Children are spending less time outside than ever before, affecting their health, wellbeing and love of the natural world. That’s why we’re proud to lead the Outdoor Classroom Day campaign, working with parents and educators to ensure kids get more time outdoors every day.
The movement to increase children’s access to nature involves community organisations too. Often working with children deprived of outside space, these organisations give children the opportunity to get their boots muddy and their hands in the dirt.
In the run-up to Outdoor Classroom Day on 5 November, we spoke to 4 community organisations in the Semble network about how they’re helping to get kids outside in a wild variety of ways and why they’re so passionate about it.
Little Forest Folk has six fully outdoor forest nurseries where kids aged 2-5 can explore the wonders of the forest all day long.
Why get kids out into the forest?
“Nature allows unstructured play, generating a sense of freedom, independence and inner strength which children can draw upon when they need to. Being outdoors also helps to foster creative forms of play. Being in a natural environment provides children with an abundance of amazing learning opportunities and helps to spark their curiosity. It also promotes education about our environment and the importance of conserving it.”
And what kinds of impact do you see after time spent in the forest nursery?
“Not only do we see a positive increase in physical activity in children but playing in the forest helps to improve balance and coordination skills and fine motor skills too. We’ve also seen first-hand the positive effect being outdoors in nature has on the overall wellbeing of children. The children that join us go on to become resilient, creative, innovative and independent little learners.”
Any other benefits to connecting kids to nature?
“By using local green spaces, we are also actively helping the local community by conserving these spaces and educating the children and others about why this is so important. Parents and families also become more passionate about time outdoors as a result, having seen the impacts on their kids”.
In 2019, Sprout Up created the award-winning ‘Believe in Tomorrow’ outdoor learning garden for the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. After this incredibly successful pilot project, ‘Sprout Up Schools’ was born to help schools introduce more outdoor learning activities.
This social enterprise is committed to helping children reconnect with nature. They make the most of community partnerships to support schools to overcome challenges to getting students outdoors – whether lack of outdoor spaces, training, materials or confidence. Project founder Seonaid told us more.
What does Sprout Up Schools do to get kids engaged in nature?
“Our work gives teachers and schools more confidence to use their outdoor spaces and incorporate outdoor learning into their curriculums. This enables pupils to engage more with the natural environment around them and encourages a holistic approach to caring for the school environments, for example involving the whole school in composting and caring for outside spaces.”
Why do you think this work is so important?
“I strongly believe that unless you understand something you won’t fight for it and we need our children to fight for their nature, communities and environments; and be proud of them. The mental wellbeing benefits of gardening and being outdoors are so well documented now that schools are really striving to give some of this to their pupils, they just need some help along the way.”
Please get in touch with Sprout Up Schools if your school could use some help with increasing their outdoor learning.
Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses (BPCG) is a vibrant community garden where both kids and adults can learn, play and grow together. They run a thriving programme of nature-based activities for local families and host visits for local schools and nurseries including sessions for students with special educational needs.
The BPCG garden is a space where local children can engage in creative, physical activities and gain hands-on experience of the natural world in a safe, exploratory and supportive environment.
Why get schoolkids out into the garden?
“In educational terms, the natural world teaches children and young people to develop their curiosity and enhance their observational skills. Pupils are freer to be creative, to ask questions and to explore possible solutions for themselves when they are not constrained by sitting at a desk facing forwards. Pupils with additional support needs and those who struggle in a traditional classroom environment often benefit most from learning outside the classroom.”
What other impacts do you see after kids connect to nature?
“The Garden also offers opportunities to teach children about healthy eating by growing and sampling fresh fruit and veg, helping to combat obesity and promote healthy living.”
“The health benefits of being outdoors are not just physical and many recent studies suggest that green space and access to nature promotes wellbeing and helps children and adults to remain calm and grounded in stressful urban environments.”
Any other benefits to getting kids into the outdoors?
“Being outdoors encourages young people to connect with the natural world and develops an awareness that they are part of a larger, inter-connected system. This is especially valuable for children living in densely populated urban environments where many households lack access to outdoors space at home. Often urban parents and teachers are also divorced from nature and lack confidence in outdoors settings.”
“Encouraging children to explore the beauty, wonder and diversity of the natural world and their place within it encourages them to become engaged citizens with stronger opinions on environmental issues such as habitat loss and climate change.”
The project shared some recent feedback from parents and teachers to illustrate how impactful the work is for the children who visit:
My children have become little Attenboroughs exploring the natural world through all the activities at the Greenhouses. They adore tasting herbs and freshly grown fruit and veg. The gardens are like a second, greener, home to us! – Parent.
They learnt so much about squashes, seeds and the seasonal cycle of plants. The children were buzzing all the way back to school.. -Teacher.
The tangible reward of watching flowers and vegetables grow after planting them is truly a rare treat for our students as most of them have little access to green spaces.- Teacher.
Get in touch with Brockwell Park Greenhouses if your child or school could benefit from a visit there!
The Orchard Project brings community orchards into the heart of our towns and cities. They plant, restore and celebrate these special spaces, supporting local groups to design and manage them.
Events and partnerships help to encourage local residents to get involved in these green spaces. Over the past 10 years, events have brought over 60,000 people into community orchards across the UK.
Recently, the Orchard Project has worked with 30 schools as part of an orchard restoration initiative. Through assemblies, fruit tree planting and outdoor learning, this initiative has supported 3000 children to get out into their local orchard.
Why do we need to connect kids to nature?
“It’s a sad fact that many children growing up in urban areas are quite ‘nature-starved’; they lack access to natural spaces, or the resources to get out into the countryside.”
What’s the benefit of getting kids out into their local orchards?
“We think it’s really important for children to know where their food comes from. This connection with a food source helps children to harbour greater respect for nature which is fundamental to drive the behaviour and policy change needed to protect our natural resources. It’s hard to ask people to take action if they don’t have a sense of our essential need for the earth, the soil, the insects, plantlife etc. Today’s children will become consumers, changemakers and policymakers, so instilling this respect and understanding is vital.”
The Orchard Project is keen to do more work with schools, so do get in touch if your school is interested.
How can you get involved in the movement to get kids into the great outdoors?
If you’re a parent, teacher or working with children you can join the Outdoor Classroom Day community today for ideas on how to connect to nature and celebrate the outdoors. In the run-up to Outdoor Classroom Day on 5 November, you’ll find masses of ideas and inspiration to help the children in your life Love the Outdoors.
If you’re interested in working with community organisations to connect kids with nature get in touch with the projects listed here, find more projects in the Semble network here or get in touch – we’re always happy to talk about engaging kids in the great outdoors!
For any educators out there – don’t miss out on the brilliant webinar that we hosted last week all about using the outdoors to address current challenges faced in schools!