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    Stuart Hatch

    9 ways children benefit from learning and playing outside

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    Nature-based learning is a growing phenomenon. Leaders from the Forest School movement outline its key benefits to Lisa Salmon.

    Press Association

    Inside the four walls of a school classroom, children can gain knowledge and learn how to pass exams –  but they are sedentary apart from a few PE lessons, and shut off from the natural world outside.

    Yet being outdoors has huge benefits for children, both physically and mentally, and the growing phenomenon of Forest Schools  aims to tap into those benefits by educating children in the fresh air.

    Forest Schools are held all over the world, in settings ranging from weekly sessions in parks and nurseries or primary schools to dedicated outdoor centres, kindergartens and after-school clubs.

    There are more than 12,000 trained Forest School leaders in the UK alone, and two of them, Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton, are trying to spread the word about the movement’s child-led learning and nature-based play philosophy through their new book  A Year of Forest School   (Watkins Publishing £12.99), which offers parents a host of free and fun activities to do with their children through all the seasons.

    Worroll and Houghton are passionate about the advantages of sending children to Forest Schools, where youngsters can enjoy adventures like making and using tools, digging in the mud and singing around a fire.

    Here the two leaders outline the benefits to children when they learn outside.

    1. Building confidence and independence

    Young girl holding small snail in hand
    Learning outdoors (Thinkstock/PA)

    Building dens, navigating with a compass and using a knife in woodwork are just some of the activities that instil children with confidence and a sense of independence.

    “Children feel empowered as they learn more about their own natural environment,” explains Worroll.

    She suggests children try making blackberry ink and quill pens, using a cup-sized collection pot, a teaspoon, white vinegar, table salt, scissors and paper.

    Children writing with berry ink and feather quills
    Writing the natural way (Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton/PA)

    To do this, search for blackberries and feathers – moulted goose feathers are perfect for the quills, and you’ll need about half a cup of blackberries to make a small well of ink. Get the children to show you the blackberries before they gather them  to make sure they don’t harvest anything poisonous.

    Use the spoon to pound the berries in the cups to extract the juice, and then add half a teaspoon of vinegar and half a teaspoon of salt to each pot – ink done!

    To make the pen nib on the feather, the rounded tip needs to be cut away at a 45-degree angle with scissors. Then cut across the end of the point so there’s a few millimetres of flat edge to write with. Now cut a small slit down the middle of this newly-made end, to create a nib. Then dip the quill in the ink and start writing or drawing.

    2. Feeling empathy for others and nature

    Happy group of kids playing tug of war outdoor. Young boys and girls as a team in tug-of-war outside the school. Group of happy multiethnic friends playing with rope in city park.

    Working as a team in a natural setting bonds children as a group. It also makes them aware of the need to care for each other and for the environment.

    3. Physical fitness

    Girl upside -down playing outdoors
    Hanging upside-down (Thinkstock/PA)

    Running around and climbing trees develops muscle strength, aerobic fitness, and coordination. A Scottish study found activity levels were 2.2 times higher in a typical Forest School day than during a school day that included PE lessons.

    One of the fun physical activities Forest School pupils enjoy is escaping a giant web. This is done by first making a giant spider’s web by weaving cord through trees horizontally and vertically.

    Next, decide whether children will play individually or in teams, and elect a rope buzzer, who makes a buzzing sound signalling the loss of one of the players’ three lives whenever they touch the rope.

    Take turns to make it through the web without touching it with any part of your body. If players touch the web, it buzzes and they lose a life and must exit and join the end of the line to wait for another go.

    Once a player makes it through the web, the challenge gets harder. The first time you go through, you can use all your limbs to help you but second time around, you can use only three parts of your body to help you. Keep going until everyone has tried to get through the web three times.

    4. Health benefits

    Child playing with mud
    Healthy if messy play (Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton/PA)

    Studies have highlighted a multitude of health benefits to being outside -sunlight and soil microorganisms boost the body’s levels of serotonin, the chemical linked to feelings of wellbeing, while vitamin D, which is essential for bone and muscle health, is also provided by the sun’s rays.

    5. Improved mental health
    Today’s children are experiencing increased stress caused by a range of pressures, from school exams to social media. Mental-health professionals acknowledge that maintaining a relationship with nature can be very helpful in supporting children’s emotional and mental wellbeing.

    6. Learning by experience
    Research suggests young children learn best from experience, by using their senses actively rather than passively, and it’s via these experiences that learning remains with us into adulthood.

    7. Exposure to manageable risk

    Happy children playing on the field at the day time. Concept of friendly siblings of family.

    At Forest School, children can run and make a noise, get their hands dirty and experience manageable risk, which is essential for healthy child development, through activities such as supervised fire building and cooking.

    8. Better sleep and mood


    Children – and adults – sleep more deeply after either playing outside or going for a long walk, and mood lifts just from breathing in a few lungfuls of fresh air.

    9. Learning about spiritual meaning
    Outside the confines of four walls, without the distractions of electronic devices and excessive supervision, children can move, explore and discover at their own pace, connecting to the natural world – a place not created by man, that had deep spiritual meaning for our ancestors.

    Our latest trampoline installation!

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    We’ve recently installed this fabulous 10ft trampoline and enclosure for a resident in Glasgow.

    They’re delighted with the trampoline and said:

    “The trampoline has been fab so far, the Guys installing where fab and would recommend you all again!”

    If you’re interested in a trampoline for your garden or playground, please get in touch here!

    Edinburgh roads set to close to allow children to play outside

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    The Playing Out project is set to become council policy and will run this summer following a pilot period last year.

    Between April and August 2017, the council approved 54 Playing Out sessions across 30 streets in Edinburgh.

    The council said as well as providing children with a safe space to play in, this resulted in children making new friends and and increased their sense of belonging.

    Residents can request the street closures under the policy.

    The Playing Out scheme began in Bristol and is now used in around 50 local authorities in England.

    Glasgow city council has announced it will allow a street play weekend in June, with residents encouraged to apply.


    ‘Social interaction’

    A consultation exercise found that 90% of respondents believed the scheme fostered increased community connections between different generations and 83% of children made new friends.

    Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said: “Our pilot scheme saw hundreds of children, parents and neighbours reclaiming their streets for play, conversation and social interaction.

    “By making our streets places to spend quality time with friends and neighbours, we’re helping build strong community spirit, fostering connections between different generations and enabling children to flourish through free and active play.”

    The new Edinburgh Play Streets policy would be managed by local council teams who would assess and approve road closures and provide traffic cones and signage.

    The scheme would cost an estimated £57,780 based on 54 sessions and would be met within existing council budgets.

    Edinburgh Playing Out run a Facebook page where the street closures will be organised.

    Hilary Long: We don’t need to test P1 children, we need to let them play

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    Hilary Long, coordinator of the Upstart Glasgow Network and a member of Common Weal Glasgow, attended the recent launch of Upstart Scotland’s ‘Play not Tests’ campaign seeking to challenge Scottish Government plans for standardised tests for children in Primary 1.

    ON MONDAY 23 April I went along to the Upstart Scotland launch of our new campaign Play Not Tests. The Scottish Government is introducing standardised tests in literacy and numeracy of our youngest children when they are in Primary 1. This is one policy in the educational armoury to address the poverty related attainment gap.

    The next day I read about how record numbers of families are using food banks as the crisis in relation to child poverty in Scotland deepens. I have also followed avidly the issue of testing in the English education system and the protests from parents, teachers and Teachers Unions against testing very young children.

    I was told by a teacher at the Upstart launch that parents can’t be told by schools that their children will be tested unless they ask. So parents won’t know that they can withdraw their children from the test.

    I am concerned about the attainment gap but I can’t see how testing will address that. The data collected is likely to be unreliable and certainly won’t predict future attainment. Very young children develop at varying rates especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy. It will also inevitably result in a narrowing of the curriculum as the pressure mounts to teach to the test. It won’t just affect Primary 1 children either. It will result in a push down towards more formal learning in nursery too.

    The issue of testing is seen as an educational issue but it is also a public health issue as tests and targets bear down on children and young people with consequences for their emotional and mental health & wellbeing. A too early start on formal school work will mean less time for children to enjoy learning through play.


    Upstart is also campaigning for a kindergarten stage for children aged 3-7 along Nordic lines where children learn through play especially opportunities for free play outdoors. Most European countries have a compulsory school starting age of six. That is the most common school starting age worldwide. The UK has a younger school starting age of five and many children start at four. In Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland it’s seven. These countries with a later start age, in particular Finland, have much better attainment and much happier and healthier children than in Scotland.

    Those in favour of retaining the current early start age argue that children as young as four and five are capable of learning the more formal skills of a school curriculum and that an early start gives children a head start. They also maintain that an early start particularly benefits children from disadvantaged backgrounds by allowing them to make up the deficit in their academic skills.

    On the other hand concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of a school environment for young children. The evidence available suggests that teaching more formal skills (in school) gives some children an initial academic advantage, but that this advantage is not sustained in the longer term.

    Many parents and educationalists are worried about the impact of an early start in relation to children’s health & wellbeing and the increase in the numbers of children, particularly boys, being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other developmental disorders. There is far more required than the current narrow definition of “school readiness” to enable children to thrive in a school environment.


    It was the Education Act (1870) that determined the school start age and it was an economic decision to get women back to work, rather than an educational one. All children develop differently so determining the age at which children start school purely by their date of manufacture seems a bit crude. A four year old whose birthday is in January/February can be particularly disadvantaged in a school environment with classmates who may be as much as a year older. They may simply be not ready for the school curriculum as well as the social and emotional adjustments required.

    Age 3-6 is considered to be a recognisable developmental stage during which children require a developmentally appropriate curriculum that delivers rich, stimulating play experiences within a nurturing social context. Play has a unique relationship with intellectual achievement and emotional well-being for young children.

    A holistic play based approach embraces the belief that there are many things children need to learn before they begin to read and write such as speech and listening skills, social and emotional skills, empathy, self regulation skills, curiosity and creativity and these take time to develop. By the age of 7 most children will have developed their self-confidence and emotional resilience to enable them to embrace the rigours of more formal learning rather than just cope at age 4 or 5.

    Upstart supports delaying the start of formal education and believes that a statutory kindergarten stage based on the Nordic model would change the ethos of Scottish education in the early years. We are also unequivocally opposed to subjecting four and five year olds to a formal test during their first year at school.



    If you want your kid to get a good job, let them play more

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    Fears about automation displacing workers around the world ranked high on the list of Things to Be Very Worried About at the World Economic Forum in January. “At the end of the day, we have to fire a lot of people,” said Ursula Burns, chairman of the supervisory board at telecom group VEON, and former CEO of Xerox—which, indeed, recently had to fire a lot of people.

    Most of the remedies on offer were the usual high-level suggestions: re-train workers, offer some kind of universal basic income, design a “new social contract” that requires companies to factor in the needs of workers along with maximizing shareholder value. But one group of CEOs looked a little further down the supply chain, offering a scientifically grounded but under-appreciated solution to the problem: play.

    Helping kids play more “will equip them to be relevant to the workplace and to society,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the Lego Foundation and the former chief financial officer for The Lego Group.

    That may sound self-serving coming from a Lego executive. But research shows that play is crucial in establishing the foundations of social, emotional, and academic learning. Dressing up like Batman or building imaginary cities with blocks help young children cultivatecreativity, develop emotional intelligence and regulation (pdf), and build empathy—the very skills that robots can’t replace.

    At Davos, this notion was popular even among those who don’t build toys for a living. Kai Fu Lee, a Taiwanese venture capitalist who opened Google’s China office and who has worked in artificial intelligence (AI) for more than three decades, said we need to develop the skills that are unique to humans. “There are four things AI cannot do as well as humans: creativity, dexterity, compassion, and complexity.” Empathy, he said, would be paramount. “We have a human responsibility to do this.”

     “Play is a primary, indeed a primal, way that we learn to understand and experience the world around us.” Laying the foundations for imaginative problem-solving starts early, said Goodwin, who was joined by two other play enthusiasts: Jesper Brodin, CEO of IKEA, and Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, who blew off dinner with US president Donald Trump in order to kick off the Real Play Coalition. The group will focus on governments, schools and parents, all of whom seem to undervalue play. They used the World Economic Forum to raise the issue among those who might need to hear it most: industry and government leaders focused on the future of the global economy.

    “We don’t look at kids as economic capital,” said Goodwin. “We are vested in children developing from a child-centric perspective.” But the World Economic Forum isn’t focused on kids, or even education; its focus is on capitalism and its component parts, including workers. So the Real Play Coalition cast kids as future workers, championing the radical idea that if we train children in the skills they need to survive automation now, we won’t have to worry as much about re-training them as workers later.

    The science of play

    According to experts who study such things, play has a technical definition with certain criteria that must be met. Kenneth Rubin, a professor human development at the University of Maryland, and his colleagues, say play should be “intrinsically motivated,” rather than imposed by parents; pleasurable; actively engaging; and operate outside of life’s many rules. (Naptime be damned, we are flying to Mars on a purple unicorn!)

    Researchers have identified various categories of play—physical, constructive, imaginative, dramatic, and games with rules—all of which help children develop in three domains: physically, socially and emotionally and cognitively:

    • Imaginative play, such as drawing, dancing, or playing with water, lays the foundations for creativity, allowing kids to express feelings, communicate, and experiment with reality.
    • Building with blocks or cardboard develops fine motor skills. It also helps kids to develop resilience, or grit (those block towers do fall down) and start reasoning and problem-solving (“How do I build a tower that does not fall down?”).
    • Chasing, hiding, jumping and wrestling build gross motor skills, the basis for which will be used to crawl and walk and run, not to mention persevere and think (exercise helps with memory consolidation).
    • Dramatic play (such as dressing up, role play, puppets, and storytelling) helps children with emotional regulation and critical relationship skills, including empathy, cooperation, and negotiation.

    “Play is a primary, indeed a primal, way that we learn to understand and experience the world around us,” writes educator and creativity guruKen Robinson in the introduction to “Real Play Every Day: An Urgent Call to Action,” a white paper on the science of play funded by Unilever. (Unilever, it should be noted, has an incentive for wanting kids to get dirty: It runs one of the world’s largest laundry detergent businesses).

    “The simple act of free, self-initiated play helps unlock a child’s innate creativity, imagination, interests and talents,” Robinson writes. “It helps children to uncover who they are, and imparts invaluable skills they will need to possess in the uncertain future they will face tomorrow.”

    Play on the wane

    We know that play is integral to helping children develop into healthy, well-adapted people. Yet play is an “endangered species,” Goodwin said in Davos to a rapt group of besuited industry executives, who were seated on small block chairs and building Legos. According to research commissioned by Edelman Intelligence, 56% of respondents in a survey of 12,710 parents in 10 countries said their kids spent less than an hour every day playing outside—less time than prisoners in a maximum security prison spend outdoors. One in 10 kids never play outside, and two-thirds of parents say their kids play less than they did. (Quartz has requested the research from Edelman, and will update when we hear back.)

    What are kids doing if they’re not playing? Smartphones, video games, and tablets play a role. But so does over-scheduling kids in organized activities like soccer, violin lessons, and dance, which do not fit the definition of play. Parents know kids need academics, sports, and music to “succeed,” so they focus on those activities, relegating play to a trivial pastime that can be sacrificed. Yet pushing kids to spend more time studying has not translated to more engagement in schools. Gallup data shows that about 26% of fifth-graders had a low level of engagement in school; by 12th grade, that figure had reached 68%.

    “There is a narrow focus on high-stakes, single-result tests which prevents kids from employing their creative juices,” Goodwin said.

     “There is a narrow focus on high-stakes, single-result tests which prevents kids from employing their creative juices.” There’s no doubt that kids need to learn math and science. But they also need to learn how to be human. “We’re trying to train our kids to be better computers, but our kids will never be better computers than computers,” Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a leading expert on play, told the New York Times. Too often, we underestimate the importance of activities that help kids learn to negotiate with others, explore the world, or invent new ideas. “These are things humans do better than computers, and play helps us develop that.”

    Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston University, argues that modern parenting, with its emphasis on organized activities and academics over unstructured, free play, is probably the root of the spike in mental-health problems among kids today. Kids don’t learn critical life-coping skills because they never get to play, he argues: “Children today are less free than they have ever been.” And that lack of freedom has exacted a dramatic toll.

    What to do?

    Goodwin said the primary purpose of the Real Play Coalition is to elevate the importance of play, so that it’s not just a cause championed by a small group of CEOs at Davos, but an activity that governments and parents embrace and fight for. That starts at birth and extends to schools.

    “We are not adapting our education systems for human learning, and that’s where we have to make an intervention with urgency,” he said.

    As kids enter preschool and formal schooling, the debate around the right balance of academics and play is fiery. Some argue that taking academics out of early education is fine for rich kids, who have ample enrichment at home, but can hurt poorer kids who start school almost a year behind their wealthier peers. However, many agree that there are ways to make all early learning more playful—including how we think of math in preschool.

    The potential for workers to be displaced by automated technology is real, and the angst associated with joblessness—and loss of identity—could lead to social unrest, warned Alibaba’s Jack Ma. “Each technology revolution has made the world unbalanced,” he said at Davos. To shield future generations from such a fate, we need to let them get out the blocks and start building.


    (Original article here)

    Prince William Praises Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children

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    Britain’s Prince William is greeted by pupils at Matteus School in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday Jan. 31, 2018. Prince William and Kate Duchess of Cambridge are on a four-day visit to Sweden and Norway. (Jonas Ekströmer / TT via AP)

    STOCKHOLM (AP) — Britain’s Prince William has praised Sweden’s embrace of the great outdoors, in particular the physical and mental benefits of outdoor exercise for children.

    Speaking Wednesday at the end of a two-day visit to Sweden, William said that “one lesson that we will take home with us, is that children are actively encouraged to spend time outdoors, whatever the weather.”

    During the visit, William and the Duchess of Cambridge sought to meet Swedes from all walks of life. At a medical institute, they discussed with academics Sweden’s approach to managing mental health challenges, a subject the royals have campaigned about.

    William and Kate, both 35, will begin a two-day visit to Norway on Thursday.

    The Right Brain Develops First – Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning

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    Did you know that the right brain develops first? It does so by the time children are four years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development.

    Understanding this we can better appreciate why play is so important in child learning and development, and why we need to be extra careful with the amount and timing of academic agendas created for children; with how much we emphasize product—what kids have accomplished at school—versus process—who they are becoming and what they feel in their explorations. That the right brain develops first is pertinent information for those in the field of education, as well as parents, regarding what is developmentally appropriate. Pushing literacy and numeracy on children before age seven may just be harmful to their little, developing brains. Without the capacity to use their academic minds in the ways that are being asked can cause children to gain what’s called “learned stupidity.” They believe themselves to be incapable and lose their natural desire to learn. Full blog

    Nobles Waterpark

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    Nobles Waterpark, Douglas, Isle of Man –

    Play and Sports with Waterplay Solutions, is proud to announce winning the contract to design and build a new waterplay facility at Nobles Waterpark, Douglas, Isle of Man.

    Nobles Waterpark, Douglas, Isle of Man

    Nobles Waterpark view 2

    Nobles Waterpark, Douglas, Isle of Man



    Why spending time outdoors could help your child’s eyesight

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    Kids seem to spend endless hours on smartphones, games consoles, computers and tablets these days.

    Playing on electronic devices certainly doesn’t help their waistlines, but do you ever wonder what regular device use is doing to their eyesight?

    Full Article