Empty Classroom Day – Taking Learning Outdoors!

Friday 6th July 2012 marks the Empty Classroom Day, a day where pupils will head outside to learn, and we would like you to join us! This exciting initiative seeks to uniquely tackle recent concerns, from both the National Trust and Natural England, that children are suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’ and that there is an ‘extinction of experience’ when engaging with the natural environment.

The Empty Classroom Day is happening right across the UK, but was created by a collection of organisations who met at the London Sustainable Schools Forum (LSSF), all supporting learning outside the classroom, school grounds and growing. The day was developed to help schools benefit from outdoor learning and share their best practice with other schools.

Schools are signing up to support outdoor learning and to show that one class will be learning outside for one lesson on Friday 6th July. Pupils will be:

  • Doing their maths lesson in the playground
  • Making art on city farms
  • Doing bug hunts at nature reserves
  • Running races for school sports days
  • Bird watching in their playgrounds
  • Writing stories in the local park
  • Following maps in Zoos
  • Weeding in the school vegetable patch.

What are the benefits?

Learning outside the classroom can be fun, memorable and healthy. Everyone benefits from learning outside:

  • Young people will get the chance to learn in new, more relevant and exciting ways – in particular these can benefit those who find classroom learning difficult
  • Teachers will be able to broaden and deepen their teaching skills and subject knowledge while working with more motivated pupils
  • The school can use these new approaches to raise achievement
  • The wider community can benefit through involvement in, for example, developing school gardens of all kinds, leading to a wider understanding of issues such as healthy eating, sustainability and caring for the environment.

How does my school join?

Schools can sign up to the event by following this link:

http://projectdirt.com/group/the-empty-classroom/page/signup

For those schools that have signed up there are special offers for visits, tours, treasure hunts and lots of activity packs with ideas for what your class can do in your school playground.

We hope you and your school can join us on this fantastic initiative and that we can take learning outdoors together!

– By Sarah Simmons, NAEE Member

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EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

From Richard Louv’s column

Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child.

If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?

In economically challenged neighborhoods, towns and rural areas, the impact of toxic dumps is well known. The evidence makes it clear that when we poison nature, we poison ourselves. But there’s a second, related threat that is less familiar.

What do we know about how human beings, particularly children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature’sintrinsic benefits? Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand. People need nature for healthy development. We know that.

What we don’t know enough about is the natural capacity of different ethnic or economic communities.

In The Nature Principle, I introduced the term “natural cultural capacity” to describe the strengths and capacities of different cultures to connect with nature, often in unexpected and underreported ways. The new growth of urban immigrant agriculture comes to mind – Somali community gardens in inner-city San Diego, for example; also, how Latino families often use parks as places for family gatherings, and the long-neglected history of African-American environmentalism.

Some good work has been done in these arenas (Audubon’s study on Latino attitudes, for example), but we need a much deeper understanding of both equity and capacity. Here are ten questions to explore:

1. How do different minority or ethnic communities — urban, suburban or rural — connect to nature? What tools and traditions do these communities practice that could be encouraged – and adopted by other groups?
2. According to grandparents in minority or ethnic communities, what tools and traditions faded or were lost, but could be revived?
3. What barriers to nature experience are specific to children and young people with disabilities? Also, what nature-oriented abilities and capacities could be adapted to other communities?
4. What role do urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods play in the political support for parks and open space?
5. What is the comparative availability of nearby nature (especially natural parks) based not only on acreage, but also on such issues as crime, legal restrictions, and the quality of the built environment?
6. Which institutions and organizations do the best job reaching underserved populations; what new approaches are emerging, and where (the role of libraries, for example)?
7. How likely is it for teachers or parents to take children to nearby nature or wilderness to learn and explore? And who gets to go to camp?
8. What role does prejudice — based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability — play in the nature experience?
9. What is, or will be, the impact of the widening income gap on the nature experiences of children?
10. How will current or future cuts in education, nature-based programs and parks impact different socio-economic levels?
11. In urban, suburban and rural areas, what is the impact of repeated nature experience on developmental advantages, confidence, resilience and health benefits – and how aware are residents of the benefits?
12. In these communities, do people believe that nature experiences – the availability of them — should be considered a privilege or a human right?

Many other questions should be asked about equity and capacity. But this truth is clear: Every child needs nature.

______________________

Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network, and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.

For more on natural cultural capacity and diversity, please see:
Saving the Fields of Dreams
The Forgotten Human Right
A Tree Grows in South Central
Natural Leaders Legacy Initiative
Occupy Nature

Photo: R.L.