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

The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature

A recent Forum for Life-Based Learning post stated that the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference of world leaders, to be held in Glasgow, presented an outstanding opportunity to press the reset button on nature education. The environment is an issue that children are passionate about. The Forum emphasises the importance of children learning about the environment and nature more generally as part of a fully rounded, life-based curriculum. In support of this, the Forum is building up its collection of website links to information and resources of use to teachers and parents.

A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising days one or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.

Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button, 6 April 2021

There is a huge amount of evidence that children and young people care deeply about the environment and that nature has a positive effect on their mental health. A 2020 survey by Natural England of 1,501 children aged between 8 and 15 found that:

  • 83% agreed that being in nature made them very happy
  • 82% agreed that they would like to do more to protect the environment
  • 78% said that protecting the environment was important to them

However, too many children are currently switched off learning as they struggle to see its relevance. A life-based approach will improve children’s motivation to learn, respecting the subject content of the National Curriculum but delivering it through nine life themes that directly address the challenges we face.

We are currently in the process of refreshing the Links area of the Forum website. You will find separate pages for each of the nine life-based learning themes. Each page is split into two sections: a section linking to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning, and a section providing links to an eclectic mix of thought-provoking and information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

One link on the Plant Life Links page, for example, is to the excellent UK website Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS), which has a great library of free-to-use teaching resources as well as being packed with information, guidance and useful links of its own to support the teaching of plant science in schools.

Another of the links is to an article called Benefits of nature to kids on the US website Bright Horizons. In easy-to-understand language (it is written for parents rather than education professionals) the article sets out the benefits that outdoor play has on children’s intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. It includes a podcast that discusses the academic, cognitive and social and emotional benefits of outdoor play. It also links to other pages on the Bright Horizons website that suggest simple ideas for outdoors-based activities and projects to help stimulate children’s development.

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.

More About Plant Life

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 ...
The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature

The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature

A recent Forum for Life-Based Learning post stated that the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference of world leaders, to be ...
Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

It might seem fanciful to imagine anything dislodging Covid-19 from the headlines at the moment, but in the coming months ...

Image at the head of this article by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

It might seem fanciful to imagine anything dislodging Covid-19 from the headlines at the moment, but in the coming months we are likely to be seeing, hearing and reading a great deal about the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference. As the UK is the president of COP26, the conference is both a massive responsibility and a massive opportunity for the country. Just as with the 2012 London Olympics we need to focus on legacy, using the event as a springboard for bringing about long-term change.

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is due to take place in Glasgow on 1–12 November. Postponed from 2020, this major conference, which will be attended by the world’s key political leaders, is intended to build on the Paris climate change agreement of 2015 which set the goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The threat is existential and the need for action is urgent. Just one of the grave consequences of climate change is biodiversity loss. The official COP26 website says:

Humanity faces the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss which, together, are undermining nature’s capacity to sustain healthy life, nutritious diets and national economies. The two are inextricably linked and need to be tackled together urgently, with equal ambition.

from the official COP26 website

The Natural History Museum featured a report from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew on its website in September 2020 saying that 40% of plants are threatened with extinction.

We are sure to hear plenty of soaring rhetoric and earnest promises from world leaders as COP26 draws nearer. However, rhetoric and promises alone will not be enough. Much of the talk ahead of the 2012 Olympics was about ‘legacy’, using the once-in-a-generation event to reset the nation’s awareness of the importance of — and its relationship with — sport and physical activity. COP26 presents a similar opportunity to press the reset button on our understanding of the importance of — and relationship with — nature and plant life.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning has regularly highlighted the importance of nature in features such as these:

Large-scale public events like COP26 generate attention, headlines and discussion. They can raise public awareness and galvanise people into action. However, too often the momentum is quickly lost, as arguably was the case with the Olympics, the message, the hope, the ambition all but forgotten once the event itself is over.

A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising day once or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.

Life-based learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants and of nature. Plant Life is one of life-based learning’s nine curriculum themes. Along with Animal Life and Physical World, it ensures that children learn the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

More About Plant Life and Nature

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 ...
The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature

The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature

A recent Forum for Life-Based Learning post stated that the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference of world leaders, to be ...
Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

It might seem fanciful to imagine anything dislodging Covid-19 from the headlines at the moment, but in the coming months ...

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

Taking an active interest in nature improves children’s mental health

Nature improves children's health. Image shows child holding garden bucket with pansies growing in it.

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay

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?

The Benefits of Plants

Image by Phichit Wongsunthi from Pixabay

More evidence emerges of the health benefits of the Great Outdoors and of our growing love affair with plants.

According to this report, a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain found that 71% of respondents feel that gardens and outdoor spaces have helped them with their mental health during the coronavirus emergency.

Meanwhile, this report in The Guardian talks of “a crop-growing revolution that enthusiasts say could transform how we think about nature, food security and our communities.”

Life-based learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants and of nature. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life as one of its nine curriculum themes.

The state of nature in Britain

Living, as I do, in a semi-rural area, in walks down country lanes surrounded by fields on either side, the lack of flora and fauna is stark. The fields are controlled to grow the crop and nothing else. The hedgerows are reduced to rampant brambles, stinging nettles, ubiquitous dandelions and wild plantain. The rich diversity of plant and animal life is gone. It is not surprising the State of Nature 2019 reports the continuation of the decline of the UK’s species. Yet, while the focus is on extinction and loss of species around the globe there is barely a mention made by the British media of what has been happening on our own doorstep for decades.

‘Our statistics demonstrate that the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970 and many metrics suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade. There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature in the UK.
Prior to 1970, the UK’s wildlife had already been depleted by centuries of persecution, pollution, habitat loss and degradation’: State of Nature 2019