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When you get back to your classroom, get outside! - a blog from Doorways
Posted by : Martin Crabbe
children gardening

I was privileged to attend the National Youth Climate Summit on 22nd April, where I listened to remarkable speakers from ‘every generation’. One of the speakers was a friend of mine, Nick Gardner, formerly of Semble and now at the Lottery. Nick’s inspirational talk was titled ‘The Great Outdoors’. He discussed the critical importance of ‘the outdoors’ and how lockdown has made us even more aware of it’s value. Making a direct connection to climate action, he argued that people need to get to know ‘their own outdoors’ if they are going to do something to improve or protect it. 


Nick wasn’t alone. Speakers and participants discussed the pressing need for schools to engage in the climate emergency through a changed curriculum which would almost certainly involve an out of classroom/real world aspect. 


For more information on the rest of the conference, the superb speakers, their inspirational ideas and great chat forums click here


London schools have a huge disparity between their school grounds. Despite this, teachers know the importance of finding somewhere outdoors that they can use with their young people and they are often incredibly creative (see Muddy Hands Report). Children need to learn and play outside.


The Outdoor Classroom Day campaign started in November, 2011 at London City Hall with these very principles in mind. It began life at an event run by London Sustainable Schools Forum that was hosted by my brother Tony. We didn’t just use him because he was free (brother’s rates!) but also because he is good at what he does (see here). We needed someone to get us out of our comfort zones. We no longer had governmental support but we all knew our work still had value.


Tony divided the participants into groups based around topics they were interested in (not unlike our Doorways project today). One topic, school grounds, was led by (the legendary) Anna Portch. Anna’s group was really keen to create something:

  • fun for young people
  • useful for teachers
  • and that could be promoted widely by people from any ‘sustainable schools’ organisation.

And they created ‘Empty Classroom Day’. Their message was simple and brilliant – take your lessons outside and we’ll celebrate it on one special day each year.

After a few years, because of the hard, inclusive and creative work of Anna and others such as Chris Robson (now at The Podfarm) the project grew to over 600 schools and went international. To develop it further they needed help and money. 

Nick, who was then at Project Dirt (now called Semble), took over the running of the project and received the backing of Persil (through their Dirt is Good programme). Cath Prisk joined up and added her years of outdoor learning experience to the mix. The rest is history. In 2019 over 3 million young people took part. 


During Nick’s conference speech he quoted Margaret Mead (an American cultural anthropologist):

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Outdoor Classroom Day is a perfect example of this. Anna, Chris, Nick and Cath have produced something powerful and important.  Outdoor Classroom Day celebrates and connects schools across the world through a simple principle: learning and playing outside is essential.


London Sustainable Schools Forum values Outdoor Classroom Day so much that it recommends it as the first thing that any school does at the start of their sustainability journey. I am proud that Outdoor Classroom Day began life in London and that it continues to have a strong presence but, like everything, it could be useful to even more schools. Imagine if every school in London signed up! 


I could talk forever about why I love Outdoor Classroom Day and why I feel learning outside the classroom is so important. Luckily for you all, the catchphrase of our Doorways Project is #lessismore. So, instead, I will end this blog with some facts from the seminal Muddy Hands Report, written by Cath Prisk and Dr Harry Cusworth, they provide a compelling case with the following facts:


Key statistics

  • 97% of teachers say that outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential.
  • 88% of teachers say that children are happier after playing outdoors.
  • 88% of teachers say that children are more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors.
  • 86% of teachers say that playing outdoors gives children a better understanding of the environment.
  • 44% of teachers have increased outdoor learning since getting involved in Outdoor Classroom Day.

Key findings

  • Getting outdoors connects us to the places we live and the environments we will want to protect.
  • Getting outdoors results in better learning outcomes, across the board.
  • The benefits of outdoor learning and play last beyond early education.
  • Outdoor learning and play create healthier, more active children.
  • Time spent outdoors boosts mental health.

Schools as influencers


The report looks at how schools can act as catalysts in their communities to help increase opportunities for children to play not only at school, but outside of the school gates. Since the campaign started in the UK in 2011 over 40,000 schools in more than 100 countries have taken part. So, whether you call it Aprendiendo al Aire Libre, تعلم في الهواء الطلق, Belajar Di Luar Kelas or Outdoor Classroom Day, it all means helping children to get outside and reach their full potential as happy, healthy people.


About Doorways:

London Sustainable Schools Forum are launching their most reflective project yet: Doorways. The Doorways project aims to support schools and those that work with schools to consider how to develop a more sustainable approach. They will be promoting great free school resources based around the following eight themes (doorways): air; energy; food; local well-being; school grounds; travel and traffic; waste; and water. These categories are a ‘mash-up’ of ideas from previous sustainable schools work and the eco-schools categories. The specific ‘doorways’ are less important that the idea behind them. Namely, that it's more important to get started on one area and do it well (i.e. as sustainably as possible) than worry about ticking every box.


Please visit their website page here.



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