Time to take teach­ing out­side

Get­ting chil­dren off their de­vices to play out­side is part of the fight against dig­i­tal, says Lucy Denyer

The Daily Telegraph - - Family & features -

As any par­ent can at­test, the bat­tle to prise chil­dren away from the glow of their screens seems end­less. Nurs­eryage chil­dren now spend eight hours a week on­line, ac­cord­ing to a new Of­com re­port, with 65per cent of three- to four-year-olds us­ing tablets – up 10per cent from last year. Over a quar­ter of 10-year-olds are ac­tive on Face­book and Twit­ter.

It is statis­tics like th­ese that have prompted a re­turn to ana­logue ed­u­ca­tion, with out­door play chief among the ways the an­tidig­i­tal fight­back is be­gin­ning; just a few weeks ago, an Ip­swich academy an­nounced it would be send­ing its pupils out in the rain at play­time – in­ap­pro­pri­ate footwear not­with­stand­ing.

It seems that there is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that a re­turn to a sim­pler way of do­ing things may not be so bad when it comes to our lit­tle ones. Af­ter all, we live in trou­bling times – men­tal health is­sues are on the rise among teenagers, thanks to the per­ils of so­cial me­dia, and our chil­dren are seem­ingly fat­ter and un­health­ier than ever be­fore – last week it was re­ported that sur­geons are per­form­ing hip re­place­ments on chil­dren as young as 10 be­cause of the dam­age caused by obe­sity.

“We’re hope­ful that the cul­ture is be­gin­ning to move in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” says Richard Louv, an out­door ed­u­ca­tion guru and au­thor of Vi­ta­min N: The Es­sen­tial Guide to a Na­ture Rich Life. “We’re see­ing a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for th­ese is­sues among par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors, doc­tors and oth­ers. And we’re see­ing some strong coun­tertrends – such as the growth of na­ture-ori­en­tated schools.”

In Bri­tain, out­door schools are prov­ing ever more pop­u­lar. The For­est School As­so­ci­a­tion has seen its mem­ber­ship grow from 200 in 2012 to over 2,000 to­day, and ear­lier this year, a new Academy Trust, Red Kite, formed – it is now in the process of sub­mit­ting an ap­pli­ca­tion to start four Na­ture Schools, in Wilt­shire, War­wick­shire, Devon and the West Mid­lands. Dan­de­lion Ed­u­ca­tion, a nurs­ery in Nor­folk that keeps its chil­dren out­side what­ever the weather, play­ing only with toys they have made them­selves, was re­cently named Nurs­ery of the Year.

But com­mon-or-gar­den state pri­maries are start­ing to jump on the band­wagon, too. Five years ago, Elaine Wylie, at the time the head teacher of a large pri­mary school in Stir­ling, re­alised the chil­dren in her school were un­fit. She started her pupils run­ning around a field ev­ery day for 15 min­utes – af­ter a month, ev­ery­one was hooked. The Daily Mile, which gets chil­dren run­ning for 15 min­utes a day, has now be­come a global move­ment, with over 3,000 schools in­ter­na­tion­ally signed up and ev­ery Lon­don bor­ough rep­re­sented.

The afore­men­tioned Piper’s Vale Pri­mary in Ip­swich was taken over ear­lier this year by the Par­a­digm Trust, whose pol­icy it is to send chil­dren in all of its six schools out­side for “wet play” when it is rain­ing.

“Be­ing out­side hav­ing fresh air and do­ing ex­er­cise can only be a good thing,” says Caro­line Wagstaff, of Par­a­digm Trust, which takes on schools that are par­tic­u­larly in need of help. “Ev­ery­thing we do is about im­prov­ing life chances for chil­dren.”

It’s not hard to see the ben­e­fits of such ini­tia­tives: last year, the Nat­u­ral Con­nec­tions Demonstration Project, a four-year scheme de­signed to get chil­dren out­doors, pub­lished its find­ings – 92 per cent of teach­ers sur­veyed said that pupils were more en­gaged with learn­ing when out­doors and 85per cent saw a pos­i­tive im­pact on their be­hav­iour. “I’ve seen such a tremen­dous change in Lily,” says Henny Clarke of her five-yearold daugh­ter, who started at The Wil­low on the Farm pre-school in Ox­ford­shire in Septem­ber. “Lily is learn­ing to count with car­rots they’ve dug up from the gar­den, squish­ing black­ber­ries be­tween her fin­gers and paint­ing with them, and tak­ing trac­tor rides down to the stream to learn about things that float or sink. Her speech has im­proved, her con­fi­dence has in­creased no end, she is more grounded, has more pa­tience, sleeps bet­ter, eats bet­ter and is in­ter­ested in what she’s eat­ing, too.”

While some schools have jumped en­thu­si­as­ti­cally on the dig­i­tal band­wagon (wit­ness the rise of on­line tools such as Class Dojo, which up­dates par­ents through­out the day on their child’s be­hav­iour), “in­ter­na­tional re­search from the OECD and other or­gan­i­sa­tions clearly shows that coun­tries that mod­er­ate their tech use do bet­ter,” says Chris Mc­gov­ern, a for­mer DFE ad­viser and chair­man of the Cam­paign for Real Ed­u­ca­tion. And, he adds: “It’s much safer for chil­dren to do phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity than let them loose on the in­ter­net.”

And we do need to set the ex­am­ple our­selves. “When par­ents re­dis­cover their sense of won­der, so do most kids,” adds Louv. So get out those board games, go for a walk in the woods or light a fire with your kids. Whether it’s nos­tal­gia or not, our chil­dren are likely to thank us for it. As Louv says: “Peo­ple sel­dom look back on their child­hoods and re­call the best day they ever spent watch­ing TV.”

Wet play: more schools are now tak­ing chil­dren off­line and out­side to learn

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