Children's Mental Health Week is all about encouraging young people to take care of themselves. Here at RSPB Sandwell we run lots of activities for school groups, home educators, uniformed organisations and families. Providing a place where they can connect to nature, relax, and have fun all at the same time is very important to us. Find out about our wonderful sessions below with our Learning Officer Gretel Cooper, and how she thinks being outside and connecting to nature can help maintain a healthy lifestyle...
'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'
- William Butler Yates
Discover a knot of newts, a knab of toads, a cloud of grasshoppers, spy an army of caterpillars, a charm of goldfinches or a loveliness of ladybirds!
We have long been aware of the positive effects spending time outdoors can have on our mental health and well-being, and much research has been conducted to attempt to measure the positive effects nature can have on our mental well-being. It's been said by many that direct contact with nature and being outside can help reduce stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
I see the positive effect that 'connecting to nature' has on young children in my role at RSPB Sandwell Valley. We are a small nature reserve just a few miles from Birmingham City Centre and the surrounding conurbation. Sandwiched between the M5 and M6 motorways we really are on the doorstep for thousands of people.
We offer a range of activities designed to engage children in the nature that can be found on the reserve: pond dipping, minibeast discovery in our meadow, bird watching, fungi spotting and other seasonally related activities. My intention as Learning Officer is to ensure that children and their teachers have a memorable day where they can forget about school, relax into the activities and just have fun, returning home feeling like they can't wait to get back into nature as soon as possible.
It may sound cliche, but the word I hear most frequently is: 'WOW.' Discovering nature and being in a green space where your senses are adjusting to new sounds, sights and smells has a calming effect on everyone. Spotting a toad or newt for the very first time is an amazing experience. Children seem to instinctively understand how special this is and that nature needs to be nurtured too.
The feedback we receive is always rewarding but particularly so when staff find the time to speak to you directly about the positive effect they have noticed. On two occasions I have been approached by school staff who have been near tears when telling me that a child as spoken to them for the first time during their visit to our reserve. Such is the power of nature that it provides a space for children to be their true selves.
My own love of nature came from a childhood spent predominantly our of doors! I walked to and from school (sometimes at lunchtime as well) and spent weekends and free time in the garden, park or just 'out and about.' I lived on a newly-built housing estate but lots of green spaces had been left untouched. On my journey to school I crossed a wildflower meadow, walked along an ancient hawthorn hedgerow, along a tinkling brook and into a woodland. I did this in all weathers, noticing the changing seasons through the plants and trees I passed. Icicles in winter, catkins and sweetly scented blossom in spring and a shady green canopy in summer. Only now do I realise how amazingly lucky I was, particularly as I often did this walk alone with no fear whatsoever. The feeling that nature gives me is hard to describe. I know that it alters my brain somehow. Whatever emotion I am feeling it makes me feel better, more positive, happier and uplifted. It's joyful, profound and spiritual. I wish every child could experience this feeling.
As one of my young visitors said recently: "Nature is... beauty." We had been bird-watching and discovering seasonal changes to the plants and trees, and he felt moved to offer this truly perceptive observation.
Below is a list of just some of the benefits of nature-based learning:
And lastly here are some of the comments that school staff and children have shared after their day with us:
'We had a wonderful day and the staff and children really enjoyed the activities'
'Experiential learning at it's best'
'This is the best school trip I have ever been on'
'Do you live here?'
If you'd like to get outdoors and get closer to nature you can find some of our activities below:
For school sessions visit our website - https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-teachers/school-trips/sandwell-valley/
For family events see our main Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/pg/RSPBWestMidlandsWarwickshire/events/
To find out more about our school activities or for booking enquiries please email email@example.com
Photography Credit: Aaron Scott Richards
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