Recently, while surfing the internet, I discovered that Action for Children’s Environments (ACE), an NGO and a charitable trust which works towards creating safe, healthy, all-encompassing and resilient living environments for children and young people, is calling on teachers across India to take at least one lesson outdoors on Thursday, October 12, 2017, as a part of the global Outdoor Classroom Day campaign. Not just teachers but even parents and anyone else who cares about childhood can get involved in the campaign. Apart from taking a class outdoors, people can contribute by encouraging their child’s school to sign up, or by helping to spread the message far and wide. Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate, enthuse and inspire outdoor learning and play.
I was mighty impressed with the idea and reading about this campaign took me back to the day when I had wholly realized the importance of outdoor learning in case of my child. That day I was gob smacked! My fidgety and impatient toddler was playing “Passing the ball” with her school mates in a field next to the Montessori House that she goes to and they were all waiting for their turn uncomplainingly. At home, it had always been a herculean task for me to get her to wait for something but I was amazed to see the impact of great company, the right atmosphere and natural surroundings on her. Someone has rightly said that play is the best way by which children can learn how to learn because they are naturally drawn to play outside.
It is not that we are not aware of how spending time outdoors is of paramount importance in the overall growth and development of a child. But, in keeping with the changing times, children are exposed to a completely different kind of environment today as opposed to the kind we grew up in. With the advent of new technologies and changes in societal structures, the amount of time spent outdoors is dwindling resulting in sedentary lifestyles. Staying connected to the natural world is actually a necessity but unfortunately, it’s becoming a luxury. According to studies conducted on this subject, probable perils, interactions with strangers and getting grimy are also factors which act as a deterrent for some parents in encouraging their children to play outside, even though they are aware of the importance of such experiences. Though the fear of safety is understandable, we can certainly ensure at our end that children are unfettered and unshackled under the supervision of a responsible and trusted caregiver. And as far as getting dirty is concerned, all I can say is a little dirt does not hurt, right?
I have realized that the importance of outdoor learning and play is undermined by many, because it is largely considered to be “fun” time. Truth is that it also contributes to immense learning right from the infancy stage. Being outdoors provides kids with unlimited stimulus and boundless opportunities to develop their gross motor skills, soft skills, problem-solving skills as well as language skills. Fresh air invigorates and fuels a child’s imagination and senses, which ensures that whatever they grasp during that period stays with them forever. It is not just about play but just simple things like taking a stroll in the midst of nature makes for a perfect setting for erudition. Experts also highly emphasize on the impact of outdoor play and sunlight on a child’s sleep patterns. Needless to say, sound sleep is essential for the development of a child. I have also observed that children who are well acquainted with nature develop a keen sense of environmental awareness.
Research has found that 56% of children globally play outside for one hour or less each day. Furthermore, in India, 56 per cent of parents believe that their child has less opportunities to play than they did as a child. In India, primary school students spend about 51 hours more in classrooms that their OECD counter parts annually, and research shows that if more time is allocated for recess, there will be a greater willingness to study among students. Seventy-nine per cent of children report that having time to play at school helps them to concentrate in lessons. In fact, in some cases such as in Puducherry, India, only a 15-minute recess is given during the six-hour school day. The same is true for many schools across all states in India. In 2016, almost half a million children around the world got involved in Outdoor Classroom Day by having their lessons outside (within and outside school premises) and celebrating playtime. And ninety-two per cent of schools agreed that children engaged more with their learning outdoors!
Having said all the above, there are real challenges parents face in today’s world when it comes to ensuring enough outdoor time for kids. Firstly, where are the open playgrounds and spaces? During our childhood years, almost every lane had a huge park or playground or open field where we would spend hours playing various games or chattering away to glory with our friends or relaxing and basking in the sunbeams. Today, all I see around is tall buildings sprawled along the road. Many people have to travel a few kilometers to find a decent play area for their child. Fortunately, I live in a gated community which has small parks and this was a key criterion for us while purchasing our apartment, even though we did not have a child at that point in time. But, how many have this provision close to their residence? There is certainly a dearth of safe play areas for kids, especially in the urban sectors and not everyone has easy access to natural spaces outside. However, in this situation, it becomes all the more imperative for parents and teachers to find out about the local outdoor play options and ensure that children spend a good while there at least twice a week. For example, my daughter’s school is a small Montessori House in a standalone building, but every week they take children out to the spacious and wide playing field in close proximity and they also make sure that all the children are secure over there.
I think “Outdoor Classroom Day” is a brilliant initiative for an important cause. It is a response to the diminishing time that children spend outdoors. If you strongly believe in the thought behind this campaign, you can visit their website http://outdoorclassroomday.in/ and sign up to be a part of it. The key, however, is to carry forward the spirit and essence of this drive even after the D-day.