This year the pandemic threw us all back indoors for several months while we tried to slow the first wave of Covid-19.
This had a significant impact on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children who were not able to be outdoors enough and socialise with their peers. It is now very clear that the outdoors is crucial for children’s mental health and social development.
Being in the outdoor environment is both positive from a health perspective but also for connecting children with the environment.
Only by being outside can children enjoy the different seasons or observe the subtle changes that take place as one season passes into another. This appreciation helps them to understand the world as well as to let their imaginations soar.
Outdoor spaces can provide opportunities to move and explore that are often lacking in indoor environments.
A group of thirty-two environmental and youth-focused organisations who work with hundreds of thousands of children and young people across the UK have written to the Education Select Committee to ask for an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning.
Letter to the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
Chair, Education Select Committee
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Request for an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and wellbeing.
Dear Robert Halfon,
We are a group of thirty-two environmental and youth-focused organisations currently working with hundreds of thousands of children and young people across the UK. We are writing to request an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience, wellbeing and in helping them to develop and grow into adulthood.
The unprecedented pandemic the world is tackling has completely changed the ways in which we socialise, work and learn. With the sudden onset of COVID-19, schools and learning spaces were closed for hundreds of thousands of pupils right across the UK. The resulting isolation for pupils from their support network of friends and trusted adults has had a profound impact on their physical and mental wellbeing with a marked disproportional impact shown on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with mental health needs.
This sudden loss of the safe and inspiring places where children could spend their time learning and playing, and the shift to new ways of schooling is exacerbating inequalities in children’s health. In addition, exposing the educational disadvantage gap, with many more children at further risk of falling behind academically as well as developmentally.
It is evident that our world cannot return to the way it was before this crisis. But one thing we should all take with us as we begin to step forward together is a strong connection to nature.
The myriad benefits have been clear for years but in the last five months especially, nature has proved to provide us all with immeasurable comfort as well as aid. During this period, the key role nature plays in enhancing our children’s resilience has been widely recognised; even more crucial considering the current unprecedent circumstances, and beyond.
Through our extensive experience, we 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 (see Evidence below).
As more pupils start returning to schools, the focus in the coming days will rightly be on their safety, their wellbeing and their personal development, as well as on teachers’ safety and wellbeing. Outdoor learning will play a key role as part of this, helping children catch up, by increasing motivation and re-engagement with learning – particularly for those from low socio-economic backgrounds, who have been affected most during lockdown. In addition, engendering a lifelong habit of nature engagement will help children and young people to feel mentally well. And moving forward, offer something they can return to later in life when facing tough circumstances.
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.
At the same time, we are aware of shrinking budgets, increased pressures for teaching staff, and the limited opportunities we find for young voices to engage in emerging policy, or for sustainable careers or skills development that would enable them to contribute to the sort of ‘green’ recovery our society now needs.
Therefore, we believe now is the perfect time for an inquiry into the vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and wellbeing.
This would 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 would be pleased to look into this theme with you in more detail and to contribute (see Examples below): we stand ready to work with your Committee, with the Government and with schools, to help unlock the potential of outdoor learning.
We hope you will agree it is important to consider the true benefits, as well as barriers which could limit future gains while there is a chance, and the motivation, to address them.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts
Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency
David Sharrod, Chief Executive, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust
Mark Castle, Chief Executive, Field Studies Council
Simon Roberts OBE, Chief Executive, Centre for Sustainable Energy
Alasdair Roxburgh, Director of Communities and Networks, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Marc Whitmore, Chief Executive, UpRising
Gary Mantle, Chief Executive, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust
Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive, Ulster Wildlife
Ed Green, Chief Executive, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
Anne Selby, Chief Executive, Wildlife Trust for Lancashire Manchester and Merseyside
Carolyn Cadman, Chief Executive, Cornwall Wildlife Trust
Dr Mark Fishpool, Director, Middlesbrough Environment City
Steven Donagain, Chief Executive, Hill Holt Wood
Frances Cattanach, Chief Executive, North Wales Wildlife Trust
Jamie Agombar, Executive Director, Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK)
Henry Greenwood, Founder and Managing Director, Green Schools Project
Ian Barrett, Chief Executive, Avon Wildlife Trust
Dr Jim Bradley, Partnership Manager, Belfast Hills
Helen Lawrenson, Centre Director, Falkland Stewardship Trust
Helen Stace, Chief Executive, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust
Liz Ballard, Chief Executive, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust
Sarah Kessell, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales
Julian Woolford, Chief Executive, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust
Delia Garratt, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country
Carina Millstone, Executive Director, Feedback
Jeremy Garside, Chief Executive, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust
Charlotte Harris, Chief Executive, Cheshire Wildlife Trust
Roger Mortlock, Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
Lesley Davies, Chief Executive, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust
Joe Brindle, Campaigner, Teach the Future
Marnie Rose, Founder and Director of New Programmes, The Garden Classroom
Despite its severity, Covid-19 is not the only emergency that humanity is currently confronting. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), decisions we take in the next 10 years are crucial for avoiding total climate catastrophe. In addition, a majority of UK wild species are in long-term decline and similar declines in wildlife and natural ecosystems are being recorded across the globe. This also puts our species at high risk, since fully functioning natural ecosystems are necessary for all life on earth.