The Perfect Prescription for Happier Kids: Get Outside!

Two or three generations ago, if our parents and grandparents are to be believed, children were turned out the door after breakfast and not expected to return till dinner time. They spent their days on urban bombsites or at the local rec, in the countryside they explored woods or lay in grassy meadows. Outdoors, free, full of adventure, and unfettered by parental warnings and worries.


With each subsequent decade, children have spent less and less time in such free play, less and less time outdoors even. Today children spend less time outside than ever before, a decrease of 71% in a generation. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, and parents are concerned that 61% of children don't know how to play without technology! We live in an age of after school clubs, organised playdates, TV and video games. Nearly every hour of many children's days is structured, planned, supervised, with most of it being spent indoors.

Even playtime at school is being squeezed, with less space and time being dedicated to outdoor play.  30 minutes a week has been lost over the past decade as the value of play, and the great outdoors, has been marginalised.  School policies have also changed, with children often being shepherded inside at the first sign of rain, wind, snow or, heaven forbid, mud. Yet Persil has found that the vast majority of parents still recognise the value of play as a vital way to learn life skills, and an essential part of a rounded education.

Our children need more freedom. The freedom to get hands-on in the great outdoors, to learn, to discover, and to get deliciously, fantastically mucky.  Like us, Persil is passionate about children having outdoor adventures and real play opportunities, so they are supporting Outdoor Classroom Day again this year.  Let's see how many children we can get outside this year!


As the herder of three independent, irrepressible young sprites, I came to realise very quickly that it is in my own best interests to get them outside as much as possible. They're rather like dogs or race horses in that they need exercising at least twice a day, preferably three times (thank goodness for lighter evenings!). Playgrounds are great, of course, but what these three really need is to engage all their senses in the great outdoors. To play freely. To investigate flora and fauna, to dig, to gather, to discover, and usually to come back covered in mud, sand, grass stains etc etc.

Outdoor Classroom Day which falls on Thursday 17th May is a global campaign to get children outdoors, playing, learning and having fun.  It's a day on which thousands of schools around the world pledge to take learning outside and to prioritise play.  In 2017, more than 2 million children in 100 countries took part.  Schools all over the world are getting children back into nature to prod, poke, touch, discover and learn, to simply be outside. Why sit in a dusty classroom talking about the world when you can get outside and see it in action?


From simple activities such as practicing numeracy with natural objects rather than classroom manipulatives, to active treasure hunts, history walks, bug hunts and den building, there is so much that can be learnt outside.  Essential but unteachable skills such as teamwork, leadership, resilience and negotiation can also be learnt.  By working together, and working with nature, children have a greater chance of developing their own natural skills in these areas.

As a teacher, I was always looking for ways to get learning outside, primarily because it's fun, but also to make life easier! Children's behaviour invariably improves outside, and their motivation to learn increases, especially when learning is more tangible and hands on.  Talk to your child's school, are they getting involved in Outdoor Classroom Day?  Think too about how your family can get involved, how you can spend more time outdoors, playing, exploring and learning together.


Whilst it's brilliant that schools are getting children outside more, that's just a small part of our children's lives. There is so much that we can do as parents, both to get them playing outside in the natural world, but also to help foster their learning.  Getting outside, involved, engaged, and building rich memory-making experiences that help children to develop, learn and grow. Real play is free, exploratory, and often messy. As adults we yearn for mindful living, children are mindful in true real play, helping them to thrive in every aspect of life.

Take them to the woods, the beach, a field, or just out in the back garden, and let them be free. Create daily adventures in fields and meadows, on a beach, on the moors, in the woods or forest, on a common or in a playing field. No equipment necessary. Children will create their own games, or just lie on their tummies to watch a worm, or on their backs to watch the bees.


Make time to get out and about as a family too, a weekly commitment to family adventures outdoors. Many parents aren't sure where to start with outdoor play and learning, but purely being in nature creates its own learning opportunities. In the past couple of weeks blossom and leaves have burst open seemingly overnight, everywhere you look there are signs of new life, of frogs, insects, birds. Just get out there and start looking - and the muckier you get, the better!

Here are a few of our favourite nature activities to get you started:

Pond Dipping

This can be as simple as swirling a clean empty jam jar through the water of a stream or pond and using a magnifying glass to see what you find; or you could invest in a couple of nets, a washing up bowl and some identification guides or books.  Local WWT wetland centres, RSPB sites and wildlife trusts regularly run pond dipping activities, so see what is near you.  Sticklebacks and assorted nymphs and larvae are our best finds so far.  Lara is on a mission to find a newt this spring.


Identifying Trees and Plants

Now is the perfect time to get out and find new leaves. How many trees can you name? How many species are there in your local park or woodland? Look at the leaf patterns and shapes, look at the veins and talk about the role that leaves play, draw the different shapes.  Are they simple leaves with a single, undivided blade down the centre, or compound leaves with a fragmented blade and leaflets?  You could also look at the buds, see if you can find some of last autumn's dropped leaves and seeds around the tree, and look for wild flowers and signs of wildlife.


Beachcombing

Head to your nearest bit of coast and start searching.  You could find fossils amongst the pebbles, crabs in the rock pools, and all sorts of amazing debris washed up on the beach.  Our best finds last year were a set of wooden prayer beads from a monastery in Macedonia at Margate, and a whole shark carcass at the wild West Beach at Littlehampton, but even a good piece of driftwood is always entertaining.  (Just be sure to take an empty bag with you to collect any rubbish or recycling you find.)


Lifecycles

This is the perfect time to study lifecycles with birds building nests, the first ducklings and other water babies waddling around, and frogspawn in many ponds.  Head to your nearest water world to see what you can see.  If you find frogspawn keep going back to see it develop, there will be a mass of tadpoles very soon.


Nature Art

A great way to introduce the idea of pattern in nature: can they fin straight lines, curved lines, spirals?  What patterns can you see on stones, flowers, leaves, the barbs of a feather, frogs and mini beasts?  Photograph or draw the patterns.  How many colours can you find?  Introduce the work of Andy Goldsworthy before you go or print out some images to take with you for inspiration, gather some loose materials (don't pick anything) and create something beautiful.


Bug Hunts

Grab an old white sheet, a magnifying glass and off you go.  Place the sheet under a bush or shrub and shake it to see what insects come off, turn over logs to see what's underneath (make sure you put them back in the same position), and sit in a quiet place to see how many types of bees and butterflies pass by.  We counted seven types of butterfly and six varieties of bee in my mum's small village garden last weekend!  Nature really is everywhere, you just have to look.



I defy you not to be completely in love with nature after these activities.  By spending time outdoors, children will be freer, happier, and better able to deal with problems, as well as very, very happy!  And don't worry about them getting mucky, Persil can take care of that.  Get out there and have fun.

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Comments

  1. We try and get outside everyday we definitely need to do more activities like your suggestions though.

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  2. My three have always loved being outdoors and I think this idea is great. I don't think children have enough time outside when they are at school, there is so much they can learn from that environment.

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