The importance of the ‘great outdoors’

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By Victoria Saunders, Lecturer in Primary Teacher Education
School of Education, University of Birmingham

“They have the freedom to make a mess, use their imagination and escape from the stress and anxiety of what is going on around them.”

It is 6.10am and the first words I hear from my two daughters (aged 2 and 4) are ‘Is it time to go outside yet?’ Being able to go outside and let the children play has not only helped to maintain my sanity but it has helped to develop my two daughters in numerous ways.

In my role as an initial teacher education lecturer I am constantly promoting the value of using the outdoors as an extension to your classroom and whilst parents have now got the added stress of trying to home school their children, what better opportunities can children have than ‘learn with nature.’

Watching my daughters collect stones to add to their mud mixture in order to feed their baby dolls, they are laughing, sharing and developing relationships. They have the freedom to make a mess, use their imagination and escape from the stress and anxiety of what is going on around them.

The past couple of months have been a time of uncertainty, increased anxiety, stress and worry. Mental health and wellbeing has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds and with research proving that spending time outside can help to relieve stress, raise self-esteem and have a positive impact on wellbeing there has never been a more important time to get outdoors. Being outdoors gives you that sense of freedom especially from being cooped up inside our homes for hours on end. And even though we are all on ‘lockdown’ and keeping to social distance measures, the outdoors helps to give that sense of togetherness and community.

In a world where technology is taking over why not make it purposeful for the outdoors?

My daughter saw a butterfly in the garden and it landed on her shoulder, immediately it became her new pet. She named it ‘Pippa’ and when Pippa flew off we were enlisted the job of looking everywhere for her, by this I mean walking up and down the road shouting Pippa where are you? I managed to convince my daughter that Pippa had gone back to tell her mum all about her new friend and that she would probably be back tomorrow. My daughter accepted this as it meant she now had time to prepare. She needed to make Pippa a house to live in, get food for her, she had so many questions she wanted answering, so when she discovered I had limited knowledge of butterflies I was deployed as scribe whilst she asked ‘Alexa’. She may have resorted back to technology but her learning had purpose – it was real, she was inspired, motivated and keen to learn.

When schools re open and children start to go back I hope they are excited to see their friends and their teachers but I hope they will have stories and happy memories to tell about times in the garden, playing, exploring and simply having fun. I also hope that outdoor learning in schools will become part of daily life as a result of social distancing and simply having more space outside. From this truly awful situation I hope one positive that may come from this is that we may begin to value the simple things and realise the impact on of the ‘great outdoors.’

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