Learning Parenting Philosophy Tips

Create Your Own Outdoor Classroom Day & Learn Outside

Outdoor Learning - Real Learning Outside
Written by Stuart Wickes

Create Your Own Outdoor Classroom Day & Learn Outside

Outdoor Classroom Day takes place in May each year. It’s a day when teachers around the world are encouraged to take their kids outside to learn. We decided to take part by creating our own outdoor learning day. The kids picked three subjects they’d normally do at school and studied them in the outdoors instead. With a rather unusual teacher. And no books. And you know what? It was a whole lot of fun as well as an education. In this sponsored post, a collaboration with Persil as part of the #DirtisGood campaign, we explore how parents can help in the fight to keep our kids learning playfully and enjoying the natural world. And we share three simple fun lessons you could create outdoors with your kids…

Circle Time - telling a story outdoors to kids

The great outdoors – a natural setting for learning

Let’s start with a sum

Take the average amount of time your child spends outside in a day. Add double the number of towers of stones they make a year. Multiply this by the number of sleepovers they have had in dens at the bottom of the woods. Add all the bugs they’ve collected, all the worms they’ve charmed and all the daisies they’ve made into a chain. And then subtract any times you’ve had to go and find them for dinner or bedtime. What do you have?

Outdoor Learning Sum

How much outdoor learning do your kids do?

We don’t get out enough

The sad answer is probably not very much at all. So many of us have forgotten to chase our children outside to play, let alone learn in the outdoors, that a Head of Maths could base an algebra class around it. I was shocked to read a study lately that showed the amount of time children play outside has decreased by 71% in the space of a generation. And one in ten children said they never play outside at all on an average day.  But it’s not just the kids; we as a population now spend 90% of our lives indoors.

Research* by the Dirt is Good Campaign found nine out of ten parents recognise that kids play outside far less than they did when they were a child. Add to this the fact that in the last 30 years school playtime has reduced and there’s less space and time for outdoor play, and you have the potential for whole generations losing touch with nature and experiential learning.

Looking out across Montenegro from Savin Kuk

Wouldn’t you rather be out here than in a classroom?

So what can we do as parents?

I know as a parent that just removing an i-Pod from a son or daughter overnight can be an uphill battle. But if we want an effective solution we can’t leave it all to teachers who are already straightjacketed by curriculum and government. We can help in the quest to reconnect kids with nature and also remind ourselves there is life beyond the conventional classroom. After all, did you do all your learning or playing at school?

But where to start? We begin by heading into our great outdoors, which just happens to be beautiful Cumbria, to do some of our own lessons and see the benefits for ourselves. Do the kids go willingly? Not at first? Do they come home knowing more? Well one of them does at least. Do they have more fun than school? Read on, watch the videos and see what you think.

Outdoor Classroom on Solway Firth, Cumbria

Our Outdoor Classroom is on the Solway Firth, in North West Cumbria

A rather different kind of school day

We decide to split our outdoor school day into three lessons. In the car, heading over to Silloth in the west of Cumbria, the kids pick which lessons they’d like. They talk about a whole day of art but that’s not how school works. Not even DIY school. So science is in there. And geography and PE. As it’s a weekend, we let them off maths.

We are tempted to give ourselves the role of teacher but then realise our recall of physics is lacking compared to Cameron’s, so it makes sense for him to teach Hannah. And anyway, learning is all about having a go and experiencing and experimenting, so Hannah can also teach herself by using the resources already available in the outdoors. It’s always a mystery to me how people believe that four walls and a pile of books are the best stimulus for learning.

Lesson 1 – Physics on a zipwire

It takes a while for Cameron to figure out how to teach Hannah physics. The opportunity presents itself in an unexpected place. Who’d have thought a zipwire would be the ideal way to learn about friction and the factors and forces affecting how much fun you can have on one? Perhaps schools should start teaching kids more science principles by dropping them from a great height or dangling them from a tree? Watch the video and make up your own mind.

Lesson 2 – Geography on the move

Lesson two begins at Kirkland Farm, at least we think that’s where we are. But we have no idea where or when it will end. Hannah already has a reasonable grasp of map reading so Cameron’s aim is to sharpen up her skills. But no Googlemaps or technological aids are allowed, beyond a compass. It’s back to the old fashioned way of using a map and using your head. She soon catches on…

Lesson 3 – Playground PE

In an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) there are many opportunities for learning. On a visit to Campfield Marsh in the Solway Coast AONB Cameron thinks a PE lesson on the beautiful game might be appropriate. But then realises his sister could probably teach him a thing or two about football.  He then considers sending her on a cross country run, hoping she doesn’t come back, before deciding to use the local RSPB Reserve facilities for a playful PE lesson. Remember playing leapfrog at school? Hannah doesn’t…. at first.

How much fun is it?

We ask Hannah about her experience of our DIY outdoor school.

“Well it was fun and different. And I might remember it better because we actually did it rather than being told it or shown it or reading about it. But can I bring Mr T next time instead of my brother? He’s a much better teacher.”

What is Outdoor Classroom Day?

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global movement to celebrate the benefits of outdoor play and learning. It’s coordinated internationally by Project Dirt and backed by Unilever’s Dirt is Good campaign and is all about teaching and learning outside. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Outdoor Classroom Day website where you’ll find lots of useful resources for encouraging schools to sign up and commit to teach something outside or for creating your own lessons.

Join in and celebrate outdoor learning

Parents and families can join in too and it’s easy to take part. No teaching experience is necessary! Simply take at least one lesson outside on 18th May to celebrate how good this is for kids. Use stones, leaves, bugs, streams and anything natural you can get your hands on to help children embrace learning through play in the outdoors. You’ll be doing both nature and this generation a favour. You may also find, like us, that going back to school is fun. What’s not to like about zipwire physics?

If you do join in, do leave us a comment and tell us your plans, how you got on or what you learnt.

Kids playing in fields of Kranjska Gora Slovenia

If you do nothing else, get outside and play on Outdoor Classroom Day

Get involved with #DirtisGood

If you’d like to get involved with the Dirt is Good campaign to help get your kids playing out more then why not:

Read more

Dirt is Good

Click to read: Dirt is Good

Research Note: *The research quoted was conducted by Edelman Intelligence, an independent market research firm and is part of a global white paper by OMO and the Dirt is Good Campaign.

Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in association with Persil UK to help promote Outdoor Classroom Day and the Dirt is Good campaign.  As ever, the experiences, opinions, teaching, zipping, leaping and navigating was all our own. As are all the words, pictures and videography. 

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

7 Comments

  • There is something about getting outdoors which makes even my brain work differently I think – more creative, more active in a different way – and I see a real difference in my daughter. She’s little enough that playing is definitely one of the best ways to learn, but she does maths with sticks and stones, discovers physics by making towers and piles, and her imagination runs wild: without a weirdly shaped leaf, would she ever have decided she was a seaweed slime monster and run around as far as her small legs could carry her until she totally ran out of steam? I very much doubt it…

  • Ahh this is brilliant! We spend a lot of time outside as a family, especially now the weather has brightened up. I have to admit I don’t really look for the learning opportunities though and there seems to be plenty of those!
    Nat.x

  • What a great campaign. Very inspiring post. My daughter has a small outdoor classroom at school in her reception class which they use daily but I must do more with her outside. Some great ideas here.

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