Ffion Hughes

From exploring the nooks and crannies of our local parks, woods, or national nature reserves, to enjoying an invigorating walk along the Wales Coast Path – getting outside for a breath of fresh air and some physical activity can help to make us feel good and can provide lifelong benefits to our physical health and mental well-being. 

Childhood obesity is on the rise and Welsh Government’s Healthy Weight, Healthy Wales strategy seeks to prevent and reduce obesity in a number of ways.

Physically active learning (PAL) is a pedagogical approach that supports learning through movement - learning activities are designed so learners need to move.  Integrating learning and playing in settings’ grounds and local nature areas can have a significant impact on increasing physical activity and physical literacy - developing the essential movement skills that all children need, such as running, hopping, throwing, catching, and jumping.  

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children aged 5-18 years should aim for an average of at least 60 minutes physical activity per day across the week. Research across the UK consistently shows that total weekly physical activity levels decline during adolescence with some studies suggesting that the decline starts as young as age six. In Wales, around 40% of 3 to 7-year-olds and 80% of 11 to 16-year-olds do not currently meet this health optimising benchmark.

This page examines how spending time in the natural environment can increase physical activity levels and shares activity ideas to encourage learners of all ages to head on out into nature.

What are the benefits of being physically active in the natural environment?

Learning and playing in the natural environment encourages children and young people to:

  • run, jump, climb, and roll, making the most of the available space and using up their energy
  • negotiate uneven surfaces
  • pick their feet up
  • engage their core muscles by bending and stretching
  • risk assess for themselves what is safe to do and learn about looking after themselves and others
  • develop their sense of balance
  • develop their sensory awareness – sight, hearing, smell, touch and where suitable, taste.

Want to know more?  We’ve produced a set of posters to show the multiple benefits of outdoor learning:

Poster - Being in the natural environment can increase physical activity

Poster - The benefits of playing in nature

Poster - Being in the natural environment provides well-being benefits

Poster - Outdoor learning can improve academic attainment

Poster - 5 ways to boost health and well-being through connecting with nature

Making learning physically active couldn’t be easier

We’ve got a huge range of activity plans and teaching resources to support you and your learners to get learning in, learning about and learning for the natural environment.  Increasing physical activity will be a natural by-product!

Physically exploring the wonders of nature

Natural processes are the interactions among plants, animals, and the environment that shape our planet and support life.  From the water cycle to how a tree works, ditch the worksheets, flex those muscles, and get your learners moving.  Head out into the natural environment to learn about nature’s ability to influence landscapes and ecosystems through natural processes.

Water cycle Tai Chi

Combining relaxation and flowing movements, our Water Cycle Tai Chi activity demonstrates how the water cycle is the process by which water moves from the land to the sky and back again.

Activity plan - Water cycle Tai Chi

How a tree works

The secret life of a tree uncovered. This activity plan will get your learners moving by getting them to build a human tree and acting out the various functions of the tree’s parts. Use our poster as an aid to the ‘How a tree works’ activity or as a reference for learners.

Activity plan - How a tree works 
Poster - How a tree works

Seed dispersal

From learning about how animals help seeds disperse to understanding what a seed needs to successfully germinate, all these activities are interactive and designed to get your learners moving.

Activities and games - Seed dispersal 

Resource cards - Seed dispersal

Resource cards - Get set, grow

Resource cards - Seed, leaf and tree

Quiz - Trees and seeds

Information note - Seed dispersal 

How does peat form?

Our ‘On your marks, get set, accumulate!’ game is run in the form of ‘tag’ and explains to learners what peat needs to initiate and begin to accumulate. It also encourages discussion about the factors that can affect peat accumulation rates.

Activity plan – On your marks, get set, accumulate!
Resource cards – On your marks, get set, accumulate!

Active learning about animals, adaptations, and food chains

Look up, look down, look all around - what lives in your settings’ grounds?  Can your learners become food chain detectives?  Can they create a physical food chain to demonstrate how energy is transferred between different organisms in an ecosystem?  Can they work as a team to create an interactive web of life to demonstrate interdependence?  From the amphibious to the aquatic, our ‘Animals and habitats – activities and games’ booklet with supporting resource cards and information will spark your learners’ interest in animal features, behaviours, and habitats.  

Whether it be an active exploration of echolocation through our Bat and moth activity, or a hands-on investigation of the concept of hibernation through our Hibernation game, check out the ‘Animals and habitats’ booklet available on our Promoting Science and Technology through nature’ webpage. 

Moving maths and numeracy out into nature

Subtract the whiteboard, round up your learners to the nearest number and head outside – maths and numeracy is never dull in the natural environment.  Encourage them to examine the shapes and patterns of nature’s treasures.  Can they count, examine, and manipulate natural objects as part of a discussion on measurement or data collection?  What angles can be found in nature?  The natural environment equals plenty of scope for hands on, active learning and provides a relaxed and enjoyable environment for exploring maths.

From collecting natural materials to complete our Natural symmetry activity to exploring non-standard measurement, height and weight by building Twig towers, exercise your learners’ bodies and minds with the range of activities available in our ‘Maths and numeracy’ booklet

Naturally healthy - A natural, low intensity workout for the body and mind

Nature allows you to be physically active anywhere.  We’ve developed a range of activities, games, and resources to engage learners regardless of age, fitness level or gender. 

Why not engage your learners in a Wilderness workout to encourage increased physical activity or encourage them to try some barefoot walking on uneven ground to strengthen their core muscles and support balance development.  The 14 activities and games in our Health and well-being booklet demonstrate how to make the most of the natural environment as a place to facilitate physical health and well-being.

Looking for more inspiration?

Our Education, learning and play YouTube playlist offers a range of a short how-to videos to provide inspiration for some active outdoor adventures:

Pebble towers

Barefoot walking

Minibeast safari

Scavenger hunt

Are you looking to drag teens off screens and out into nature?

Whether it be measuring a sand dune or calculating the carbon content of a tree, the natural environment offers endless opportunities for fieldwork and data collection whilst being physically active and good for the mind!  A visit to natural area can bring learning to life whilst encouraging teamwork, problem solving, leadership and an appreciation of the natural environment.  Whether its peatlands or sand dunes you’re studying we have resources and information to help and support you.  Check out our learning resources by topic webpage or by Curriculum for Wales, download some resources, pack your kit, and get out into the great outdoors with your learners!

Follow the countryside code

We all have a responsibility to protect our countryside and open spaces for current and future generations.  Wherever you decide to get active, remember to follow the countryside code.  Respect, protect and enjoy, our Countryside code is your guide to enjoying parks, waterways, coast or countryside.

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