An increasing number of schools are beginning to value outdoor education and, for many, it is an established part of their learning. However, being in school with keyworker and vulnerable children generated a very unique set of circumstances; many schools had around 10% of the the usual school population, the expectation to teach a full curriculum was lifted and, in order to keep everyone safe, we were advised to get outside as much as possible. This afforded many schools with a unique opportunity and the fact that the weather was warm and sunny was a bonus!
What did the students value the most in their social bubbles at school? Being outside on the grounds and connecting to nature.
Gardening is a big part of our school and lockdown arrived just as the growing season was beginning. We knew that we could not maintain everything without the support of the school community so we decided to focus on some key areas, close to the classrooms. It was important for our own wellbeing to carry on gardening and see life blossoming but we also wanted to maintain beautiful spaces for the community to return to. Watering, weeding, sowing and harvesting became a daily activity and this guaranteed close up encounters with wildlife.
Having few indoor resources and needing to avoid transmission led to a wealth of imaginative activities using the grounds. The wildlife community is full of amazing people and we were fortunate to take part in a remote nature ‘Wildlife Wonder’ photography workshop. There was also much ‘hidden’ learning and the time to engage with nature to foster our own wellbeing. Lunch was often eaten outside, surrounded by birdsong and dancing bees and butterflies. Just before wider opening we asked our students to reflect on what they valued the most. They were all in agreement that it was being outside in the grounds - having the time to talk, escaping from the worries of life and being at one with nature.
Wider opening coincided rather nicely with 30 Days Wild which all bubbles adopted. Each bubble was allocated their own outdoor space and also a daily slot to access the wider grounds for simple activities like scavenger hunts and outdoor art. A clipboard and jumbo chalk became our essential tool kit.
We have always known that a connection with nature is important but through these unprecedented times, we have learned to appreciate her even more. When our pupils heard that school would be closed for the majority, they expressed concern over the grounds and the wildlife within. It made us realise the importance that this space holds for our children and we have tried to keep them up to date with blogs and shared boards. We also worked with ‘Living Connections’ to create a virtual nature trail. Our pupils commented on the memories the trail generated and how it was a chance to ‘be there’, in a place they loved.
Our home learners have been sending updates from their own gardens and local green spaces. We’ve had litter picking, homes for hedgehogs and bees being built, ponds installed, and reports on all the wildlife in their gardens. There have been sunflowers sown and vegetables planted, with sales and swaps to raise money for charities. We may not have been gardening in the same space but our passion for wildlife gardening and the desire to make a difference has meant we’ve stayed connected.
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