Outdoor learning? It’s child’s play

Sophie Shen finds out how a charity is helping children and schools to transform their playgrounds into places that nurture learning and wellbeing

How is the use of technology affecting young children? Is keeping your child indoors for safety always a good thing? What’s so ‘great’ about the great outdoors anyway? With increasing concerns about child obesity and ‘nature deficit,’ these are questions many parents are likely to have asked.

In answer, a national charity called Learning through Landscapes (LTL) has dedicated itself to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. It aims to encourage young children to experience life outdoors and believes that connecting them to nature will give them a better understanding of the world they live in.

LTL’s work includes projects such as helping Sharrow Primary School in Sheffield to create a roof garden, which has been declared a local nature reserve by Natural England – the first green roof in the country to achieve this status. In Wales, with the involvement of the local community, LTL helped Barry Island Primary converting a patch of wasteland opposite the school and overlooking the docks, into a place where children can safely run about, sit and talk, and take part in lessons.

Its Fruit-full Schools programme meanwhile, which helps children to design and plant community orchards in their school grounds, is currently a semi-finalist in The National Lottery Awards 2012. The awards focus on the positive impact that Lottery-funded projects make to local communities.

According to LTL, where schools have improved their grounds 73% of teachers said children’s behaviour had improved, while improvements in children’s attitudes, interaction, activity, and a reduction in bullying were also reported.

In Europe play is viewed as a crucial aspect of school life. Having undertaken case studies of schools in Berlin, with support from Inspiring Scotland, LTL’s 2-year Natural Play project saw them work with eight Scottish primary schools to adapt the ideas for the UK. An example is the creation of ‘barefoot paths,’ made from different natural materials so that the children can explore different textures.

“Learning through Landscapes’ exciting and varied application of environmental enhancement has already enriched thousands of children’s school days,” says Chris Packham, presenter of BBC Spring Watch. “With the increasing support of public and private sponsorship this charity is gearing to make improvements to playgrounds all over the UK”.

In April this year, LTL co-founded the International School Grounds Alliance – a global network of organisations committed to improving children’s wellbeing by re-thinking the way school grounds are used.

Schools and teachers can sign up for membership of LTL and can also purchase a booklet that the charity has published sharing its experience about how schools can make use of woodlands that are on their doorsteps as places for play.