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The Benefits of Outdoors Learning

Marina Robb, Author of ‘Learning with Nature: A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities', talks about the benefits of outdoors learning in this beautiful blog post.

“We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

When I ask adults to remember a time when they were younger and outside, they may often recall hiding, climbing trees, making mud pies, building dens and fires.  The thing they all share in common is that there were no adults around!

This is now so rare, that we are coining the phrase ‘Wild Play’ – to allow children to have space to do what they want to do.  This requires adults to believe that children are in fact capable beings, and that in their seeking and exploration, they are learning.  Play is essential to healthy, emotional development. It enables the wiring of the brain to make multiple and complicated neuron connections that in many ways decide our future ability to learn, achieve and be happy.

A report from Natural England (2009) found that fewer than 10% of children play in wild places, compared with 40% a generation ago. The distance children roam away from home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years. Children don't play outside nearly as much as they once did.


We also know that children’s wellbeing in the developed world has been rapidly decreasing over the last ten years. According to the Office of National Statistics, one in 10 children in the UK, aged between five and 16, has a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.  


The benefits of playing outdoors are endless! It increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, raises levels of Vitamin D, helping to protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. The outdoors improves distance vision and lowers the chance of near-sightedness.  Children who spend time outdoors learn to work as a team and are better problem solvers as adults. They score higher on standardised tests in maths, reading, writing and listening.


In a world that is increasingly stressful, we know that our cortisol levels (the stress hormone) fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.  When we are stressed, we can’t learn or be emotionally healthy.  Loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression.


As David Attenborough said, “No one will protect what they do not first care about.” 


Having led groups of children and adults outdoors for over 25 years, I can corroborate 100% that when people have a chance to be in nature, in a way that builds respect and understanding of the non-human world, empathy and love of the natural world is awakened.  This is the only long-term foundation from which a healthy culture can grow, leading us to be good neighbours to all forms of life.


As our land warms, and the days grow longer, what a perfect time to switch off our phones, and get outside.  Go through the inertia of the indoors attractions, and get outdoors!  Sometimes having no agenda, is the perfect antidote to the everyday – bring some water and snack and off you go. 


If you want some extra inspiration, I would suggest getting a plant ID book and going off looking for things that you can eat!  Right now is the season of wild garlic, and if you have never tried a nettle (high in protein and an equivalent to spinach), it’s time to ‘grasp the nettle’ – harvest them for soups, omelettes, pancakes, tea.  You can make ‘sticky-weed crowns’ or elderflower cordial. As the plants grow, with a bit of practice you can weave all kinds of string from the plant fibres, nettle and bramble work really well.  You could also buy some Raffia and learn this way first.


One of the core routines of nature connection is known as a ‘sit spot’ – this is a place that you go to regularly and get to know through the seasons – as you calm down in this space you raise the possibility of the animals coming closer and you increase your awareness of what is around you.  Younger children have ‘sit spots’ through games such as hide and seek – where they time in a quiet space, nesting in the ground.  There are tons of fun nature games, ‘Eagle eyes’; ‘Deer ears’ that get us into our bodies and senses, discovering whilst playing. 

This can lead to tracking and trailing, where you might use flour, for example, to set a trail for beginners to follow. With more time, you can get to know what a deer, badger or fox track looks like, and notice the signs around you.  A lot happens when we are not stomping around!  Once you have found a track, it’s easy to create your own track casts with plaster of paris.

Whatever you do, go into a park or woodland, life is definitely too short to miss the non-human world.

By Marina Robb (Msc; MA; PGCE)
Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC; Author ‘Learning with Nature: A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities’

Website: www.circleofliferediscovery.com
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To purchase a book: http://www.circleofliferediscovery.com/index.php?page=new-book



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