23 May 2019 marks the next Global Outdoor Classroom Day in which South Africa is involved, part of a global movement to ensure that children get enough playtime and that they have better outdoor environments in which to play.

Since 2011 over 5-million children and 50 000 schools have taken part. In 2018 alone, 3.5-million children in over 100 countries got involved. On Outdoor Classroom Day, schools are encouraged to take lessons outdoors and to prioritise playtime. But, more than that, the campaign aims for three long term goals:

  • Outdoor learning is part of every school day for every child
  • Every child has high-quality recess/play/break time at school every day for at least 60 minutes, with the longer-term aim of 90 minutes
  • Schools act as advocates for more time outdoors so that outdoor play becomes part of every child’s life

It seems as if the movement is starting to gain momentum. There is an upward trend in schools extending play time as they realise the benefits to children and their ability to learn better when in the classroom, among many other positives. 32% of schools who responded to the global Playtime Matters Report 2018 say that they have now increased playtime since getting involved with the Outdoor Classroom Day campaign.

In fact, Finnish schools are leading the way dedicating 15 minutes of playtime for every 45 minutes spent in the classroom. And we know that the Finnish academic results speak for themselves.

What I have been saying to parents and educators for years:

  • Movement and having downtime outside of the formal learning environment allows information and learning time and space ‘to land’
  • It enables the brain to make sense of information, to process it, to play with it
  • It allows the brain to connect new information to connect it to other learning
  • The brain has time to file it in the most appropriate place for easy retrieval at another stage

Children who have no breaks, or insufficient downtime, don’t have the luxury of the giving their naturally brilliant brains the opportunity to work for them. They are left doing all the work, and that makes learning a very conscious experience and much more like hard work!

Some startling statistics that are behind Outdoor Classroom Day

  • Maximum security prisoners in the US are mandated to have 2 hours of outdoor time a day, while globally, 2 out of 3 children play outdoors for less than 1.5 hours a day.
  • Half the visits to parks and green spaces involve dogs while only 9% with a child.
  • Wealthy children are nine times more likely to have access to green spaces than children in poorer households.
  • The World Health Organisation recommends children 5 – 18 years old have at least one our of ‘moderate to vigorous physical activity’ every day, whether they are sporty or not
  • In most countries of the world there is no legal requirement to give children a break between lesson. The writers of the Playtime Matter report state: “As far as we are aware, only in Finland has the research into the importance of regular breaks, or high-quality outdoor spaces and regular time outdoors, been fully recognsied and embraced. The impact of that investment can be seen in not only the children’s high academic results, but in their overall happiness.”

Reasons for reducing outdoor playtime

At schools:

  • To increase teaching time
  • To manage poor behaviour

At home:

  • Busy parents not at home to supervise outdoor play
  • Screen time
  • Traffic
  • Air quality outdoors in some countries
  • Fear for physical safety and stranger danger
  • Small properties or high rise living without gardens

Benefits of outdoor playtime

  • Improvement in academic performance
  • Improvement in behaviour in and outside of the classroom
  • Exposure to nature
  • Exposure to dynamic, ever-changing environments (think of the weather and the seasons)
  • Exposure to sunlight that raises Vitamin D
  • Exposure to how the world works
  • Exposure to human impact on the natural world
  • Improves mood
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves eyesight due to movement and exercising focal depth
  • Improves sensory integration skills
  • Movement and exercise outdoors improves health and wellbeing overall
  • Increased physical activity vs sitting at a desk or in front of a screen
  • Improved muscle tone and stamina
  • Develop social and emotional skills as they interact with others socially
  • Connect better with children of all ages because they mix in the playground
  • Are more resilient and have better self-worth
  • Are more focused, alert and ready to concentrate and learn when they get back into the classroom
  • Are more creative
  • Are more connected to place and the planet – and so are more likely to protect it
  • Teachers report that it makes them happier too to get out of the classroom for a while
  • Teachers report it makes them happier too!

Outdoor Classroom Day and the health of the planet

We can’t expect children to respect and protect that which they are not connected to. This means that the more time they spend outdoors, the more likely they are to protect the planet. There are a few types of outdoor play that are critical and beneficial to children according to Tim Gill’s 2014 review of the literature charting the benefits of children’s engagement with nature:

  • Free play and playful learning outdoors engenders a greater concern for nature and connection to the environment
  • Less playful, adult-directed outdoor learning experiences are good for building scientific knowledge about nature and the planet
  • Lessons about the outdoors such as
  • gardening, horticulture and other activities encourage thinking about the environment

“Distant mountains make for great adventures, but a little play every day is the recipe for growing tomorrow’s environmentally aware adults.”

A quote from the Playtime Matters report

How schools can get involved in Outdoor Classroom Day

When schools sign up to take part in Outdoor Classroom Day they are showing the world that children’s playtime and the spaces they play in are important. They send the clear message to children, families and Governments that getting outdoors and having great spaces to play in are critical to children’s wellbeing and development. Schools are also supported with ideas and get to share their own ideas with the community that is being created.

To find out more and get involved in Outdoor Classroom Day South Africa which is on 23 May 2019, visit www.outdoorclassroomday.co.za and globally at www.outdoorclassroomday.com.

You can also download the full Playtime Matters Report there too.

Playtime Matters Report methodology

The research highlighted in this report is adapted from Muddy Hands – published by Semble (formerly Project Dirt) in October 2018 – alongside additional material focusing on playtime.

The new findings are the results of the latest Outdoor Classroom Day teacher surveys. Two identical surveys were conducted with teachers who took part in Outdoor Classroom Day in May and November 2018. Responses were received from teachers in 76 countries, from schools serving all ages from nursery to school leaving age (19). The focus of this report is on the primary age group, 6-13, so our data is from the 2,535 respondents from primary schools (reported in sections 2b and 2c), including 1,879 who gave us details of their specific classes’ experience of playtime as reported in sections 2a.

The global Outdoor Classroom Day is led by Semble and supported by Unilever as part of their Dirt is Good movement. Semble works with respected environmental and educational NGOs around the world to deliver locally relevant campaigns, from Finland to Brazil.

But really the campaign is delivered on the ground by teachers, parents and supporters – and brought to life by the millions of children that take part every year.