MEDIA RELEASE: Exam pressure putting school playtime at risk

16th May 2018
  • One in eight primary school children get less than 30 minutes of outdoor playtime each day
  • But 80% say they engage with learning better – and are happier – after playing out
  • 97% believe outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential


School playtime and outdoor learning is being cut back because of the pressures of testing and academic studies. One in eight (12%) primary school-aged children around the world get 30 minutes or less of outdoor time on an average day.

According to a new survey commissioned by Project Dirt for Outdoor Classroom Day, 97% of teachers questioned believe that outdoor playtime at school is critical for children to reach their full potential. Yet 41% report that curriculum pressures are preventing them from allowing children to have more playtime or outdoor lessons and it is worst in the US (47%) and the UK (45%).

Furthermore, over a quarter of teachers (29%) say that children miss their playtimes as they are completing their work from the previous lesson or doing homework. One-fifth of teachers (22%) say they keep children indoors because of poor behaviour in class. In the same study, however, two thirds (67%) of teachers worldwide report that behaviour improves after children have outdoor playtime, and 80% report increased engagement in lessons.

Two thirds (65%) of primary school children globally – and over 89% of 5-11 year olds in the USA – get less than an hour of playtime each day, and 16% of schools take lessons outdoors less than once a month – and that includes for sports. This despite the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that all children get at least one hour of physical activity per day. Outdoor playtime at school is a critical part of achieving this.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play every day at school and beyond, and today schools from Honolulu to Hackney, across more than 110 countries, are getting outdoors. So far, over 1.7 million children have been registered to take part.

Examining the impact of outdoor play and learning, the study also found that worldwide:

  • 97% of teachers say children’s social skills are improved at playtime.
  • 94% of schools say children are more creative after outdoor play.
  • 88% of teachers report that time spent in lessons outdoors has improved their pupils’ engagement in learning.


And perhaps most importantly for our children’s wellbeing and development, 88% of the teachers surveyed report that children are happier after playing outdoors at break times and 89% report they are happier when learning outside.

Sir Ken Robinson, leading expert in education, creativity and human development, and Chair of the Dirt is Good Child Development Advisory Board, comments:

“Play is not a dispensable, frivolous part of childhood. It facilitates many forms of development – social, creative, physical, cognitive and emotional – that are fundamental to the healthy growth and maturity of every child. Children must have the time, space and permission to engage in a variety of play, which schools can offer and encourage parents to make real play part of the everyday.”

The action for schools is simple – take at least one lesson outside and shine a spotlight on playtime, celebrating how important it is for children. From using natural objects such as stones and leaves to practice numeracy, or creating a treasure hunt to actively explore history on your doorstep, to den building and bug collecting – all to help children embrace learning through play in the outdoors.

Cath Prisk, Outdoor Classroom Day Campaigns Director, says:

“We know that children who love their playtime, love being at school. We also know that outdoor playtime increases children’s ability to concentrate, to process information. It evens improves behaviour. Schools where playtime is a key part of their day see increased attendance, better physical activity rates and much happier children. That’s good for the school and even better for the child”

Last year, 22% of the schools that took part in Outdoor Classroom Day said they have increased the amount of outdoor playtime since participating, and 44% have increased time for outdoor learning. They also tell us that as they increase time outdoors, other teachers at their school and parents become more supportive of more time outdoors.

Teachers can register their class – or whole school – at Parents and anyone who cares about childhood can also sign up to show their support and discover more about how they can get involved.


For more information and to arrange an interview with a spokesperson contact:


Project Dirt conducted two surveys on playtime and outdoor learning: one in 2017 to 19,000 schools who participated in that year’s Outdoor Classroom Day in which 1,373 teachers and head teachers responded across 37 countries; and one in 2018 to 13,000 teachers who signed up to participate in Outdoor Classroom Day in which 630 teachers and head teachers responded from 34 countries. We have specific country data for the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, India, Ireland and South Africa where more than 10 schools responded.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outside and prioritise playtime. As well as having fun, they show how important and easy it is to give children more time outdoors.

When teachers take learning outdoors they report some powerful impacts: Children’s behaviour improves, whole classes are excited to learn, and individuals who feel inhibited by the curriculum often thrive in an outdoor environment. When adults think back to their own happiest memories of childhood, they frequently recall the joy of playing outdoors. Play is not only central to children’s enjoyment of childhood, but teaches critical life skills such as problem-solving, teamwork and creativity.

The campaign is about more than just one day; it is a catalyst to inspire more time outdoors every day, both at school and at home. To achieve this, the campaign has three aims: Outdoor learning is part of every school day for every child; Every child has great recess/playtime at school every day for at least 60 minutes, with the longer-term aim of 90 minutes; Schools act as advocates for more time outdoors, so that outdoor play becomes part of every child’s everyday life.

The global Outdoor Classroom Day is led by Project Dirt, in partnership with Unilever as part of their Dirt is Good movement.

Project Dirt aims to resource thousands of grassroots community projects, and to capture and share the stories of those achievements. Its online platform enables successful relationships to be formed between the business and community sectors. Project Dirt’s mission is to create a vibrant and active online community where individuals, communities, companies and local authorities can share knowledge, advice, best practice and access resources.

Project Dirt was one of the founding partners of the Outdoor Classroom Day (then called Empty Classroom Day), set up and run by teachers, educators and environmental campaigners. We work with an Advisory Board including other founding partners, leading academics and NGOs from across the world.

Dirt is Good (DiG) is the campaign supported by Unilever’s leading detergent brands including OMO, Persil, Skip and Via, sold in over 78 markets. We believe that by getting dirty, children develop, learn and grow through rich memory-making experiences. These experiences often come in the form of ‘real play’: play that is free, exploratory and sometimes messy, allowing children to enjoy the present and thrive in the future. Our vision is to create a play-friendly world so that all children everywhere can experience play every day. Whether known as OMO, Persil, Skip, Breeze, Ala, Wisk, Surf or Rinso in your part of the world, you can trust we’ll be there with the superior technology needed to help your family remove those tough stains again and again, so you’re able to enjoy those experiences worry-free.

In a recent global study of 12,000 parents, OMO found a stunning statistic: children were spending as little time outdoors as maximum security prisoners. This insight led us to focus our mission on rebalancing children’s lives through real play, especially outdoors. We created a database of activities for kids both indoors and outdoors to inspire fun experiences and collaborated with local organisations in Brazil, Turkey and the UK to create unique adventures for the whole family. Play needs to be a constant throughout a child’s day, as it’s a key way they learn and grow. That’s why we support Outdoor Classroom Day, an initiative we have championed in more than 50 countries to get children all over the world, on the same day, taking at least one lesson outdoors and celebrating the importance of their playtime.

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Beauty & Personal Care, Home Care, and Foods & Refreshment products with sales in over 190 countries and reaching 2.5 billion consumers a day. It has 161,000 employees and generated sales of €53.7 billion in 2017. Over half (57%) of the company’s footprint is in developing and emerging markets. Unilever has more than 400 brands found in homes all over the world, including Persil, Dove, Knorr, Domestos, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Wall’s, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Lynx.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan underpins the company’s strategy and commits to:

  • Helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.
  • Halving the environmental impact of our products by 2030.
  • Enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people by 2020.

The USLP creates value by driving growth and trust, eliminating costs and reducing risks. The company’s sustainable living brands are growing 50% faster than the rest of the business and delivered more than 60% of the company’s growth in 2016.

Unilever was ranked number one in its sector in the 2017 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In the FTSE4Good Index, it achieved the highest environmental score of 5. It led the list of Global Corporate Sustainability Leaders in the 2017 GlobeScan/SustainAbility annual survey for the seventh year running, and achieved four A ratings across Climate Change, Water, Forests and Supplier Engagement in CDP’s 2018 Global Supply Chain report. Unilever has pledged to become carbon positive in its operations by 2030, and to ensure 100% of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit For more information on the USLP:


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Thanks for joining the movement we can’t wait to see what you get up to on the day! Please share this with your colleagues and friends to help us make it possible for every child to get outdoors to learn and play every day 🙂 Check out the resources tabs for ideas for the day – and to make learning and play part of every day!

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Thanks for joining the movement, we can’t wait to see what you get up to on the day! Please share this with your colleagues and friends to help us make it possible for every child to get outdoors to learn and play every day 🙂

Thank you for supporting Outdoor Classroom Day!

We’ll send you a newsletter shortly. Time to play is critical for every child – share your moments with us by tagging #OutdoorClassroomDay and make every day a day to learn and play outdoors!

Wohoo! Top marks for signing up!!!

Thanks for joining the movement, we can’t wait to see what you get up to on the day! Please share this with your colleagues and friends to help us make it possible for every child to get outdoors to learn and play every day 🙂

Thank you for supporting Outdoor Classroom Day!

We’ll send you a newsletter shortly. Time to play is critical for every child – share your moments with us by tagging #OutdoorClassroomDay and make every day a day to learn and play outdoors!