By Allison Briers (RSPB Schools Outreach Session Leader)

We hope there can be inspiration for outdoor learning in and out of school grounds found in the thoughts of Allison sharing her experiences of art through Schools Outreach. Due to the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in, for the safety of teachers, pupils and RSPB staff and volunteers, all Schools Outreach sessions are not currently running.

The RSPB schools outreach programme supports curriculum objectives and connects children to nature in many ways, with an aim to teach skills that enrich their school-based learning and that they can enjoy and share at home, embedding a lifelong connection with nature.

Sensing the World is a session packed with different artistic activities designed to make use of four of our senses; sight, hearing, smell and touch. Finding art in nature has been documented since time began. Patterns, colours, sounds, textures, shapes; these things can be found in the most unlikely places, and the feelings we get when we stop, look and really see the intricate details of a pinecone, a leaf, or a feather, seem to connect with a long forgotten ancestral instinct.

The RSPB Schools Outreach Team for Nottingham and Derby cover an environmentally diverse region, with forests, rivers and canals, high peaks and low valleys, several towns and 2 cities, the school grounds we visit are in many different surroundings. Some schools have sweeping fields of short grass, some have woods and forest schools, others seem little more than a playground with just a few borders. But they have one thing in common – treasure!

A favourite part of the session is our picture art. We enjoy a walk around the school grounds with our colour palettes and treasure bags in hand, looking high and low, in the nooks and crannies of walls, the bark of trees, amongst plants and flowers. As we go, we stop, touch, listen, smell, filling our bags along the way with leaves, twigs, petals, seeds and feathers, finding as many shapes, sizes and colours as we can. When our bags are full, it’s time to create our masterpiece!

Our team of treasure hunters work together to create a work of art with their collections, making hedgehogs with acorns for eyes and twigs for prickles, butterflies with leafy bodies and flowered wings, or maybe something else! In doing this, another great thing we achieve is a sense of belonging from working as a team. The artwork is also a great stimulus for nature-based conversation. “What do you think your hedgehog needs?”, “How does a butterfly start its life?”. Sensing the world is a session combining art, English and science.

A connection to nature is so important. We know at the RSPB that nature needs us more than ever, but as modern life takes unexpected twists and turns, we’re finding out that we also need nature more than we knew. Whether it’s watching a butterfly make patterns in the air as it dances on the breeze, or creating a natural work of art in the garden or at the kitchen table, connecting nature and art is a skill that will help our children through good times and bad, throughout their lives.