In 2012, The Guardian and Zurich Municipal launched ‘The School We’d Like’ – a competition encouraging staff and students to submit an idea that would improve their school community’s quality of life. Each category – Primary school, Secondary school and Special school – was offered a prize of £5000 to allow the winning ideas to be realised.
Remarkably, as the panel of Judges noted, the majority of ideas competing for the £15,000 prize money reflected the ongoing demand for outdoor classrooms and teaching to spread into school grounds. With proposals from woodland walks to a learning area inside a double decker bus, staff and students across the UK were united in their desire to develop a space promoting outside learning.
A year ago we might have wondered at this popularity, however 2012 was the year when Nature Deficit Disorder, and the effects it is having on our children’s health, became firmly fixed in the public consciousness, with The National Trust and our own Whitepaper Report contributing to this raised awareness. Since then, research has continued to reinforce the benefits of taking learning beyond the classroom, proving that children exposed to nature have improved reasoning, concentration, observational skills and discipline.
The National Trust’s list of ’50 Things to Do before You’re 11 ¾‘ emphasises the benefits of encouraging children to interact with nature, with activities ranging from building a den to hunting for fossils. While these ideas may be familiar to their parents, many children growing up in the UK today are more likely to spend their time playing online, than having an adventure in the wild. Not only are our children missing out on valuable life lessons, but their health is suffering as a result, with a fear that if current trends continue, by 2050 a quarter of children will be obese.
One of the main reasons for this decline in children’s exposure to nature is the increased emphasis on health and safety regulations. Perhaps this is why schools have become so enthusiastic about creating spaces for outdoor learning within their own grounds. Not only are they sustainable and cost-effective, but provide a compromise between keeping children in the classroom and allowing them to run free outside.
So what can you do to improve your school environment? Maybe, like St Fagan's CW Primary School, you'd like to develop a classroom that inspires creativity and gives the whole school room to learn and grow. If you aren’t lucky enough to have been awarded £5000 towards your design, then explore the variety of funding assistance available for schools seeking to develop an eco-classroom. Our report should help you consider your options and eligibility, but please contact us if you’d like to discuss them any further.