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

We need to transform our relationship with nature, says the UN

A major United Nations report has characterised humanity’s relationship with the planet as a war and called for a fundamental reset in order to secure a prosperous and sustainable future for us all.

The report, called Making Peace with Nature, has been published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its focus is the triple threat the world faces: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes millions of early deaths every year.

You can read more about the report here.

In his Foreword to the report, Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, opens with the words: “Humanity is waging war on nature.” The result, he says, is a “broken planet”. But the report also offers hope for a better future, alongside the depressing description of the current crisis. Part II is entitled ‘Transforming humankind’s relationship with nature is the key to a sustainable future’.

It is a huge report, long on jargon and academese as well as on detail. It is addressed, in part, to governments, to intergovernmental organisations, to global financial and business actors, and to others who bestride the world stage.

All of which can make it seem a world apart from the everyday lives of ordinary people and thus all the easier to dismiss. But it isn’t a world apart, of course. It is the same interconnected world that we are all part of, and the catastrophic failings it documents will ultimately affect us all. We cannot afford to do nothing.

The report’s final section is headed: ‘All actors have a part to play in transforming humankind‘s relationship with nature’. To prove the point, the report’s authors even devote a section (on page 140 of the full report, reproduced on page 39 of the executive summary document) to “individuals, households” and others in civil society.

There we find, for example, the call to engage in initiatives that promote sustainable consumption as well as “education and citizen-science” initiatives. There we find a plea to make “climate-friendly everyday choices on transport and consumption.” And there we find encouragement to “promote the links between environment and human health.”

The key message of Making Peace with Nature accords with the UK government’s recent Dasgupta Review, which also called for an urgent reset of humanity’s relationship with nature, including greater priority for environmental education in the curriculum at all stages of learning.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children to meet urgent life challenges. Three of its nine proposed themes — Plant Life, Animal Life and Physical World — directly address our relationship with and appreciation of the natural world. A life-based curriculum will help children adopt the skills, values and practices that ensure they live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

UN Report (Full)

Click to read and/or download the full version of the report

UN Report (Summary)

Click to read and/or download the review’s main messages

Life-Based Learning

Click to learn more about the life-based approach to learning

Image at the head of this article by Sergei Tokmakov, Esq. from Pixabay

Landmark Treasury review calls for high-profile nature education

An important review has called for nature and the environment to be at the heart of learning in schools. The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review looks at the cost of humanity’s impact on the natural world and suggests eye-catching and often radical reforms to avert future catastrophe. Giving greater priority to environmental education in the curriculum at all stages of learning is one of the recommendations.

The Dasgupta review is groundbreaking because it was commissioned by the Treasury rather than by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This is an indication that the most powerful government department is embracing the need to tackle the harm that humans are doing to the environment. For example, the review proposes changing how we measure national wealth, moving away from equating progress with gross domestic product (GDP) and recognising the importance of natural capital.

Professor Dasgupta, who wrote the report, said:

Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them … Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better.

Professor Dasgupta, quoted on the UK government’s website

Professor Gupta talks of the need for us to develop an affection for nature and its processes. He goes on:

As that affection [for the natural world] can flourish only if we each develop an appreciation of Nature’s workings, the monograph ends with a plea that our education systems should introduce Nature studies from the earliest stages of our lives, and revisit them in the years we spend in secondary and tertiary education. The conclusion we should draw from this is unmistakable: if we care about our common future and the common future of our descendants, we should all in part be naturalists.

Preface, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

In the chapter on education the review states:

Connecting with Nature needs to be woven throughout our lives … It is a cruel irony that we surround children with pictures and toys of animals and plants, only to focus subsequently on more conceptual knowledge, marginalising environmental education relative to the wider curriculum.

Quote from Chapter 24, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

In its report on the Dasgupta review, The Guardian says that the review “would like to see an understanding of nature given as prominent a place in education as the ‘three Rs’, to end people’s distance from nature.” It should, in fairness, be noted that these exact words do not appear to be in the review itself.

Too many children are switched off learning as they struggle to see its relevance. A life-based approach will improve children’s motivation to learn. Life-based learning takes the current subject-based approach for children aged 5 to 11 a stage further. Subject content is respected — all of it — but it is delivered through nine life themes that directly address the challenges we face.

Three of the nine themes — Plant Life, Animal Life and Physical World — directly address our relationship with and appreciation of the natural world. A life-based curriculum will help children adopt the skills, values and practices that ensure they live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

Dasgupta Review

Click to read and/or download the abridged version of the review

Review Headlines

Click to read and/or download the review’s main messages

Life-Based Learning

Click to learn more about the life-based approach to learning

Image at the head of this article by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Make it, use it, throw it: A throwaway mentality is destroying the planet

The world’s oceans — majestic, awe-inspiring and essential for the survival of life on the planet — are being destroyed by eternal plastic.

‘Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That is the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.’

Many plastics break down into smaller non-biodegradable micro sized pieces, as demonstrated by pulverising a foam polystyrene cup. Micro plastics pieces form the cloudy soup of plastic ocean swirls, the most notorious of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

‘Located in the South Pacific, Henderson Island is one of the worst places affected by plastic pollution, holding the highest density of plastic debris in the world. Around 3 500 to 13 500 new plastic items wash up here every day. The island’s East Beach spans 2km, and is polluted by 30 million plastic items.’

Lentil sized plastic pellets  known as ‘nurdles’ litter 205 of 275 British Isles beaches from Shetland to Scilly. The largest number recorded in the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt weekend in early February were found at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, where 33 volunteers from the Widemouth Task Force collected about 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach.

Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics.

Plastics absorb pollutants, making them poisonous to fish and we eat the fish.

Life-Based Learning brings children’s learning of science and geography to life – in the National Curriculum in England for children 5 to 11 years of age – by preparing them for the real world as adults.

What is to be done with super-trawlers?

Ravished oceans: A trilogy: part one: A Fishy Tale. Preparing children for tomorrow’s world today

‘Sea monsters’, the size of football fields, trawl nets hundreds of metres long, catching everything in their path. These refrigerated, factory ships can catch and process up to 250 tons of fish a day.

‘Bycatch’ is the euphemistic term for everything unwanted caught up in the nets to be shovelled back into the ocean – juvenile fish, non-commercial fish, dolphins, turtles, porpoises, sharks, small whales and seals.

Bottom trawling nets scrape the ocean floor. Small hole shrimp nets are especially indiscriminate. They deplete marine fauna, destabilise the marine floor and cause excessive bycatch for every shrimp caught.

Bycatch – difficult to estimate – is put at  63 billion pounds of unwanted catch caught every year, responsible for 40% of the worlds annual marine catch.

Life-Based Learning, for 5 to 11 year old children, includes learning about the human footprint in its Physical World theme.

Trilogy: parts two and three to follow:

Life-based learning on the environment ahead of the times?

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Last night David Attenborough, in the BBC documentary ‘Extinction: The Facts‘ tolled the bell on worldwide loss of habitat and biodiversity, threats to species and extinction of not just wild animals, but putting human existence itself at risk. Pulling no punches, Attenborough banged that bell to hell.

Unfortunately, while the message is not new, human impact on the environment is ever on the increase.

Only last week the Living Planet Report showed that, on average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2016.

The Independent Tackling the extinction crisis is everyone’s responsibility – and time is running short

One of the nine themes of Life-Based Learning [along with Plant Life and Animal Life] is ‘The Physical World‘. Children in Primary School learn scientific and geographical concepts, knowledge, techniques and skills through their exploration of the damage to the world’s physical resources by human activity and the impact this is having on life and living.

Is it too much to hope that the National Curriculum subjects can be rearranged to ensure our young children are prepared to meet the environmental challenges they will face as adults?

Collapse in wildlife populations caused by human activity

Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

According to the newly published Living Planet Report 2020, wildlife populations are in freefall around the world, and the principal cause is human activity.

It says that, on average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles fell by 68% between 1970 and 2016.

According to the Guardian, the report found that “from the rainforests of central Africa to the Pacific Ocean, nature was being exploited and destroyed by humans on a scale never previously recorded.”

The devastation of wildlife is principally caused by:

  • human overconsumption
  • population growth
  • intensive agriculture

Sir David Attenborough is quoted as saying that this could be the moment we [humans] learn to become stewards of the planet. “Above all,” he says, “it will require a change in perspective.”

Animal life is one of the nine themes that are at the heart of the life-based learning curriculum for children aged 5 to 11.

Life-based learning focuses on the value of animals to humanity and aims to foster in children an interest in the need to preserve animal diversity, protect animal habitats and manage the use of animals in sustainable ways to the mutual benefit of humans and the planet.

Above all, it ensures that children are sensitised to the issues facing animals caused by human use of animals and their environments.

Greenland and Antarctica melting match ‘worse-case scenario’ predictions

Image by InstaWalli Official from Pixabay

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, has confirmed the polar ice caps are losing mass at rates threatening dire sea-level rise.

As reported in the Express:

  • Trillions of tons of ice are melting
  • The melt has caused a sea level rise estimated at 17.8 mm
  • The melt contributes to coastal flooding, shifting ocean currents and extreme weather events
  • A further 6.7 inches (17 cm) rise is predicted by the end of the century to impact on millions of people.

Life-based learning gives children the foundation concepts, knowledge, attitudes and values to contribute positively in their adult lives to finding life-sustainable solutions. Life-based learning prioritises learning about and looking after the physical world.

Weather bring 1,000 tons of microplastics to US protected lands every year

[Photo: Bailey Zindel/Unsplash] Edited by Fast Company


America’s national parks and wilderness are being filled with plastic we can barely even see.

When I was young there was a saying, ‘What happens in America, happens in Britain ten years later’. The article written by Kristin Toussaint for Fast Company – see link above – reveals 1000 tons of microplastics inundate America’s protected lands – 6% of America – every year, brought in by the wind or evaporated into clouds and deposited by rainstorms. 

“The biggest category of these microplastics was fibers related to clothing. Samples included polyester, nylon, polypropylene, and PTFE, which is used in technical wear such as waterproof jackets.”

And, as far as Britain being behind America, there is every reason to suppose the same microplastics are raining down now in Britain as they are in America – no time lag there then.

Who would have thought walking in the Highlands of Scotland with your waterproof on could be polluting the environment?