more generally. The Body is one of nine learning themes. It aims to boost children’s health and wellbeing partly through a coordinated and sustained whole-school focus on physical activity.

More About Physical Activity

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

England has today moved to the next phase in the easing of the national lockdown, and the UK’s devolved nations ...
Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Adventurers, explorers and people involved in sport, including figures such as Clive Woodward, have joined with leaders of outdoor centres, ...

Image at the head of this article by Otto Wenninger from Pixabay.

‘Active recovery’ needs to be much more than just a short-term fix

The children’s charity Youth Sport Trust is calling for the government to make the remainder of the current school year an ‘active recovery term’ for young people, with a renewed focus on sport, physical activity and physical education, and time outdoors. We wholeheartedly agree — but this is actually a good idea for the long term, not just for the next few weeks and months.

Youth Sport Trust’s latest research shows the continuing effects of lockdown on children’s activity levels. Children are less physically active now than they were before the Covid pandemic. The charity said that its findings show “the urgent need for a renewed focus on sport and physical education” following the easing of lockdown.

A recent post on this website discussed how members of the local community might support schools by working with children as part of post-Covid catch-up. We made the point that ideas and initiatives developed as short-term fixes to address an emergency situation may well be good in themselves. ‘Active recovery’ — a focus on sport and physical activity to deal with the drop-off in children’s activity levels — is one such idea. It needs to be an essential element of the curriculum, not just a bolt-on for a few weeks and months.

In addition to addressing immediate concerns, Ali Oliver, the chief executive of Youth Sport Trust, has also been focusing on the longer term:

…we continue to call on the government to make a bold and courageous commitment to a national ambition for our young people to be the happiest and most active in the world. This should be underpinned by a renewed national strategy to tackle inactivity and recover young people’s wellbeing.

Ali Oliver, chief executive of Youth Sport Trust

In 2018 Youth Sport Trust launched a four-year strategy to promote sport, play and physical activity as a means of enhancing young people’s wellbeing. One of its six objectives was: ‘Transform PE’s place in the curriculum, putting it at the centre of wellbeing and achievement in education.’

Life-based learning also recognises the importance of sport, physical activity and outdoor play in helping children to grow up physically and mentally healthy. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up life-based learning. Its approach to health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity.

More About Physical Health

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

England has today moved to the next phase in the easing of the national lockdown, and the UK’s devolved nations ...
Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Adventurers, explorers and people involved in sport, including figures such as Clive Woodward, have joined with leaders of outdoor centres, ...

Image at the head of this article by manseok Kim from Pixabay.

Millions feel the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise

More evidence has been published highlighting the benefits of running and jogging not just for physical health but also for mental wellbeing too. The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates daily physical activity for all children and a curriculum that enables them to learn healthy habits for life.

The Macmillan Cancer Support charity sponsors the London Marathon, and today is when applicants learn whether they have been successful in the ballot for places in the 2021 event. The charity has published research into people’s physical activity since the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020.

According to the Guardian, the charity’s research indicates that:

  • around 7 million people in Britain have taken part in running or jogging during the Covid pandemic to boost their mental health
  • around one third said running made them feel calmer and more positive
  • one in five said that running made them feel mentally stronger

We highlighted in January a Sport England survey on young people and physical activity during lockdown, which shows “a strong link between children who are physically active and individual development, good mental health, and rates of volunteering and wider community development. It also suggests that young people who engage in sport and physical activity are less likely to feel lonely.”

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children to meet urgent life challenges. The Body is one of nine learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Body learning theme focuses on children learning healthy habits for life. It includes a whole-school activity programme, building on the success of the Daily Mile initiative, the website for which claims that more than 3 million children now take part. It also combines learning about the body with learning how to look after the body. Body care for life is the key message.

The Body

Find out more about the life-based learning Body theme

Sport England Survey

Read the full January 2021 survey produced by Sport England

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve activity levels

Image at the head of this article by Allan Mehik from Pixabay.

Sport England survey shows the benefits of childhood physical activity

Childhood physical activity is emphasised by the image of two children walking in the countryside.

Sport England’s latest survey suggests that, despite lockdown and other restrictions, childhood physical activity has continued, but to a lesser extent due to Covid social restrictions. It also shows the wider benefits of being physically active.

The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey covers children and young people in years 1–11 (ages 5-16) in England in the academic year 201920. It merits careful study.

It suggests that there has been a reduction in activity levels, particularly for children in years 1–6, but the overall picture is perhaps not as bad as feared. Some activities were unavailable because either schools or facilities were closed, or both.

This is reflected in the drops in swimming, team sports and gymnastics, trampolining and cheerleading compared to 12 months ago. Active play and running, athletics or multi-sports also saw a decline in participation.

Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, Academic year 2019–20

However, children have found other ways to stay active:

… more children and young people have been walking, with an increase of 4.3% going for a walk (up by more than 340,000) and an increase of 10.0% walking to get to places (up by more than three-quarters of a million).

Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, Academic year 2019–20

The survey also shows a strong link between children who are physically active and individual development, good mental health, and rates of volunteering and wider community development. It also suggests that young people who engage in sport and physical activity are less likely to feel lonely.

Sport England’s message reflects one of the aims of life-based learning:

Developing children and young people’s physical literacy is essential in creating a positive and lifelong relationship with activity and without it many will not enjoy the health and social benefits associated with living active lives.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive, Sport England

The Body is one of nine learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

Its improved learning programme ensures that children meet ambitious targets for daily physical activity and learn healthy habits for life.

The Body

Find out more about the life-based learning Body theme

Sport England Survey

Read the full January 2021 survey produced by Sport England

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve activity levels

Image at the head of this article by MaBraS from Pixabay.

The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

National Curriculum reform: The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

Tilting at windmills

Statistics lend credibility to information, or so they say. Anyway, here are three stats to ponder:

  1. The National Audit Office [September 2020] identified 20.2% of 10 to 11 year-old children as obese in 2018/19.
  2. Digital NHS UK states adult overweight/obesity in 2018 as 67% men and 60% women
  3. On present trends, the vast majority of our children will be overweight or obese in their adult life – and expect one or more diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia to blight their lives and reduce their life expectancy.

The government’s ‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action’  created in August 2016 [Updated January 2017] is making no significant difference to curb the inexorable increase in obesity in children.

As outlined in the Ofsted report, ‘Obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools’, [Age group 5-11: Published July 2018],  Schools ‘have responsibility for a curriculum that gives children a solid body of knowledge about healthy living and the skill to pursue it.’

With no appreciable difference being made to counter the increasing numbers of children becoming obese, all the reports and government exhortations to improve children’s health are tilting at windmills.

The radical solution is to raise the attention and focus on fitness and health.

MAC does this by increasing the attention to children’s fitness and health as one of nine priority themes through which all learning is channelled.

The Body Theme tackles children’s fitness and health in a relentless and focused whole curriculum approach.

Target to cut childhood obesity in half will be missed

The National Audit Office (Britain’s spending watchdog) has issued a report warning that the government’s target of halving childhood obesity by 2030 is likely to be missed.

As reported in the Guardian newspaper, the report:

  • says that progress has been slow
  • criticises ministers for not delivering on pledges made in recent years
  • warns that more urgency, commitment and cohesion is required

The National Audit Office website states:

In 2018/19, nearly one tenth of 4 to 5 year olds and more than one fifth of 10 to 11 year olds were classified obese. We estimate that roughly 1.4 million children aged from 2 to 15 years old were classified obese in 2018. Not only is obesity increasing for 10 to 11 year olds, it is increasing even faster for children in deprived areas.

National Audit Office childhood obesity report conclusions [as summarised on their website]

We owe it to our children to give them the knowledge and skills they need to grow up leading healthy lives. Life-based learning priorities bodily health. It builds in to the timetable regular physical activity. Children spend time learning about their bodies and how to look after them.

The obesity link to serious Covid illness is a warning we need to heed

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

It’s in the news again: obesity. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself the living proof topping out at 16 stone, is calling for action.

The Guardian newspaper highlights the numbers of people overweight: 40% of all men in England, but more women are obese than men, and an increase of 10% in both men and women since 1993.

The Guardian profiling of Boris Johnson’s own overweight admission and declaration to take measures to combat obesity follows on from the report published this month by Public Health England.

According to the report Excess Weight and Covid-19: Insights from new evidence, “Almost two-thirds of adults in England are living with excess weight for their height (BMI ≥25kg/m2), with similar figures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

The report provides “evidence on the links between weight status and Covid-19 outcomes”, but also places the link firmly in the context of how destructive overweight is on health. “Living with excess weight is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, many cancers, liver and respiratory disease. Obesity is also associated with reduced life expectancy, and lower quality of life.”

Whilst there are overweight people due to medical conditions, and anorexics may take the government’s campaign to heart by eating even less, the overweight epidemic is very much a life-style condition across all sectors of society.

From the Life-Based Learning Forum perspective, the campaign to combat obesity needs to start with schools — not just as an add-on to the curriculum, but central to it. For example, knowing about and looking after the body is one of nine life themes through which everything is taught. Only by direct focus and attention in the education of the young can there be any hope of slimming down the population.