Outdoor learning – a perspective from a SEEd intern

Central to children’s sustainability and environmental education is the learning that occurs outdoors. While outdoor learning encompasses an array of educational activities – it seems that perhaps one of the simplest forms is becoming lost within the day-to-day life of a child. What I am referring to here, is outdoor play, that of which occurs in green spaces, woodlands, beaches, forests and other adventurous landscapes. The statistics are quite saddening; with one survey indicating that three quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. Just as shocking however, is the fact that 20% of children have never climbed a tree! Outdoor play needs to be considered as a vital element of a child’s education, meaning the school needs to take on this responsibility to ensure that learning is not strictly confined to the classroom.

Children need nature, just as much as nature needs them. The benefits of children engaging in outdoor settings are huge, and not just on their education, but also on their emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing and their social and personal skills. Through children’s engagement in outdoor learning, whether it is through identifying flora and fauna to building a den, this aspect of education helps to develop environmental responsibility – something crucial if we wish to build a sustainable world. We need to remember that children are the future guardians of our planet, and so it is our responsibility to enable, not restrict children from exploring and adventuring the landscapes that surround us – children must build a connection to our planet in order for them to preserve the natural world for tomorrow.

Of great relevance to this is an initiative I have recently volunteered with, called; Woodland Tribe – an adventure playground whereby children are invited to help construct their play space using saws, hammers, nails and so on. Children are free to build tree houses, climb trees, dig tunnels, put up zip lines, cook on an open fire, and generally use their creativity with natural materials. In a world where outdoor play is being continuously restricted, woodland tribe brings a sense of adventure in to the lives of children, whereby risks are taken and challenges are overcome. Having been involved with the collective during the Brighton Fringe Festival, I have been left feeling inspired and hopeful that this form of learning can venture back in to the lives of many more children.

In such a fast paced world where childhood itself is becoming commercialized – creating alienation between both children and nature, this form of learning is becoming increasingly needed. As well as providing children with a sense of adventure and excitement, other positive impacts that this environment is able to have on children are overwhelming, most noticeably is the increase in confidence that the children displayed during the day. Children are free to clamber and climb around the wooden structures, develop their newfound knowledge of using tools to build a wobbly bridge, while simultaneously communicating and problem solving with other children and their parents alike as they explore the surroundings. Woodland Tribe’s Adventure play enables creativity and independent thinking, two crucial qualities required of children to help create a sustainable world – and it is clear that through settings such as these, such qualities are able to flourish.

Like the children, I have been left wanting more – and I look forward to working alongside Woodland Tribe again at Green Man Festival in August. (Come join in the adventure and find them at numerous locations throughout the summer!)

Hannah Green

SEEd Volunteer