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

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More About Brain-Based 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 ...
Brain-targeted teaching is a bold new approach in the classroom

Brain-targeted teaching is a bold new approach in the classroom

Children are not progressing well enough in their learning either to maximize their individual potential as human beings or to ...
Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

An excellent newspaper article on adult learning recommends adopting the mindset of a child to help in acquiring new skills. ...

Brain-targeted teaching is a bold new approach in the classroom

Children are not progressing well enough in their learning either to maximize their individual potential as human beings or to meet the collective requirements of a modern economy. We need to see dramatic improvements in the progress that children make in their learning. This requires bold thinking and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. The Forum for Life-Based Learning supports one such approach that is centred on teaching children the way the brain learns — ‘brain-targeted teaching’.

An online article, 6 Targets to Teach the Way the Brain Learns, sets out the basics of the brain-targeted approach in an accessible way, linking insights from neuroscience to actual classroom practice. It summarises a framework developed by Dr Mariale Hardiman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in the USA.

The six targets (in simplified, non-technical terms) are:

  • Establishing the right emotional climate for learning so that children are relaxed and ready for learning
  • Paying attention to the physical learning space
  • Designing learning so that children connect old and new information
  • Teaching for ‘mastery’ of a topic so that children begin to store information in long-term memory
  • Encouraging children to be creative, especially with new information they have acquired
  • Helping children to evaluate their learning, particularly through assessments that give them useful and timely feedback

Although we may agree or disagree on the particular ‘targets’ (something that I will return to in future posts), it is the overall approach that I wish to draw attention to here — one that is informed by the way that the brain works.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children. The Mind is one of nine learning themes — each with equal priority — 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.

By harnessing learning to the way the brain learns, life-based learning brings a crucial new dimension to children’s education. It is by working the way the brain learns that children will make accelerated learning progress.

The Mind

Click to read more about the life-based learning Mind theme

Brain-Targeted Teaching

Visit the brain-targeted teaching website

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy around learning and the brain

Image at the head of this article by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

Children quick learners, for example, learning chess

An excellent newspaper article on adult learning recommends adopting the mindset of a child to help in acquiring new skills. We know that young children are exceptionally quick learners, with an insatiable appetite for new knowledge and skills. But is there an argument for teaching them why they are such good learners?

The journalist and author Tom Vanderbilt has published a Long Read article in The Guardian called The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners. It is well worth a look. His description of learning a new skill alongside his daughter (in this case, the game of chess) will doubtless resonate with many parents, and there is plenty for people involved in educating children and young people to reflect on as well.

Vanderbilt is a champion of lifelong learning, highlighting not just the intrinsic benefit of acquiring new skills but also the positive impact on mental acuity and general wellbeing. The trick, he argues, is to think like a child:

Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true.

They are more likely to pick up details that adults might discard as irrelevant. Because they’re less concerned with being wrong or looking foolish, children often ask questions that adults won’t ask.

Tom Vanderbilt, The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners

The Forum for Life-Based Learning also focuses on how children learn. We believe that children’s learning will be better if they are taught how the brain itself learns.

Let’s teach children about the role of the senses and sensory uptake, and about different types of memory — short-term, routine, working, operational and long-term.

But there is an important emotional dimension to learning as well. The current National Curriculum turns too many children off learning rather than engaging and motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning.

We need to combine what Vanderbilt refers to as “the spirit of the novice” — the open mind, the willingness to have a go, the courage to fail — with oodles of praise and encouragement. We need to make learning a pleasurable and rewarding experience, not a disagreeable chore.

The Mind is one of the nine life-based 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.

If children know why they are such effective learners, they are more likely to carry that knowledge and that mindset into their adult lives — exactly in the way that Tom Vanderbilt advocates.

The Mind

Find out more about the Mind learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve children’s learning

Image at the head of this article by Anna Ventura 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.

Public Support for a Focus on Health and Wellbeing

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

A YouGov survey indicates that 82% of the British people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the current coronavirus emergency. It also suggests that 61% of people would choose improved social and environmental outcomes over economic growth even when the pandemic finally subsides.

The survey was commissioned by a campaigning group called Positive Money and features in a new report called The Tragedy of Growth.

Read more about the survey results here.

Life-based learning promotes health and wellbeing. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has themes that focus on body, emotion and mind.

Please note that the Forum does not necessarily support or endorse the aims of the Positive Money campaign. We are highlighting the poll as evidence of popular support for quality-of-life priorities.

Five tips for creating a healthy school

The work of Fairfield Primary School in Cumbria around promoting health and well-being is really inspiring. Click here to read five useful tips to make your school more healthy, courtesy of the tes.com website.

What’s also interesting is that the five tips correspond very closely to what is set out in the Body learning domain.

We’re new. Come and have a look around the site. Let us know what you think. Join in the discussion about how we make the primary school curriculum better for our children.

Life Spark

The area of life called Self covers children learning about and looking after their bodies, their emotions and their minds. However, life is not just about the individual looking after these three aspects. The interdependence of the three aspects is crucially importance. Without the body, you are dead. Without the mind, you are no longer recognisable as the person you were. When emotions are turbulent, the body is under stress and the mind is unable to function.

It is the integration of all three that makes
for a positive, lively human being.

The human being is more than the sum of their parts. The person is defined by more than their physical attributes, more than their emotional dynamic and more than the mind’s processes.

At the centre of every individual is their life spark, their anchor point, their sense of being. Whatever the physical, emotional or mind task being engaged in, it is essential always to relate children to their inner core.