The report was launched today by Charles Clarke, secretary of state for education and skills. Project partners were Barnardo's, English Nature, Ikea and Royal Bank of Scotland.
'Out-of-classroom learning should not just be about one-off excursions to museums or galleries, though these are clearly also of value,' say the report's authors, Gillian Thomas and Guy Thompson.
'School safaris should occur on a weekly basis in all schools, and could involve children learning about trigonometry by going on fun fair rides, or doing a geography lesson within an airport arrivals lounge. Helping children explore their environments should involve reclaiming spaces for children, through regular, and maybe unexpected use.'
Entitlement in school education is an established concept but rarely has it been extended outside the classroom walls. The report's authors believe the government should urgently consider ways to improve children's learning opportunities off school premises.
Extended schools provide an opportunity to imbed the idea of out-of-school learning. However, the report warns that there is a risk that the focus of extended schools on a single location further excludes children who are alienated from schools and fails to encourage transfer of le arning between schools and other locations.
The extended school concept could be developed to include an assessment of schools on the basis of diversity of learning locations and the number of school trips. This would involve more teacher training on out-of-school trips and greater use of voluntary groups.
The researchers gained a detailed knowledge of the way children relate to their environment through a series of interviews and field trips led by the children themselves. What emerged was a picture of children who are frightened by many things adults take in their stride, ranging from car traffic to news bulletins about terrorism.
The report argues that fear of their own environment means that children are much less likely to connect with wider 'green' environmental problems. Policy-makers should use practical steps towards improving children's environments as a way of increasing their understanding of green issues.
One way to do this would be to promote an eco-friendly schools fund which would award money to schools for innovations such as embedded micro-generation of renewable power, energy efficient classrooms and waste management solutions. Making sustainability a daily feature of school life would considerably advance children's environmental awareness.
'Children's well-being and environmental quality are inextricably linked,' say the report's authors. 'The paradox is that we are fostering a generation that is likely to face the toughest environmental challenges yet to be experienced by mankind, in terms of climate change and the ever-increasing pressure on natural resources. Yet our research suggests that children are losing their connection with the natural environment.'
The report recommends that the government encourages school building projects to include highly visible educational features such as rainwater harvesting and solar panels in their specifications for contractors.
* A Child's Place: Why environment matters to children is avail able here.
Guy Thompson is director of Green Alliance and Gillian Thomas is a researcher at Demos.
Green Alliance is an independent charity with a central role in the UK environment movement. It works closely with decision-makers in government and business, and with other environment groups, promoting policies for a better environment.
Demos is an independent think tank with a strong interest in education and quality of life for children. Relevant previous publications include Learning Beyond the Classroom and Other People's Children.