The value of nature in special schools
Most schools are aware of the value of outdoor experiences in terms of learning and development. Outdoor learning gives children the opportunity to develop holistically, supporting their physical, social, health and emotional wellbeing.
Special schools in particular want their pupils to get out more but often lack the financial and logistical means to do so. For children with additional needs spending quality time outdoors can help improve concentration levels, develop social skills and encourage independent exploration.
Now more than ever there is a real need for school children to connect with nature and the outdoors in simple, easy, and meaningful ways.
- We work with special schools to overcome logistical barriers to getting outdoors.
- We share ideas and activities for using nature and the outdoors within the curriculum.
- We give teachers the confidence to feel they can teach outside under any conditions, come rain or shine!
Nature Friendly Schools
Nature Friendly Schools is a national project funded by Department of Education and Defra. It is aimed at stimulating greater inclusion of natural environments in schools.
We are working with a collection of special schools throughout the Southwest to develop sensory nature-based techniques. These are designed to aid learning and development, and to spark connections with nature and the natural world.
One of the key themes of the project is building academic resilience especially for young people with mental health difficulties. Our approach focuses on providing children with special needs the opportunity to carry out independent tasks fostering a sense of autonomy, something that can be lacking in special schools.
The project brings the Sensory Trust’s approach to greening school grounds. The benefits of regular contact with nature and the outdoors in terms of development through both learning and play are well documented. We know that school grounds offer the chance for the most regular outdoor time for children. Therefore, these grounds should be the best they can be. Even the smallest of school grounds can be improved by adding a small patch of wildflowers or growing plants up a fence.
The project involves skilling up teachers in techniques for using their school grounds and using our nature based resources.
Sensory nature resources
Our sensory nature resources are designed to support the learning and development of young people with learning disabilities by engaging with nature and the outdoors. This includes curriculum based worksheets with supporting symbol sets as well as practical activity ideas.
The resources have been rigorously tested with special schools in Cornwall to ensure that they meet the needs of children with additional needs.
Trees and woodlands
We have been using woodlands and forests to bring learning to life for special schools. 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.
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.
Our work with Trees for Cities delivers tree and woodland activities, and teacher training to support the mental health and wellbeing of children with special educational 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 benefits of this work reported a breadth of positive emotions such as happiness, appreciation and excitement. The full evaluation has been published in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.