In recent years schools have made significant improvements in how they tackle bullying, but some groups of children are still more vulnerable to bullying than others. This year, during Anti-Bullying Week, the Anti-Bullying Alliance are calling upon the school community to take action to stop the bullying of children with disabilities and special educational needs. Sadly, both groups are significantly more likely to be subjected to bullying behaviour and, as they are also more likely to suffer from low self-confidence and poor self-esteem, less inclined to make their plight known to staff.
Research suggests that classrooms in which children and young people are encouraged to simply play or hang out with (as opposed to work or be best mates with) disabled peers, report much lower levels of bullying. Furthermore, one of the more significant protective factors is peer acceptance, particularly in non-classroom and playground settings.
Outdoor play assists all children to develop their skills as good, responsible citizens as they instinctively learn about team work, moral reasoning, social interaction, risk assessment, conflict and negotiation. Learning outdoors is enjoyable, challenging, creative and adventurous. It helps children to learn by experience and gives all classroom members an opportunity to acquire new skills, regardless of academic ability. And let’s face it, when everyone is bundled up in their all weather gear, they all look pretty similar!
Outdoor learning can also have a profound impact upon the confidence and self-esteem of those that often struggle in a classroom environment, as they are given an opportunity to shine. Furthermore, it gives their able bodied peers, without special needs, an opportunity to develop their understanding of the challenges faced by others. In turn, it will cultivate their nurturing skills and will engender a new sense of respect.
So why not commit yourself to an outdoor learning session next week? We know that the weather is rather more inclement than we have been enjoying in the current school year to date, but ask everyone to bring in their wellies, water proofs and gloves and just get outside and get wet and muddy. Even if you just set them the task of clearing up all the fallen leaves in the school grounds (making a big pile for the mini beasts to wait out the winter) the children will all love it and muck in together. And without even realising it, they will start to see each other in a slightly different light as their shared experience allows their sense of citizenship to flourish.