During lockdown and this whole period of uncertainty, where we found ourselves having to connect to a virtual world, many of us turned to nature for relaxation and to de-stress. This led to being motivated to take daily walks and visit local green spaces. The sense of wellbeing nature gave us was a welcome blanket of security in an unfamiliar world.
Since the pandemic began, schools have been aware of its impact it could have on children’s wellbeing and capacity to sustain resilience. Before children across the UK returned to school, teachers and educational professionals have been considering how to help children recover emotionally whilst sensitively addressing children’s gaps in learning.
There is a wealth of research regarding the benefits of outdoor learning which addresses the needs of children
In the think piece ‘A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic’, Professor Barry Carpenter considers the different types of loss children will have encountered during their time away from school, including routine, structure, friendship and opportunity for freedom. He suggests schools recover following a “systematic, relationships-based approach to reigniting the flame of learning in each child.”
How this approach is put into practice has encouraged many schools to review their outdoor spaces, for some it is continuing and enhancing the resources they have, for others they are beginning to see it‘s potential as part of their recovery curriculum.
There is a wealth of research regarding the benefits of outdoor learning which addresses the needs of children past and present including:
- Wellbeing – increases when children spend time connecting to nature;
- Educational gain – children’s confidence develops enabling children to try new things (Institute of Education ‘Nature Nurtures Children’ research report 2019)
- Exercise – the outdoors encourages active play;
- Taking risks – the outdoors lends itself for children to gain confidence in appropriate risk taking;
- Socialisation – outside encourages children to work together in an unstructured environment;
- Appreciation of nature – connecting to nature, develops appreciation and the desire to look after it (Harvard Medical school 2018)
When children can connect to nature, they are able to experience freedom and space to rediscover themselves, try out new skills, build confidence and form relationships. There are many ways children can engage with the natural environment, through working as a team in creating something together to trying things on their own to discover something new. Nature is a resource they can take comfort from and know that it is always there for them to connect with wherever they are.
Jo Gordon – Programme Lead
Natural Thinkers has been helping schools and childcare settings to develop their outdoor spaces, for almost ten years. Starting out in Lambeth and now supporting schools and childcare settings across the country. The programme provides staff with a framework to develop ways for children from 0-11 years to access the outdoors, ensuring that all children can connect with nature. The core value of the programme is the belief that the approach develops children’s appreciation for nature, which in turn leads to generations that will want to look after it. The framework includes Earth Pledges that children can aspire to and feel part of a collective community in achieving the same goal of saving our planet!
Natural Thinkers recent partnership with LEAP (housed by NCB) has allowed the programme to develop further, creating materials for 0-3 years olds and links to the Primary Science Programme of Study. The programme focuses on using nature as the main resource, putting STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths into a learning context that is cross curricular.
Natural Thinkers train teachers and childcare practitioners to recognise the benefits nature has on children’s wellbeing
The Natural Thinkers consultants train teachers and childcare practitioners to recognise the benefits nature has on children’s wellbeing, including ways in using nature to support mindfulness and children’s communication and language skills. Schools who have taken on the programme often report how children become calmer, more motivated to join in, gain confidence and are inspired to talk about what they are doing whilst raising achievement.
If you are thinking about ways to rebuild relationships and create environments that allow children to reflect, process feelings and express themselves then the Natural Thinkers programme might be just what you need right now.
Jacqui McDermid – Natural Thinkers Co Programme Lead