Around 4 years ago I read an interesting book called “Influencer: the Power to Change Anything” by Kerry Patterson et al. It contained example after example of seemingly impossible situations where change had happened. For instance, one case study was about a drug rehabilitation centre with a 95% success rate in permanently stopping people from ever returning to drugs or prison. Other case studies included the eradication of the guinea worm from some areas of Africa and the prevention of AIDS spreading in the Thai sex industry.

My immediate feeling after reading this book was an affirmation that if hardened drug users can change their behaviour and attitudes with appropriate support, then so can adults who have concerns about letting children play and learn outside. We can find a way.

Taking learning and play outdoors is an interesting process. After years of focus on indoor activities, not surprisingly, many teachers and practitioners feel out of their comfort zone. Initially it can take a lot more planning. Ideas and organisation of outdoor activities require more effort until the habit is there. Mistakes will be made. This is part of the learning about teaching outdoors.

The “Influencer” book states that there are two basic questions that underpin change. These are:
– Can I do it? (Belief)
– Is it worth it? (Motivation)
In other words, where there is a will there is a way. However, this will need to exist at three levels… a person or individual needs to be committed and buy into the proposed change. The ethos or social structure within an organisation needs to support the change. Lastly, there has to be organisational structures in place that enable the change to happen.

So in terms of making outdoor play and learning a daily event (or at least a frequent and regular occurrence), it’s useful to think about the personal, social and organisational structures required that enable teachers to kickstart more outdoor activities.

Whilst this may seem an artificial model, it is a useful framework for reference and learning to understand why teachers who in principle are committed to taking learning and play outdoors do not always manage to support their beliefs with actions. This is important. If you have ever worked in a place where, despite your best efforts, the changes you have wanted to make have not been possible, then perhaps the social or structural situation was not conducive to this. When change isn’t happening with good people in place, we need to look beyond the individual to wider influences that are having an impact.

There are other change models and theories which work equally well. I find Who Moved My Cheese? a useful reference. It uses lab mice in a maze as an analogy for workers in the workplace and is a quick and easy read. Last year I read Switch which has a slightly simpler formula, relating change to riding an elephant along a road! Strange but memorable.

What is interesting is the potential knock-on effects of one school or setting creating radical change. This happened in Sweden slowly, over many years. Real change often does take time. If you think about the time it took for people to move to buying and using computers and mobile phones – these are rapid examples!

Anyway, back to schools and back to 2008. Whilst visiting Sweden I was taken to visit the primary school that Siw and Magnus Linde’s children had attended. The grounds, as shown in this post, were beautiful. Siw told me that she and other parents fund raised and worked hard to change the grounds. They had been asphalt and a playing field in the Seventies. Despite popular belief internationally, the Swedish school system has not always been so outdoor-minded. Many schools were asphalt and grass in Sweden forty years ago. From the establishment of the first outoor “Rain or Shine” I Ur och Skur nursery more than 25 years ago to the 230 or so that exist today has been quite a journey!

Nevertheless, the impact of the establishment of the Outdoor I Ur och Skur nurseries have raised the standards and expectations across all nurseries. When I saw a private I Ur och Skur nursery, a regular nursery shared the same building. However, it was hard to tell which child belonged to which nursery as all the children were out playing in the woods!

What has happened over the years, is that thanks to the presence of the I Ur och Skur nurseries that were co-founded by Siw and a teacher, Suzanne, the mainstream nurseries followed their example and started ensuring that their children also had much more access to natural spaces on a frequent and regular basis.

Thus, every teacher that starts taking their class outside is playing their part in wider school and societal change. Every school that enables this process is sending a powerful message to others. This might be developing the school grounds, adopting a patch of ground in the local community, or putting in place a policy of ensuring children have access to outdoor breaks all year round. What ever is done is helping to shift beliefs and actions at a personal, school and societal level.  What you do does make a difference. For children now and in the future. As Margaret Mead said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C April 22, 2012 at 10:22

What an inspiring post, Juliet, I am going to share with some of my primary colleagues who are attempting to dip their toes in the outdoor learning pool. Thanks Kierna

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Gina April 22, 2012 at 11:27

Wonderful post! I agree that kids should be able to explore and have free play outdoors more often. My son is only a year and a half, but we started a 365 Days Outdoors Challenge together on my blog. Now, he stands by the door when he wants to go outside! We’re both really enjoying our time together exploring!
Gina @famiglia&seoul

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Juliet Robertson April 22, 2012 at 13:33

Thanks for both comments – what is encouraging is that this is a global issue and concern for many people, who have or work with children. However, we can all make a difference in our own ways.

What I have noticed in the past couple of years is that very young children – toddlers – tend to be much better dressed for being outside as a general rule around where I live and the outdoor shops are stocking much better ranges of children’s clothes.

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