Environmental and youth organisations call for MP inquiry into benefits of outdoor learning

Nicole Weinstein
Thursday, October 8, 2020

A wide-ranging group of organisations are calling on the Government to launch an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and wellbeing.

Multiple studies show that outdoor learning can boost children's well-being, health, attainment and resilience
Multiple studies show that outdoor learning can boost children's well-being, health, attainment and resilience

Chief executives of 32 organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, National Youth Agency and Field Studies Council, have written to the chair of the Education Select Committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, outlining the role of outdoor learning in engendering a lifelong habit of nature engagement, which will help children and young people to feel mentally well.  

The letter states, ‘Teaching good environmental awareness and the sustainable stewardship of our lands and seas should be key components to preparing our youth for life. For children and young people, and indeed for all adults too, a positive connection to the natural world certainly provides a strong foundation for long, healthy and fulfilled lives, and especially for the most in need. This connection will be vital to rebalance society’s relationship with the natural world, and to properly address the immediate climate and nature emergencies.’

The organisations, which work with hundreds of thousands of children and young people across the UK, have joined forces to create a voice for children and young people, who are experiencing isolation during the pandemic and who are falling behind academically as well as developmentally.

Through their extensive experience, they have seen and documented the many benefits that come from outdoor learning and contact with nature in terms of educational attainment across the curriculum, resilience and wellbeing.

Benefits of being in nature

Time spent outdoors and learning about nature has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, stress and behavioural issues. Natural England commissioned a four-year project where children from 125 schools had regular outdoor lessons. The findings show that 90 per cent of pupils said learning outdoors makes them feel happier and healthier.

As well as significantly improving mental health, being outdoors considerably improves children’s physical health. Studies have also shown that increasing time spent outdoors reduces children’s infectious diseases – colds and sore throats - by up to 80 per cent. 

Research from The Wildlife Trust has also revealed that children’s well-being increased after they had spent time connecting with nature. A group of 451 children, mostly aged between eight and nine, in 12 areas across England took part in a study by completing surveys before and after they participated in outdoor activities.

Additionally, teachers, Wildlife Trust educators and 199 of the children were also observed by the UCL research team and interviewed about their experiences.

Overall, the children showed an increase in their personal well-being and health over time, and they showed an increase in nature connection, pro-environmental values and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.

The barriers

The letters' authors believe that now is the ‘perfect time’ for an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and well-being. The aim will be to help identify any barriers which stop children connecting with nature during school time, and the steps the Government can take to ensure every child can learn within, about and from nature.

‘We stand ready to work with your committee, with the Government and with schools, to help unlock the potential of outdoor learning,' they conclude.

Nursery World asked the Education Committee for a response, and a spokesperson said, 'The Wildlife Trusts received a response in September. The committee currently has a full programme of work, including examining the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young people, how to support disadvantaged groups and an inquiry on home education.

'While there are no current plans for an inquiry into outdoor learning, the committee regularly considers its future programme and always welcomes ideas from everyone with an interest in the well-being of our children and young people. It may be that we can ask these questions about outdoor learning when Ministers come before our Committee in the coming weeks.'

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