Why the outdoors is great

Waltham Forest Echo

November 2019   

Author Helen Bigham urges children and young people get out and about for Outdoor Classroom Day.

Autumn is a glorious season to spend time in the forest. In the words of educationalist Margaret McMillan: “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky.” Yet three out of four UK children spend less time outdoors than the 60 minutes recommended for prison inmates, according to a 2016 Unilever study. Research has shown that outdoor learning is good for your health and playing in nature not only teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork and creativity, but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood. Lessons learned outdoors, whether maths, science or geography, often stay with us for life.

In Waltham Forest, we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by green space. As a child I visited Suntrap Forest Centre, the educational environmental centre in Epping Forest owned by Waltham Forest Council. So-called 'forest schools' such as Curious Wilds in Walthamstow are growing in number and are showing young children how much fun can be had outdoors.

This is welcome news as a recent report from the University of Sheffield identified that some of Britain’s most loved historical
landscapes are at risk of being severely damaged and changed forever by the effects of climate change. For future generations we need to educate and put in place safety measures to protect our countryside.

One way to get involved is to join The Conservation Volunteers, who run two 'green gyms' in Chingford Green and Lloyd Park. Everyone is welcome and there’s always something to suit all levels of experience and fitness.

Thursday 7th November is Outdoor Classroom Day, an annual global campaign which aims to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outdoors and prioritise playtime.

Kerry Rolison, head of Suntrap, said: “I’ve always respected and wanted to look after our natural environment. Working at Suntrap Forest Centre over the past 30 years has allowed me to share that passion with thousands of children and young people.  During major refurbishment at our site the team is on tour. This gives us the perfect opportunity to bring nature nearer to local people, encouraging them to explore and discover Epping Forest and learn ways to protect our ancient woodland',