Report highlights barriers to outdoor learning

Katy Morton
Monday, July 2, 2012

A lack of understanding among early years practitioners and teachers, along with a shortage of funding, are preventing children from learning about and taking responsibility for the environment, finds a new study.

The online survey by The Learning Escape, who design buildings to encourage outdoor learning, of headteachers and nursery managers, found there was a dramatic decrease in the amount of time children spent outside from nursery through to Key Stage 2. Early years practitioners reported that children spent on average 80 per cent of their time outside, whereas in KS2 they typically spend less than 10 per cent of lesson time outdoors.

More than 88 per cent of respondents felt that the promotion of environmental best practice was a key area of under performance, yet only 33 per cent prioritised this for development at their setting or school.

More than 40 per cent of practitioners and teachers said they did not use their playground space for outdoor learning, and 11 per cent said they were unsure how much of it they were allowed to use for outdoor learning and development.

Nearly half of those surveyed cited the ‘need to develop space’ as the reason for under-use, and 44 per cent said that they would like an outdoor classroom/eco-classroom but funding restrictions prevented it.

The majority of schools and early years settings had registered for the Eco School scheme and over half had joined the ‘Love Where You Live’ campaign.

Most reported having recycling bins as well as dedicated outdoor space for growing vegetables and learning about mini-beasts, the weather and water awareness.

Around four in ten of those surveyed were unable to estimate the percentage of the school day that children were exposed to direct or indirect learning about environmental citizenship.

When asked about the biggest barriers to successful development of environmental citizenship, respondents highlighted a shortage of funding,as well as the pressure to cover other curriculum areas and a lack of staff understanding and training.

The survey, 'The Outdoor Environment: how can our children learn to care about their futures?' suggests that while funding is an issue, a lack of understanding as to how to integrate environmental citizenship within the school day, while consistently encouraging outdoor time, is the greatest barrier to change.

It goes on to say that staff should be encouraged to understand more about their outdoor space and ways in which children to get outside and use it, and makes the following recommendations:

  • Schools and early years settings should lead by example, setting up recycling programmes and encouraging healthy, sustainable eating at lunchtime.
  • The curriculum should be taken outdoors
  • Encourage children to pass on the message, for instance by putting together a fact-sheet for parents in subjects the school/setting is covering so they can carry on learning at home.
  • Support a scheme like Eco Schools.
  • Consider how to bridge the gap between the indoor classroom and the playground.

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