Immersing Children in Nature from a Young Age Is a Massive Win-Win

The Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 report made the point that children who learn about woods and trees “are much more likely to grow up to be environmentally responsible adults”. Taking an interest in, and learning to care for, the natural world is not just good for the planet. It benefits individuals and communities. It is educational. It is fun. And it boosts mental and physical health and wellbeing. From a young age children need to be learning about — but also experiencing and enjoying — nature and the environment as part of a fully rounded curriculum.

Robert Macfarlane is a British writer and academic best known for his books on the natural world. On the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs this week he talked about children and nature.

Children are naturals at nature. They do it far better than [adults]. They lie down in it. They eat it… I would love to see every primary school in this country twinned with a farm. I would love to see every primary school planting trees in the cities and the countryside around. Some of that is already happening, but we could do so much more of it, and in that way we grow together people and place.

Robert Macfarlane, quoted on Desert Island Discs

In 2017 he published The Lost Words, created with the artist Jackie Morris, which was joint winner of the Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The ‘lost’ words of the book’s title are twenty of the names for everyday nature — words like ‘acorn’, ‘wren’ and ‘otter’ — that were controversially dropped from inclusion in the Oxford Junior Dictionary due to under-use by children.

Research commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts in 2019 showed that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature: “the children showed an increase in their personal wellbeing and health over time, and they showed an increase in nature connection and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.”

The research also indicated that the children — of primary-school age (ie pre-teenage) — also gained educational benefits as well as wider personal and social benefits:

  • 90% felt they learned something new about the natural world
  • 79% felt that their experience could help their school work
  • 84% felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried
  • 79% reported feeling more confident in themselves
  • 81% agreed that they had better relationships with their teachers
  • 79% reported better relationships with their class-mates

The Wildlife Trusts describe themselves as “a grassroots movement of people from a wide range of backgrounds and all walks of life, on a mission to restore a third of the UK’s land and seas for nature by 2030. We believe everyone, everywhere, should have access to nature and the joy and health benefits it brings.”

Their website offers lots of opportunities to get involved — from signing up and making a donation to volunteering and fundraising. There is plenty of information about events and campaigns happening across the UK and the website is also packed with tips on how individuals and families can do their bit to support nature.

The website is exceptionally good at showing how children can learn through nature and have fun at the same time and is a terrific resource for home-schoolers. For example, the page Help wildlife at home lists simple things that families can do to support nature — from building a pond or a bat box to conserving water and using less plastic. It also has a fantastic page devoted to citizen science projects, both national and regional.

My recent blog Being involved in positive change can boost children’s mental health called for a bold and imaginative approach to boosting children’s post-lockdown mental health and wellbeing, offering “every young person encouragement and, more importantly, easy-to-access opportunities to make a positive difference to the environment.”

I also highlighted the BBC’s Plant Britain initiative, a fantastic opportunity to boost nature education and a chance for children and young people, families and schools to get involved in improving the environment and help make a visible difference for the future.

I blog regularly about education, particularly in relation to children aged 5 to 11, at this website about Life-Based Learning. This is a slightly edited version of a recent blog.

Image at the head of this article by Amanda McConnell from Pixabay.

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