Lao Tzu apparently said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” It’s an arresting thought, especially in our hurried lives where, we are told, faster is always better. The message to accelerate rings loud and clear – be more efficient, learn faster, streamline the curriculum – and it challenges the real need for s-l-o-w. Pause, slow down, all will be accomplished – these are important messages for us right now.
The recent document published by The Wildlife Trusts and UCL Institute of Education, Nature Nurtures Children, shows significant benefits for children who get to learn from nature. The research was commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, who run popular sessions for children of all ages to learn about and from nature, to evaluate the impact that experiencing nature has on children. The headlines from that study show that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature: 90% of children felt they learned something new about the natural world, 79% felt that their experience could help their school work, 84% of children felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried, 79% of children reported feeling more confident in themselves, 81% agreed that they had better relationships with their teachers, and 79% reported better relationships with their class-mates. These benefits are so significant that they are surely worth pursuing in any way remotely possible.
While it’s wonderful if your school has access to extensive grounds that have been developed sympathetically so that children can experience the wilds of nature in safety, many schools don’t have that opportunity. But there are many other ways in which we can all, staff and pupils alike, learn from nature in schools, regardless of the terrain surrounding us. These five ideas might strike a chord:
- Bring nature into the classroom as much as possible. Placing plants around the classroom is one obvious way of achieving this, but you can also bring foliage in for learning right across the curriculum. One school I know picks windfall apples from local trees, uses the apples for science and maths purposes initially (dissecting, counting and fractions in the main) and then cooks the apples to make into apple pies. Every last bit of learning that could possibly be derived from the humble cooking apple is utilised. And the great thing about these strategies is that you don’t actually need to have apples trees in the vicinity (it doesn’t matter how the apples are acquired!) and you don’t have to be outside if this isn’t possible.
- Identifying plants and trees is another great way of helping children to gain the benefits of learning from nature in schools. Naming nature is an important step on the path to genuine stewardship of the natural world. If you can name a thing, it is no longer simply “other”. Many adults are unable to name, for example, ten native species of trees, or wild flowers, or butterflies, or birds. Make it a goal for your children by the time they leave your school. One teacher worked on this in five-minute chunks of time throughout the academic year and the accumulated knowledge of the natural world was impressive by July!
- Explore the wildlife habitats around you from the classroom outwards. What is sharing your space with you? What can be found in the playground? In the streets around? On the roof? In the skies above? How might these neighbours be brought more specifically into the learning in your classroom?
- Encourage children, through the curriculum and any cross-curricular approaches you engage in, to explore the extent to which children feel connected to nature. Nature connectedness concerns the degree to which a person considers nature to be a part of who they are; their “emotional closeness” to nature. You can explore the ways in which children feel a sense of both care and concern for the natural world.
- Find out what is happening in your local area. Once Covid-19 restrictions allow, your local Wildlife Trust may do a school visit to highlight nature on your doorstep. There may be other local wildlife groups offering a similar service. Consider the possibility of developing a nature corridor with a neighbouring school, or becoming a special attraction to a specific species (butterflies, for example). Hook into your local nature networks to see how you might become more involved.
When exploring and learning from nature in schools it’s reasonable to expect that children will enjoy what they do. Their engagement and curiosity are likely to be high and their skills of observation heightened. There is potentially so much to be gained from bringing nature more purposefully into the classroom that making it a priority for 2021 just might be what we all need for a soothing year ahead.
Find out more…
Read Nature Nurtures Children full report if you want to delve deeper.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.