Back to the Future….. and back to the classroom….or not?

Picture courtesy of Amazon News.

In 1985, the year the movie ‘Back to the Future’ was released, I was a skinny red-headed 14 year old who was desperately trying to be as cool as I thought Michael J. Fox was at the time (I had a skateboard, walkman and wanted a Delorean). At the end of the film, the flying time machine zooms off to 2015 and that story becomes ‘Back to the Future 2’. “Roads? Where we are going we don’t need roads…”

Well, here we are – 2015 has arrived (feeling old?) and where is my flying car and hoverboard? A huge and ever increasing amount of change has occurred since 1985 and it led me to thinking about some very important things that have changed – especially for the children of this country.

That skinny 14 year old of 1985 spent most of his play time outside. Living on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park as a kid I had a huge playground of creeks, caves, trees, tracks and campgrounds to explore. I rode my bike everywhere and enjoyed outdoor activities with family, friends and the local scouts.

Was this your childhood? Do you have fond memories of catching tadpoles and climbing trees? I would love to hear of your favourite outdoor childhood activity – please make a comment below….

Do kids today have the same experiences? Do your kids play outdoors as much as you did? For most of us, the answer is no.

A generational change in the way our children play in the outdoors has happened while most of us were not paying attention. According to Planet Ark Research – in 2011:

“1 in 10 Aussie kids play outside once a week or less.”

“73% of respondents played outdoors more often than indoors when they were young compared to only 13% of their children”

“72% of respondents played outside every day as kids compared to only 35% of their children”

The benefits of outdoor play are enormous including improvements in creativity, critical thinking, concentration and academic performance. Who would of thought huh? Releasing children from the confines of a classroom can actually help their performance in the classroom….!!! Whhaaaaa? Ok – kids lets hit the forest – NOW!

Photo courtesy of Earthcalling

Outdoor time in natural environments has been shown to reduce stress and depression and has the physical benefits of reducing obesity and myopia. You may have heard of the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – coined by author Richard Louv – from his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’.

Without a strong connection to the natural world – how will this generation grow up to look after it? Now more than ever we need strong, innovative, brave and intelligent environmental leaders.

I gleaned this research and know how from a fantastic teacher resource developed by Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre called “Plugging into Nature”. This professional development course will help you connect your students to nature using technology – and has some excellent ideas and non-classroom tactics for engagement.

Of course many of us do not need research to tell us that we all benefit from quality time in nature. However – as educators we have to deal with all the clutter of syllabuses, exams and the hectic life of modern schools. Where do we find the time to take our class outside?

Our mandate as Environmental Education Centres is to cure this terrible problem of nature deficit disorder! We are up to the task and take as many children as we can each year into nature for quality learning experiences.  Unfortunately we are few (only 25 in NSW) and children are many! Many schools and teachers are leading students into outdoor experiences and connecting them to the amazing natural world and we hope that you all will enter this year with plans to engage outside the classroom.


Is that school vege patch full of weeds and need of a replant? Is there some bushland down the back that needs a nature trail? Could you do some citizen science like Climatewatch and School of Ants?

Have you booked an excursion to your local Environmental Education Centre yet!!!! We would love to see you and your students – let’s change those appalling figures from our supposedly ‘outdoor’ nation and reconnect ourselves and our kids to this incredible planet we live on.

Nature is calling!

Nature is calling!


14 Comments on “Back to the Future….. and back to the classroom….or not?

    • Hi Deb – thanks for the comment. Were you an outdoor girl when you where younger?

      • We were always outside. At the local park or in the unmown vacant block of land making cubbies.

      • I have fond memories of cubbies and treehouses too. Maybe I could introduce a cubby making and tree climbing day here at Brewongle!

  1. Hi Steve, I thoroughly enjoyed this post and was totally engaged and somewhat inspired by the spirit of it. Completely agree with the thoughts you have presented. I spoke with Cheryl Walker about it, & we wondered if you would agree to us sending it out in our school newsletters. As you know Cheryl is currently relieving principal at Kurmond PS, & I am trying to fill her large shoes here at Comleroy Road PS. Would you let me know if you would be ok with us using your post in the school newsletters.

    Kind Regards Paul McFadden Ph: 45 761600 Mob: 0403 620 461


    • Hi Paul, Thanks for the positive comments – I am happy for you to use all or part of the blog post in your newsletter. Thanks for reading it! I will drop you an email too. Steve.

    • Thanks Marisa for your positive comment. Have you a good outdoor story to share? Steve.

  2. Hi Steven, I have just got home from a end of the day science lesson with my students where we went into the local bush and looked at the leaf litter. It was a bit dry so we didn’t see the animals that I was hoping/expecting to see but we did see ants and their tunnels and eggs, spiders, a scorpian (and its cast off skin), wombat scats and a hawk. We observed the increasing decomposition of the leaves as we dug deeper into the leaf litter. Science by doing!

    • Hi Vivian, that sounds like a fantastic day. I was in Canberra last week and it is really dry – a contrast to sticky humid Sydney. Was your outdoor lesson part of a larger unit of work? Thanks for sharing your lesson! Steve.

    • Hi Georgina, Thanks for your comment – I would be interested in your London environmental encounters – did you blog about it? Are London kids heading outdoors? – Steve.

      • No I didn’t blog then as was so busy teaching! Now I have my own time in Spain but no 24 wifi! There are a lot of initiatives with the Wildlife trusts, Wetlands trust. These reserves often have a focus for families and school visits but it is not grounded in the curriculum. Should be under the new British values! It is something we care a lot about. RSPB membership shows this and all the others.

      • That is great to here that there is some outdoor learning going on in London. I hear that the Scots have embedded it in the curriculum? Here in New South Wales, Oz there is many opportunities in the curriculum to take students outdoors and our network of 25 Environmental and Zoo Education Centres (staffed by public teachers) caters to many of these needs. Sustainability is also now a large part of our new Australian Curriculum. What are the new ‘British Values’?

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