NEWS: Pioneering ‘Nature Friendly Schools’ to boost children’s learning and well-being at a critical time

Nature Friendly Schools gives children from some of the poorest communities in the country opportunities to learn outside the classroom, while supporting their well-being, mental health, and engagement with school.

Imagine maths next to a wildlife pond in the inner city, English under the shade of an ancient oak, or science classes through real-life experiences in the natural world. Almost 30,000 school children from disadvantaged areas are set to enjoy classes in nature this spring in a ground-breaking outdoor learning project spearheaded by The Wildlife Trusts.

The project enters a new phase at a critical time, after a year when children have been isolated from the natural world, learnt behind screens, and suffered a substantial rise in mental health issues. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are known to have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially in terms of access to green space.

Nature Friendly Schools gives those pupils a lifeline to spend some of their day learning outdoors, encouraging motivation, confidence, and creativity.

Now more than ever it’s important that young people have access to nature. Outdoor learning offers children the opportunity to experience new and exciting ways of enriching their minds outside the four walls of a classroom, all while supporting their mental and physical wellbeing. It’s vital that programmes like this support these efforts to ensure that all young people have equal access to outdoor learning and the positive benefits that it brings.

Graham Duxbury, National Chief Executive, Groundwork

Learning in nature boosts children’s well-being, confidence, and behaviour, and should be a fundamental part of a child’s experience in education. We’re delighted at the success of the project so far. We know that children in deprived areas are much less likely to have contact with nature while the pandemic also increased screen-based learning. The new phase of Nature Friendly Schools is more important than ever for them.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts

Now needed more than ever, the project, funded by Defra and the Department for Education – and supported by Natural England, is increasing its reach this year. Nature Friendly Schools aims to work with more than 100 schools – in areas of the highest levels of social deprivation – and give almost 30,000 pupils opportunities to learn and play in nature as part of their education recovery.

Through expert training, Nature Friendly Schools empowers teachers to deliver outdoor classes independently, helping them overcome barriers that made it challenging to head out into nature before. This includes making the most of limited outside space, managing behaviour outdoors, and helping teachers measure learning outside of a conventional classroom. Nature Friendly Schools also rewilds school grounds, creating outdoor classrooms and greener, more natural spaces around school buildings.

Nature Friendly Schools brings Groundwork into a unique partnership together with The Wildlife Trusts, YoungMinds, Sensory Trust and Field Studies Council.