Outdoor learning in early years boosted in bid to improve attainment

Scotland’s chief medical officer backs the move, saying active outdoor play can also help to close the attainment gap and develop children's science skills

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The number of hours nursery pupils in Scotland spend outdoors is set to increase, in an attempt to improve their academic performance later on and help to close the attainment gap between rich and poor children.

Anti-poverty organisation Inspiring Scotland has been given £862,550 of government funding to encourage greater use of outdoor learning in the early years, including in school-based nurseries.

The move has been backed by Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, who said: “There is also a growing body of research that shows children with higher levels of active outdoor play have improved cognition, which can result in better academic performance and contribute to closing the attainment gap.”

Dr Calderwood also said that outdoor learning, exercise and play for young children “helps improve wellbeing and resilience, increases physical activity and allows children to use the natural world to develop curiosity and science skills”.

Early years benefit

Inspiring Scotland chief executive Celia Tennant said she wanted to help “establish high-quality outdoor play as the essential catalyst for healthy childhood development and [as] a fundamental part of growing up in Scotland”.

Her organisation will work with eight of Scotland's 32 local authorities – as well as social enterprises – to improve and expand outdoor learning, including the creation of a “how-to guide” for teachers and other education staff.

It will also help them make connections with third-sector bodies and private companies who could provide expertise.

The Scottish government's early years and childcare minister Maree Todd, announcing the funding, said it was designed to ensure that outdoor learning “becomes a defining feature of childhood in Scotland”.

She added: “Outdoor learning not only improves mental wellbeing and health and fitness, it can make a huge difference to children’s confidence levels and their ability to risk-assess, while encouraging a lifelong love of the outdoors.”

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