Nature Friendly Schools
School grounds are important places. Well developed, used and managed school grounds provide a rich and varied resource for investigative learning and play. Such spaces promote first hand experiences and friendships, and provide opportunities that engage our imagination, fuel our curiosity and feed our natural sense of exploration.
Increasingly, school grounds are becoming the only outside space that children and young people have regular access to, providing a safe refuge where they can learn, play and have fun. For many they represent a child’s only contact with nature.
Regular learning and playing in outdoor environments can improve attainment and behaviour, health and wellbeing, socialisation and teacher job satisfaction.
By developing teachers’ confidence and ability to drive forward outdoor learning schools, Nature Friendly Schools will give thousands of children from some of the most deprived areas in England the opportunity to get closer to nature benefitting their learning, health and wellbeing, and care and concern for the environment. It will fuel creativity and a sense of adventure, allowing pupils to experience the joy that nature can bring, removing the inequality that currently exists.
Pupils will benefit from at least two hours spent learning outdoors every week, experiencing wildlife on their doorstep but also further afield. This can include long term changes such as the creation of new nature areas within their school grounds or the opportunity to visit local nature reserves or parks.
A key commitment in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan is to encourage children to be close to nature to benefit their health and wellbeing. To help achieve this, £10 million of funding has been made available by the Department of Education to deliver the Children and Nature Programme, which includes three delivery projects - Nature Friendly Schools, Growing Care Farming and Community Forest Woodland Outreach. The programme aims to support children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to have better access to natural environments.
"The impact has included gains for the most vulnerable pupils. For example-an increase in self-esteem, confidence and engagement with their peers and learning."
St Giles’- CE Primary School in Willenhall has really embraced Nature Friendly Schools. The Senior Leadership team at the school is committed to embedding outdoor learning across the curriculum and increasing pupils’ access to outdoor and natural environments. The links between pupils spending more time learning outdoors and the potential positive impacts on their mental health are well understood.
Simrat Mavi is the deputy headteacher and designated Nature Friendly Schools Lead at St Giles. She is passionate about the natural world and with the support of headteacher, Mark Dakin, has been instrumental in motivating staff to embrace outdoor learning through Nature Friendly Schools.
Key teachers have taken an active role in Nature Friendly Schools; participating in training and organising focus groups of pupils. Children surveyed their grounds and designed improvements aimed at increasing biodiversity. Their ideas were incorporated into a school grounds improvement plan and practical work had just begun when Covid-19 hit.
The pandemic changed many things, but not the school’s enthusiasm for outdoor learning. The next phase of Nature Friendly Schools involved building the skills and confidence of teaching staff to deliver their lessons outside. Adapting to the changing mental health needs brought about by Covid-19, the focus of these lessons turned towards building self-esteem and to fostering communication and cooperation skills in pupils.
A package of team building, orienteering and den building activities linked to the National Curriculum was devised and delivered in the school grounds. Despite the winter weather, pupils had a great time and happily identified what they liked about the sessions.
The positive benefits of taking lessons outside and into green spaces are already being observed by senior managers and school governors are really supportive and have made a significant financial commitment to creating further natural outdoor spaces in the school grounds; the latest being the creation of two wildlife ponds.
The journey towards embedding outdoor learning into the curriculum at St Giles’ CE Primary School is well under way and will continue long after the Nature Friendly Schools project has ended.