The global movement that’s improving child health and wellbeing, nature connection and engagement in learning

Susie Smith, a passionate advocate of education for sustainability, discusses the success and impact of Outdoor Classroom Day.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outdoors and prioritise playtime — showing not only how easy it can be to take learning outside, but also how rewarding it is for both pupils and their teachers. In 2019, more than 3 million children worldwide took part (we suspect the actual figure is even higher) and almost 700,000 of those were here in the UK and Ireland.

The history of Outdoor Classroom Day

The campaign’s roots go back to 2011 when, inspired by Tim Gill’s ‘Sowing the Seeds’ report, a group of educators and teachers created Empty Classroom Day. The following year, a handful of schools participated in London. By 2015, 600 schools took part across 15 countries.

As the campaign grew, the volunteers who were running it recognised the need for dedicated investment. So, in 2016, Semble (then called Project Dirt) partnered with Unilever’s Dirt is Good team to grow the movement and take it global. Outdoor Classroom Day was born.

Learning through Landscapes joined the movement in 2017, bringing our outdoor learning expertise and resources to the table, and the campaign to the attention of teachers in a network of schools spanning Shetland to the Isles of Scilly and Kerrykeel to Ballydehob.

Now, just three years later, we’re proud to say that Outdoor Classroom Day is a key fixture in thousands of school diaries and acts as a catalyst for more outdoor learning and play every day. In particular, the popularity of the November 2019 event has been tremendous, with a 260% increase in participation since 2017.

A group of children enjoying Outdoor Classroom Day in their school grounds.

What does the research say?

At Learning through Landscapes, we’re familiar with the growing body of academic work that shows that time outdoors during the school day improves children’s health, engages them in their learning, and leads to a greater connection with nature. We also know that play not only teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork, and creativity, but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood.

However, we wanted to produce our own evidence to prove the benefits of Outdoor Classroom Day. Working with our campaign partners, we surveyed teachers after every Outdoor Classroom Day event to produce the Muddy Hands report. The global results are striking:

  • 97% of teachers say that outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential;
  • 88% of teachers say that children are happier after playing outdoors;
  • 88% of teachers say that children are more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors; and
  • 86% of teachers say that playing outdoors gives children a better understanding of the environment.

In the face of concerns about academic and skills development, mental health and wellbeing, and a growing environmental crisis, the benefits of more time outdoors are obvious. In addition, the campaign is proven to work! 44% of teachers tell us they have increased outdoor learning since getting involved in Outdoor Classroom Day, and 32% have increased outdoor playtime every day.

Busy teachers benefit directly, too. In the Natural Connections Demonstration Project report published in 2016, it was revealed that nine out of ten (90 per cent) staff found outdoor learning useful for delivering the curriculum, and more than seven out of ten (72 per cent) said that taking lessons outdoors was good for their own mental wellbeing.

Children exploring the undergrowth on Outdoor Classroom Day.

Join the Outdoor Classroom Day movement

As a supporter, you can register on the Outdoor Classroom Day website and add your voice to our global shared goals:

  1. Outdoor learning is a part of every school day for every child and young person
  2. Every child and young person has 90 minutes of playtime every day
  3. Schools advocate for more time outdoors.

So, will you help us spread the word and encourage more schools, teachers and parents to champion outdoor learning and play?

We celebrate Outdoor Classroom Day in May and November each year. Sign up to our newsletter ensure you stay up to date with the latest outdoor learning news and opportunities, and gain ideas to encourage more outdoor learning and play every day.

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