“Mrs Infante have you seen this awesome fungus?”
Christine Infante, retired teacher and now RSPB Schools on Reserves Officer talks about how nature can be used to inspire children.
The question that startled me so much that I stepped back onto Tilly’s foot as I stared at the awe and wonder on Tim’s face while he cupped his hands to his cheeks with his mouth wide open in glee. Tim had spotted the fungus, said the word fungus and thought it was awesome! I was so excited it was all I could do stop myself from hugging the clusters of jelly ear fungus that drooped on the dead sycamore branch in front of us.
In all of my 15 years as a teacher I had never worked with a pupil like Tim. He struggled with the work in year four and he wanted to be like his dad, who watched tv at home all day. He was the child who occupied my thoughts at the weekends as I wandered around The Pound Shop looking for that spark that might ignite his interest.
Typically demotivated and uninterested in all classwork throughout his education career with us, he had come alive on our school trip to the nature reserve.
Nature can unlock the potential in children, by generating an interest and wonder that isn’t always easy to tap into. Nature is always there, around them, is constantly changing and is grubby, captivating and exciting. Natural England’s ‘People and Nature Survey for England’ published in October 2020 found that 83% of children reported that being in nature made them very happy. That’s no real surprise to a teacher who has to blow the whistle at the end of playtime on the school field and see the disappointed faces as leaves, daisy chains, piles of grass, sticks and carefully arranged petals have to be left behind. I wonder how many children would say that being in the classroom made them very happy?
I left teaching 18 months ago because I wanted to create more of these ‘Tim moments’ for other children. After our visit to the reserve Tim was at last proud of his work. He generated his best work of the year following the trip because he had an emotional connection to it. He cared about it and had experienced it. He wasn’t alone, the other 29 children started to dictate my weekly plans as they decided to protect their local hedgehogs and we went on to plan, design and make a hedgehog house for the school field and write persuasive texts explaining how to make your garden hedgehog friendly. One of these was published in the Parish Magazine which generated local interest and inspired the children further. There was a new energy to the class as they were making a difference to their local space, parents were interested, it was within their reach and they could see the results. They felt empowered. [image taken prior to social distancing measures]
These findings reinforce the findings of the ‘Children and Nature’ report where 451 children were surveyed before and after undertaking outdoor learning events. The majority of children felt they gained some wider personal benefit such as ‘It showed me I can do new things if I try’ 84% and ‘I now feel more confident in myself’ 79%. Spending quality time connecting emotionally with nature has been consistently linked with feeling good and functioning well with positive impacts such as lower anxiety, greater life satisfaction, pro social behaviours, meaning and purpose 1.
I now work with our RSPB Schools on Reserves sites that host our school visits across the country. We have a number of carefully developed curriculum linked programmes which strike the balance between a teacher having to meet learning objectives and the child experiencing that feeling of awe and wonder at the nature they explore on the reserve. We are very proud of our reputation for delivering inspiring yet rigorous sessions and delight in the wider value we add to the school community by sharing the wildlife on our wonderful reserves.
We love to hear from all the teachers who reveal the wonderful work from their class after a visit to one of our school reserve sites and we would love to hear about yours! Find out more on Twitter @RSPB_Learning and on Instagram @rspb_learning_schools. Or reading these blogs.
Our schools on reserves sites are open from April 2021. To book your own visit, follow this link.
‘People and Nature Survey for England’, October 2020 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/people-and-nature-survey-for-england
‘Children and Nature’, A research evaluation for The Wildlife Trusts, UCL, Institute of Education, Richard Sheldrake, Ruth Amos and Michael J.Reiss
1 Pritchard, Richardson, Sheffield and McEwan (2019). The relationship between nature connectedness and eudaimonic wellbeing: a meta analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-23
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