Dzień Pustej Klasy

Empty Classroom Day

Malgorzata Świderek

The Ladder of Participation: Level 4

The kids were delighted. They adore various outdoor classes: in the forest, on a meadow, in the school garden. They can learn in practice what they discuss theoretically in class and thus retain the information. Contact with nature is great for everything. Empty Classroom Day is an inspiration for those who haven’t tried outdoor education yet.

A teacher’s comment from the feedback provided after Empty Class Day 2022

Empty Classroom Day is a unique international initiative that promotes the benefits of education out in the open. We encourage teachers to spend at least one class outside the school building. All of this serves the purpose of revealing the value of outdoor learning – arguably the most joy-sparking form of education in the world.

Empty Classroom Day is celebrated every year in June. Its objective is clear: to cause school classrooms to empty out. The holiday originates in Britain, and in 2016 it was transplanted to Poland by Center for Environmental Action Springs. We also initiated celebrating the day in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and in Hungary in collaboration with local organizations. Our proposal was viewed with enthusiasm by schools. We are very pleased with hundreds of thousands of students spending the day outdoors outside their classrooms. To many Polish schools, Empty Classroom Day became a regular occurrence and made it permanently to the school events’ calendar. To facilitate its organization and to encourage teachers to conduct lessons outdoors, we prepared materials that can be accessed free of charge.

On the website teachers can find a wide array of ideas for outdoor classes. Springs educators share their tips not only for Natural Science/Biology classes, but related to other subjects, as nature is a great place for learning Polish Language and Literature, Music, Physics, Geography or PE. All of the information is provided to encourage teachers to spend as much time as possible outside the school.

Our goal is to encourage as many teachers as possible to educate their students out in nature irrespective of the subject they teach and the education stage. Together we prove that staying outdoors is pleasurable and necessary for mental and physical health, but also that students are able to learn not only Nature Science/Biology, but Physics, Music, Arts, Polish Language and Literature and foreign languages. Outdoor classes are not “a waste of time”, but one of the ways to learn. We demonstrate that it is possible to cover the common core curriculum outdoors, gain key competences and generally develop.

Even though scientists have proven multiple times that contact with nature is indispensable for sustaining mental and physical health in both children and adults, outdoor classes are still considered as a lesser form of education by Polish schools, and the weather can effectively discourage preschool teachers from the daily dose of exercise out in the open air – says Gosia Świderek from the Center for Ecological Action Springs – But we also know that there are lots of teachers, who believe in the power of nature and its blessings on a daily basis. It is them that we invite to celebrate Empty Classroom Day.

Empty Classroom Day is an invitation and inspiration. As the organizer of the celebration every year we set the date, we promote the event to motivate the largest possible number of schools to join in. By signing up to take part, through our newsletter and Facebook fan page we create a community that shares their ideas for the celebration. We also provide various ideas and inspirations, ready-made educational materials, but it is up to schools and pre-schools to decide how they will spend the day. They could have a longer trip, hold classes in the local park, play on the meadow or in the pre-school garden. What is crucial is that children will be given an opportunity to learn in the natural surroundings, they will be able to observe wildlife directly not mediated through the textbook pages. They will also be able to advance their language skills by describing the world around them, learn about laws of physics experientially, create artworks and play music by using gifts of nature deriving inspiration from the natural environment, read maps, exercise gross and fine motor skills by playing in the forest or on a meadow. We care about making sure that teachers enjoy this form of education and use it as often as possible. Even though there are numerous concerns related to outdoor classes (both teachers and parents point to the matters of children’s safety, weather, the necessity to involve more monitors, preparing differently for such classes than for those held in a conventional environment) after a few times it turns out that the vast majority is not as bad as it seemed originally. The major risk is unfavorable weather conditions on Empty Classroom Day. Good preparation for a field trip is a matter of vital importance and then neither rain, nor heat nor cold weather will become a hindrance. In a situation when the weather does prevent outdoor classes, these can be rescheduled. During the June lockdown in 2020 we held a celebration with the motto: “Distant learning distant from the computer” and we encouraged students to go out individually and observe the environment as well as playing out in the open air. In September we held another edition in the same year, to keep the tradition of outdoor activities going.

The account given by teachers that organized Empty Classroom Day in their school demonstrates that education in this form sparks a lot of joy, and neuroscientists have long claimed that atmosphere that reigns in a group, intrinsic motivation, curiosity, the possibility to pursue one’s own interests as well as movement and diversity of incentives play an important role in the learning process. “A great day, we practically spent it all outdoors, the kids were over the moon. The conclusions seem obvious, outdoor learning makes sense, and we are definitely going to hold more outdoor classes and benefit [greatly]” – this kind of feedback received from teachers convinces us that we should continue to promote outdoor education.