My Wild Life: Sheila Fallone
I have lived on the Isle of Wight for 16 years, having moved from London with my family. I work at St Blasius C of E Primary Academy in Shanklin as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant and Emotional Literary Support Assistant (HLTA/ELSA).
I feel privileged to live in such a beautiful place and still marvel that I can see the sea every day if I want - growing up in a city I saw it once a year if I was lucky. I think that is one of the reasons I appreciate where I live now, and I feel blessed to have been able to bring my children up in such a beautiful environment.
I love being outside, I love animals and nature. Part of my role in the primary school I work at is to support children with emotional needs, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to experience learning outside, in a natural environment.
Last year my son began volunteering for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and he told me about their Wildbeach project and how wonderful it was. This led to me taking part in six weeks of sessions with a group of the children I support.
Wildbeach is an outdoor learning project which uses the coastal environment. Beginning each session with circle time is a great icebreaker, particularly for some of the children who struggle with social skills. We then move on to activities, which are well organised with clear instruction - Kelly Wetherick (Wildbeach Officer) and her helpers, who run the sessions, are fantastic.
The children have done lots of things that incorporate learning new skills, like constructing shelters and building walls with a brick mould and level. They have gone rockpooling and identified their finds, as well as making necklaces, musical instruments, and museums from objects they found on the beach.
Each session ends with them sharing what they have done, reflecting and taking a quiet moment to use their senses; in particular closing their eyes and just listening to the sounds around them.
"I can’t stress enough how passionate I am about children being able to experience outdoor learning. To be disconnected for a while from electronic devices, to use their senses and to have the freedom to explore and connect with nature is so important for mental wellbeing."
Time well spent
Taking part in Wildbeach was so rewarding - I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful it was. The whole experience was memorable. Some of the children taking part struggle with social skills and communicating, so in the first couple of sessions they were shy and passed when asked to join in circle time. However, as the weeks went on, I could see their confidence developing and their interaction with each other blossoming.
I saw new relationships developing, teamwork with mixed age groups, and working in pairs. One child was happy to just feel the sand running through their fingers as if feeling it for the first time. They were completely contented to quietly study pebbles and shells they had collected.
It was a wonderful six‐week experience of learning new skills, whether that was finding, identifying, making, exploring, sharing, communicating, or connecting with nature. A couple of students cried when the sessions finished, they loved it so much. When I asked them to describe their experience in one word they said "magical", "awesome", "brilliant", "peaceful", "calming", "fun", "inspiring"... the list goes on.
They will always remember their Wildbeach experience, and those smiling, excited, relaxed, laughing children will stay in my memory.
The great outdoors
I can’t stress enough how passionate I am about children being able to experience outdoor learning. To be disconnected for a while from electronic devices, to use their senses and to have the freedom to explore and connect with nature is so important for mental wellbeing. How often do they get the chance? How many stop and take the time to find out what nature has to offer all around them, especially living in such a beautiful place?
What a difference taking a simple walk on the beach and breathing in the salty air can make to the way you feel. For some children being in the classroom can be a claustrophobic, daunting experience. Not everyone can sit still for long periods of time, and not everyone finds learning in class easy. All schools should embrace outdoor learning, so that all children have the opportunity to experience it.
In fact, I believe that outdoor learning should be introduced as part of the curriculum for all children. It can only help to improve their mental health, and will encourage them to take responsibility for and protect the wonderful environment they live in. Think how much they could learn and pass on to future generations.