Outdoor learning can have a significant and positive impact on children's quality of life but needs to be introduced more formally into global school curricula in order for its potential benefits to be fully realised, a new report suggests.

Yet reality says just the opposite. Any kid with a cell phone can now learn all about landmarks and their neighborhood, just by playing Pokemon Go. And in the United States, it happened with the White House spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns telling kids to go outside. 

Learning in the natural environment was once highly regarded, but a generation ago we were told the future belonged to computers and technology, and every poor school needed a computer for every child. Now, things are back to hands-on experience rather than the virtual kind. Kids who engage in practical learning are better off in terms behavior, social skills, health and wellbeing, resilience, confidence and sense of place.

Yet that means undoing popular education speculation of the last few decades, with a full curriculum, busier family lifestyles and increased fear of society. Children have lost the freedom to play, explore and be active in their environment and being denied opportunities that could enhance their long term prospects.

A new report identifies a framework showing how governments could build on existing and current research and introduce outdoor learning as an integral element of national education policies.

Sue Waite, Reader in Outdoor Learning at Plymouth University and one of the authors of the report, said, "At the moment, if outdoor learning is part of a school's curriculum in England, it is largely because the teachers recognise the values of it. With so much focus on academic attainment, there can be pressure on teachers to stay in the classroom which means children are missing out on so many experiences that will benefit them throughout their lives. This report shows that although there is significant research which supports outdoor learning for academic as well as social and personal outcomes, it is only by having that recognized by policy makers that we are likely to achieve universal positive cultural change."

Over the past 10 years, there have been five significant reviews focused on children learning in natural environments in the UK and abroad. This is at a time when there is evidence that childhoods are dramatically changing, and children are experiencing limited opportunities to be outdoors in formal or informal learning settings, with consequent negative effects.

This report was produced following the Lessons from Near and Far conference led by Plymouth University in July 2015, which featured 21 international presentations intended to encourage researchers, practitioners and policy makers to share areas of best practice which could potentially be embedded into national policies. The report also includes a review of recent research and policy impacts in the UK, Australia, Singapore and Denmark (which host partners in the ESRC funded international partnership network), to demonstrate ways in which evidence and policy can support each other effectively.

The framework it proposes includes pathways to research informed practice designed to generate five key outcomes for children: a healthy and happy body and mind; a sociable confident person; a self-directed creative learner; an effective contributor; an active global citizen.