Here at Wildlings we’re really grateful that every day is Outdoor Classroom Day. We have nomadic playgroups and Bush/Forest Kindy’s running every day of the week so are in the privileged position of being able to explore this absolutely stunning home of ours in all its glory, throughout every season.
But what about our school children? With the increase in school size, class excursions are becoming more and more costly and difficult. How and where do you take 300 Year 7 students for a one day excursion that isn’t going to cost already struggling families too much? With the number of excursions decreasing, the pressure on teachers to ensure that these excursions meet multiple curriculum requirements increases, leaving little to no time for students to explore and enjoy just being out of the classroom.
And so, the importance of Outdoor Classroom begins to become clear.
In my experience as a secondary teacher in Queensland, anecdotally I can say that mental health issues are definitely on the rise. This is backed up with research of course, but seeing it on the ground, in the classroom, happening to teenagers you genuinely care about makes our current mental health crisis, alarming – and personal. In one of my classes in recent years, 6 out of 18 of my Year 11 students were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression and (without having a psychology degree), I would say at least another three would have been diagnosed had they been looking for help. That was over half of my cohort. If this doesn’t set off alarm bells, nothing will. I realise this is not the case in all classrooms but the rise in mental health issues, amongst teenagers in particular, is.
I don’t like being a negative Nancy or like to ruminate on the problems on the world. But I do think it’s important to explain why getting our children outdoors is so important.
So why do our children need to get outside? The negatives… L
• The average child spends 8 hours a day in front of screens (AAP, 2013). Older children & adolescents are spending an average of 11 hours a day in front of screens
• The amount of time children spend in child structured play has decreased by 50% -> (since 1980) with children devoting more time to indoor activities (Clements 2004)
• Diagnosis of children with an anxiety disorder has skyrocketed to 25% since 2000 (Cohen 2013)
• Only 19% Australian children 5-17yrs meet the national physical activity guidelines (AHAK, 2016)
• 26% Australian children aged 5-14yrs have a BMI above ‘overweight’ or ‘obese (AIHW, 2016) (though my opinion on BMI’s as an indicator of health is fairly negative, the general consensus is that our children are far heavier than they should be for optimal health)
• Children who do not have opportunities to play particularly outdoors and with other children demonstrate increased evidence of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and narcissism (Gray, 2011)
• Significant rise in ADHD diagnosis
• Myopia is reaching epidemic levels
• I would also like to anecdotally add, the pressure of being ‘left behind’, social media, technology/screens, lack of real life connection, increased intake of fake foods, decrease in physical activity, pressure on students to do homework despite research that shows it does not benefit students, lack of freedom of choice and control over their future/education – shall I go on?)
This move away from children being active in the outdoors is the product of overburdened educators with a full curriculum, working or busy parents and an increasing culture of risk and fear throughout society (Cutter-Mackenzie et al, 2014, Malone 2007, Freeman & Tranter 2011, Gill 2007).
So, what can we do about it?
I realise that nature isn’t a cure all. No, really, I do. I also realise that I am obviously biased and that this blog is possibly a conflict of interest!! But neither Vicci or I would have left our teaching careers in mainstream schools to start this business if we didn’t think that being outdoors in nature wouldn’t dramatically help our children socially, emotionally and physically
This is what we already know… The benefits of children getting outdoors in nature on a regular basis are wide and far reaching. Just to name a few (very well researched) benefits (The positives!):
Participation in Outdoor Learning helps children learn to:
• assess, appreciate and take risks
• deal with failure and develop the resilience to keep trying
• be self-sufficient, self-confident and take care of themselves
• be resilient, develop grit and determination
Outdoor learning helps children by:
• allowing time and space to connect with nature helping children feel part of the world
• increase understanding of and appreciation for nature
• increases ecological literacy
• accommodates multiple learning styles
• encouraging problem solving & communication skills
• creates engaged and passionate learners
• motivates engaged and passionate educators
• supports creative and imaginative thinking
• empowers learners and boosts self esteem
• provides greater concentration skills
• Improves health (environmental, physical, emotional, mental)
• develops fine and gross motor skills
• reduces student AND staff sick days
So what can you, as an educator, do to help your students? And what can you, as a parent, do to help your children? The most obvious answer is to take your children outdoors. But I’m not going to focus on that. There are blogs, websites, pinterest boards and a whole myriad of resources out there to give you ideas on what to do with your children outdoors. In fact, we’ve collated an entire list of amazing resources and websites for you here. Please feel free to email us with any other great resources you recommend.
Parents: What you can, and need to do, for the health of ALL our children is advocate. Talk to your teachers, talk to your principals and P&C’s and ask how you can increase your child’s time outdoors during school hours. Sitting is the new smoking and our children are sitting, indoors, on average for 5 hours a day. It begins with a simple conversation…
Teachers: Whatever you can do in the classroom can be done outdoors. Some of my favourite English lessons as a child and teenager were laying in the sun on a beautiful spring day such as today, having our teacher read to us. There was something so calming and nurturing and freeing about being able to spread out on the grass and be lulled into relaxation by the soothing voice of an adult who cared enough to get us outside on a beautiful day. My favourite maths lessons were again, spent outside, measuring, graphing and recording real life items and surveying friends in classrooms. In life, happiness truly does come in the form of small, simple, beautiful bite-sized moments. When we string together multiple, regular moments like these, then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to heal our children and make at least a small dent in this mental health crisis of ours.
So, if nothing else today, on Outdoor Classroom day, I PLEAD with you to pledge to start with getting your class outdoors just once a week (outside of PE). Take your class novel outside. Take spelling tests or mental maths outside. Heck. In those last five minutes of the day where you might usually go and play ‘heads down, thumbs up’, challenge your children to a roll down the hill in the grass. Go and hug a tree, hunt for mini-beasts, make messy volcanos outside, or learn about what plants live on your school grounds from your amazing grounds-person. The options are truly endless.
Or better yet, why not write a persuasive essay on why your school needs more outdoor space, a nature space and/or an outdoor classroom and more trees, then get your children to plan the space, research the required materials and create a budget and send it to your P&C and Principal. Feel free to use any of the research above to prove your case. Then next year, you can run your entire Outdoor Classroom Day in your new space…
You can thank me later 😉
Happy Outdoor Classroom Day. Now get off your screen and get outside!