Growing Among Trees

Tree and woodland activities are bringing children closer to nature in special schools

Child's hands holding tree leaves

We have been using woodlands and forests to bring learning to life for special schools in Reading and London as part of the government funded Growing Among Trees project led by Trees for Cities. The project demonstrates that any aspect of the curriculum can be taught using trees and woods as a backdrop and children with additional needs thrive in a natural environment.

Evidence shows that children learn better, have more fun and are happier and healthier when they spend time outdoors connecting with nature. At a time where mental health is a major challenge to young people, the benefits of connecting with nature for supporting mental health are more important than ever, and especially for young people in communities experiencing disadvantage. Many mental health issues manifest themselves by the age of 14 so it is critical to give young people tools and techniques to build resilience.

The Growing Among Trees project responds by bringing forest and woodland outreach activities into schools.

Why trees and woodlands?

Trees teach us about a different pace of life, a different way to survive and relate to others. All of this can be helpful when reflecting on our own lives and our place within the world. Trees also offer a backdrop that enables all types of learning, any aspect of the curriculum can be taught using woodlands. Forest and woodlands offer the perfect setting to understand and connect with the outdoors, exploring personal relationships with nature and with others and the wider world.

About the Growing Among Trees project

Growing Among Trees is a consortium project where we are working with project lead Trees for Cities and partners Nature Nurture CIC, The Garden Classroom, Green Schools Project and Dr William Bird and his team at Intelligent Health. It is part of the Community Forest and Woodland Outreach Project, one of the three projects in the government's Children and Nature programme and supported by the Department for Education, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England. It sits alongside our other consortium project Nature Friendly Schools.

Tree and woodland activities, and teacher training, are bringing new opportunities for children and teachers in secondary, primary and special schools. Our focus is special schools in Reading and London, developing nature activities to support the mental health and wellbeing of children with special educatonal needs. Keeping students and staff central to any new interventions, and building links between schools and local woodlands, helps ensure these nature-based practices are adopted in the longer term.

The partnership is keen to build on what has been achieved in this pilot and to develop further work - watch this space.

New teaching resources

These online support materials are designed to support teachers working with children with special eduational needs. They are already in use in special schools and teachers have been enthusiastic about how they support outdoor learning and sensory engagement. You can find resources for secondary and primary schools on the Trees for Cities website.

Tree planting learning pack

Symbol showing a hand planting a tree

Symbol-based worksheets focused on trees (pdf 2.46Mb)

Outdoor learning in special schools

Boy holding leaves over his eyes

A guide to using trees, woods and the outdoors (pdf 7.42Mb)

Sensory Story: a day in the life of a tree

Collection of materials used to make a sensory story.

Uncover what trees need to survive and thrive (pdf 1.99Mb)

Making tree themed nature frames

Girl holding a nature frame.

Make frames with a tree and woodland theme (pdf 2.04Mb)

Making a woodland bird's nest

birds nest made from twigs and leaves

Connecting trees with their inhabitants (pdf 2.74Mb)

A day in the life of a butterfly

Butterly on a flower.

A butterfly lifecycle activity with sensory learning (pdf 5.41Mb)

Sensory journey mapping

A sensory journey drawn on paper and decorated with iterms like leaves and flowers.

Taking a journey around the woods (pdf 2.04Mb)

Smell it, sense it, know it

An allium flower.

Engaging with and learning about smell (pdf 1.85Mb)

Exploring sounds in nature

A sound map..

Engaging and learning about sound outdoors (pdf 1.74Mb)