How Outdoor Play is Improving Children’s Mental Health

As our colleagues at Natural England join together with leaders in the health sector to discuss mental health,dementia and the natural environment, we bring you this guest post looking at mental health in children, and how outdoor play, and learning, can help. Mental health is often perceived as an issue for adults however over half of mental health problems in adult life, excluding dementia, start by the age of 14, and three quarters by age 18. Today in the UK, 1 in 10 of school aged children suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every school class. The Natural Connections Demonstration project recently reported that 90% of children said they felt happier and healthier when learning outside, and in addition, 72% of teachers also reported a positive impact on their health.

Our guest blogger Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing outdoor learning environments for the past 10 years and believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which should be integrated into the school curriculum at every opportunity.

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Leave More Trace?

Today’s article comes to us from one of our most popular guest bloggers, Chris Loynes, a Reader in Outdoor Studies at the University of Cumbria. 

The North American approach of ‘leave no trace’ has crossed the Atlantic to the UK and to some other Europe wide outdoor education programmes, especially those with US provenance or influence. At face value this exhortation seems unquestionably a good thing. However, I will suggest that, in many cases it is either turning a blind eye to the more significant human impacts on nature of visiting a wilderness area (Alagona and Simon, 2012) or introduces an ethic that could be counter to sustaining the rich natural/cultural landscapes of Europe (Beery, 2014) and the related educational endeavours to engage young people with this heritage and it’s continued flourishing. At the very least ‘leave no trace’ needs some thought and some clear boundaries before adopting it as an ethic for your outdoor education practices.

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The ‘Outdoors Indoors’ and Making Gains: the impact of outdoor residential experiences on students’ examination grades and confidence

This week’s blog comes to us from Dr Carol Fuller. Carol is a sociologist and associate professor at Reading University. She works closely with Fiona Craig and colleagues at Ufton Court Adventure, researching ways in which outdoor residential visits impact on confidence, self-esteem and educational outcomes.

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Research I am involved in looks at the ways that how a student identifies themselves as a learner, in terms of their confidence to achieve educationally and in terms of their future career ambitions, is key in explaining their educational aspirations and outcomes. My research explores how attitudes towards education and future educational and career aspirations are not always directly related to actual attainment or potential to attain but are the result of a student’s own understanding of their chances of success.

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Re-blog: Are we at a turning point for outdoor learning?

Jim Burt is Natural England’s Principal Adviser for Outdoor Learning& Outdoors for All. He recently published a blog on Natural England’s Gov.uk pages:

There’s a real buzz around getting kids into the outdoors at the moment – outdoor learning, outdoor play, outdoor education, wild time, whatever you want to call it, everyone’s talking about how important it is to get our children outdoors. From celebrities like Ben Fogle, to commercial companies, to renowned educationalists like Sir Ken Robinson, people are lining up to endorse the value of getting kids away from their screens and into nature. There’s even a new book from well-known author Richard Louv, Vitamin N, presenting us with over 500 nature-oriented challenges. Is this a tipping point?

View the full article here

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New Teacher’s Guide – Transforming Outdoor Learning in Schools: Lessons from the Natural Connections Project.

This free booklet aims to provide school staff with a compelling introduction to the value and impact of well-planned regular outdoor learning for pupils, teachers and schools as a whole. It sets out the evidence for outdoor learning and shows how schools and their staff can overcome challenges to outdoor learning, and embed it into their policy and practice. Outdoor learning can cost very little, and yet can help schools achieve their priorities in ways that engage children with learning.

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Case Study- Natural Connections at Torpoint Community College

John Golding from Torpoint Community College explains his experience of being involved with the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, and how he has developed outdoor learning at the school.
At Torpoint Community College we got involved in the Natural Connections Demonstration Project three years ago. Through this project we set up an outdoor learning centre in the woods at nearby Antony House which is used by groups of students each week, in tutor groups or mixed age groups. The project allowed us to train a teaching assistant to become an outdoor learning leader to run these activities. We have also encouraged, through Outdoor Learning Challenges, all teachers to teach at least one lesson outside in specified fortnights. These have proved hugely popular with staff and students and now happen termly. From September, outdoor learning will be included in the Year 7 curriculum as part of our design technology rotation.

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