Belfast City Council recently commissioned Dr Karen Kerr from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work to undertake an evaluation of the schools' aspect of its ParkLife education programme. The evaluation identified the programme as 'best in class'.
ParkLife, which is run by the Council in conjunction with Ulster Wildlife, is an education programme which uses and promotes the Council’s parks and open spaces across the city as a resource for outdoor learning. It is designed to encourage children and their families to get outdoors and explore their local parks. The ParkLife programme has three main elements, which in turn focus on schools, Saturday Clubs and community groups.
The study by Karen Kerr found that, as a result of taking part in ParkLife:
- more children visited their local park more often or took part in a wider range of outdoor activities;
- more children expressed a closer connection to nature, and a sense of responsibility for the natural environment;
- an increased number of children showed an interest in environmental sustainability and issues such as littering, animal welfare and pollution; and
- more children were more positive about their energy levels, and felt that learning outdoors helped them pay better attention in school.
'As a result of the positive findings from this evaluation, it is apparent that learning outdoors in local parks through the ParkLife Education Programme, is a very positive experience for children across all the primary and secondary outcomes measured,' concluded Dr Kerr.