Educationalists are sending out the message to our schools that taking young people out of the classroom is a good thing. The Department for Education and Skills recently launched the 'Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto' which recommends that every young person should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development.
They suggest visits to local nature reserves and wild places, city farms and parks, field study centres, farms in the countryside, gardens, places of worship, museums, theatres and galleries and much more. Obviously such visits broaden the learning opportunities for young people, but it is also as much a response to young peoples' health needs as it is to their learning needs.
Imagine being a youngster today. You go to school, often in a car. You sit in a classroom all day, often listening to your teacher. You get small windows of time to run around in the playground, then it's back to the classroom. You can't wait to get home to watch the t.v. And then you want to answer all those emails from your friends, surf the net, and of course, do your homework, probably on the computer. And your parents probably feel worried about you if you go out to play with your friends and insist you go to visit your friend's house rather than play in the park. Unless you can be accompanied by an adult.
Is it any wonder our young people have problems with obesity? It's not just about modern diets, it's about the modern life-style, and we can hope that if young people are encouraged to go outside at school, then they may pick up some good habits. School visits are much more memorable than learning in a classroom environment and it is probably because new environments and experiences open you up to a different level of awareness. There is also likely to be considerably more activity, for example, if young people visit a nature reserve, they will take a walk in the fresh air; if they help plant some trees, they will be digging and learning at the same time.
Health and safety issues have in recent years squashed teachers' enthusiasm for taking young people out of the classroom, which is ironic. Is it healthier to have a group of young people growing vegetables and flowers in the school grounds or is it safer not to take the risks in case a young person puts a fork through their foot?
But times have been changing. There has been a definite move towards taking young people outside of the classroom to learn and that has been recognised by the Department of Education and Skills with their manifesto. Research has also turned up a new syndrome: 'Nature deficit syndrome'. Anyone who longs to get out of the city and into the countryside may understand what this is about, but a child who lives in the inner city and has never seen a cow, may find such a problem beyond their capacity to imagine. At the other extreme a nursery school has recently been opened where all lessons are being held outside come snow or shine. But if that seems a little too much the other way our schools now have plenty of initiatives to ensure that young people exercise during their playtimes, and opportunities to make sure they can learn in their school grounds, whether it's in an outdoor classroom, or joining a gardening or nature club.
One nine year old boy, who was taken to his school's new allotment, was so enthused by shovelling compost and learning about soil and weeds on site, he wanted to know if he could spend all his school hours down on the plot. The following day he told his teacher that he had been so tired it was the first time he could remember sleeping right through the night. So from one simple outing he learnt about the benefits of exercise and came to a understanding about his preference to learn from experience rather than books.
And maybe as adults we should get outside more, after all learning is a life-long process, and what's good for the kids must be good for us.
For a copy of the manifesto go to: www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/resourcematerials
About the author:Raichael Lock works for the Manchester Environmental Education Network promoting Education for Sustainable development.
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