We received a great question this week, how do educators help parents understand outdoor learning is valuable and is not just play.
We loved this question, and have come over this a number of times over the years, so we thought it was worth sharing our answer with you all.
Parents might not necessarily understand what outdoor learning is. Most people of my generation didn’t get to participate in outdoor learning within school as children. But if we start talking to them about how they spent their childhoods, often their memories involve playing outside. If we ask them what that taught them, they often start to understand learning can and does happen outside.
But it isn’t just about reminiscing, it is also looking at what we share with parents, whether that is in blogs, on Twitter or through what they observe happening. This morning, we had a peek at our Twitter feed to see what was being shared. We found photos of children hiding in the leaves, flying kites or playing with chalk. Each picture was described in this way.
Would you describe indoor learning in the same way? Do children play with pencils? Do they move cubes around in maths? Or would we describe these indoor activities as children learning to write or mark making, creating art work or using concrete materials to support their maths understanding?
If we describe outdoor learning as play, parents will think of it as play. They may not see the learning going on. We need to switch up how we describe what is going on. Going back to our previous examples, children hiding in leaves could be described as problem solving (how to get the leaves to cover themselves) or team work (as they work together to make it happen), we could highlight the observation skills of finding each other. With flying kites we could mention the problem solving of getting your kite to fly, the understanding of forces and how to utilise the wind to fly your kite, we could talk about the gross motor skills required to run with it, hold it and fly it, or the spatial awareness required to ensure kites do not fly into each other or children run into each other. Finally, playing with chalk outside could be described as mark making which is aiding formation.
Just describing outdoor learning in a similar way we describe indoor learning, by emphasising the learning, helps parents understand the value of it.
But we also have the issue of parents not understanding play. The importance of play.
Albert Einstein simply stated “play is the highest form of research”. But what does that actually mean? Well, through play our brains build pathways for thinking. These pathways help us develop our creativity and imagination, required for problem solving. They help us develop communication skills and empathy, which are required in life. Play helps us make sense of the world around us.
We worked with some high school pupils. When taking them to a new woods their first question was where were we building the campfire. Their second, was it ok for them to play. These were high school boys who were disengaged with the school system. They found building relationships hard. But allowing them time to play in the woods actually brought them together. They started working together, communicating with each other. This programme lasted a few weeks but a year on the benefits can still be seen. These boys are a tight group now, who support each other. It has improved how they engage in school.
Play is learning. It is essential. It is not time spent frivolously. Play is not just for little kids either, it is for all of us. We need to help parents understand this.
So, given this, if children are playing outside, is that necessarily a bad thing? We think not. Children will still be learning. We just need to remember to educate our parents on the learning that is happening.