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Helpful tips for parents, carers and teachers

The tips we have outlined here are in two groups -

1. Tips for anyone who spends time with children
2. Tips for teachers and schools

 1. Tips for anyone who spends time with children

•    Be curious. Start spending time in natural settings with your children. This can include woodland, leafy urban parks, moorland, beaches. Get to know the greenspaces in your local area
•    Get dirty. Gardening and nature activities are hands-on. Soil, water and plants invariably end up on hands, clothing and shoes. Wear comfortable clothes that are up to the task and don’t be afraid to get dirty
•    Take time. Spend as much or as little time on an activity as needed. You can always return to the task another day.
•    Use all your senses. Let children experience the natural world with all their senses and explain when it’s okay to touch or taste and when to check with an adult
•    Handle with care. Many nature and gardening activities involve touching plants and interacting with living creatures. Model how to handle living things with care and respect
•    Be still. Observing nature may require sitting quietly for a while.  This does not come easily to every child. Start with a very short time period, such as one minute.  Give the children some ideas, e.g. to see if they can see any insects in the grass, or watch the clouds passing by.
•    Garden anytime, anywhere.  If you do not have a garden, start with window boxes and bring nature indoors
•    Encourage unstructured, spontaneous play. Games are great, but time just for your child to “be” in nature on his or her own terms is also important
•    Let your child play with natural materials as much as possible. When playing outside, encourage your child to use the materials around them, such as sticks, stones, dead leaves and shells
•    For activities and things to do in nature, see the attached reading list
•    Be a positive role model. Demonstrate through your words and actions that you care about nature and your local environment.

The above advice is applicable for older children including teenagers. However even more possibilities exist for having fun, developing independence and responsible attitudes for secondary aged children:

  • Make time for your child to have free time outdoors especially in parks, beaches and other natural areas.  Discuss and agree sensible precautions such as suitable clothing to be carried (if not worn), mobile phone switched on, protocols when other children and adults appear, agreed meeting times and places, etc.
  • Learn how to fish or develop another outdoor passion such as orienteering, bird watching or archaeology.
  • Join the scouts or guides. Both organisations continue to offer a variety of experiences and challenges for older children outdoors and in nature. 
  • Family activity holidays. Many outdoor centres, such as Glenmore Lodge, offer family weeks which cover the basics of outdoor adventure activities.  The Field Studies Council also have family courses such as “Eco Adventures” which provide a superb mix of nature and adventure activities.
  • Organise a hostelling holiday. Young people older than 16 years can plan, organise and undertake walking or cycling holidays independently, in beautiful parts of Scotland and further afield.
  • Do some practical conservation work. The National Trust for Scotland and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers have local groups which undertake drystane dyking, footpath restoration, rhododendron clearance and other work on estates. It is also possible to extend this to cheap holidays in the UK and abroad. Many outdoor professionals use this as a route to gain experience  prior to obtaining a job such as a countryside ranger.

2. Tips for teachers and schools

•    Plan activities and lessons that appeal to the naturalist intelligence within your children, e.g.
-    Multi-sensory activities
-    Categorising, classifying and sorting natural materials, plants and animals
-    Gardening and caring for plants
-    Nature walks
-    Field trips
-    Examining patterns in the local environment such as similarities, differences, anomalies, repetitions
-    Looking after animals: minibeasts, hamsters, hens, etc.
-    Developing scrapbooks, logbooks, journals about natural objects and nature
-    Have field guides, fiction and non-fiction books about nature and the natural world
-    Environmental and nature based projects

Get to know the local neighbourhood around your school. Find out where the nearest greenspace is.  If necessary ask your nearest ranger service, greenspace officer or other environmental organisation for advice. The majority of Scottish schools are within 1km of woodland. 

Get children outside during class time all year round. Outdoor learning is truly inclusive.  All subjects, all ages and stages can be taught outdoors, at least some of the time. It does take a couple of months for teachers and pupils to acclimatise to learning outdoors, but the effort reaps rewards. Use local greenspace as well as the school grounds.

Ensure children have outdoor clothing. This may involve fundraising, if parents are unable to supply. Remember that teachers need to be suitably dressed too!

In consultation with staff, pupils and community begin to green up your school grounds.  Seek advice from the Scottish school grounds charity, Grounds for Learning.  Possibilities include:
-    Planting native Scottish plants in tubs and planters
-    Creating a garden or raised beds and plant food which can be used for cooking and eating
-    Start a tree nursery and liaise with a local outdoor professional about planting the trees within and   beyond the school grounds
-    Grow plants from seeds
-    Create wildlife corridors, enabling animals to safely use the grounds as a safe passage
-    Cover walls with climbing plants such as hops and jasmine.
-    Consider natural surfacing such as sand, grass and bark rather than “wetpour” safety surfacing and asphalt surfaces. 
-    Seek advice from the Forestry Commission about natural play features such as logs and stones rather than expensive play equipment

Find out about forest school activities. The Forest Education Initiative can provide resources and training.

Bring the forest to the school!
 If you have little suitable greenspace within walking distance, then start collections of natural materials for use in your school grounds. For example, collect dead leaves, cones, sticks, stones, shells, feathers, etc.

Develop a bank of resources for outdoor activities. Include:
-    Lots of laminated pictures of animals and plants which live in your local area or Scotland
-    Field guides and books about nature
-    Magnifying glasses, bug boxes, plastic mirrors and little boxes
-    Mats for sitting on outside. The cheapest solution is the foil insulation rolls from DIY shops which are used to insert between radiators and walls.  They can be cut up to a suitable size
-    Quick activities which can be done as a brain break after some hard indoor work!

Give children outdoor playtimes as much as possible.
 If your grounds are limited in size, consider staggered break and lunch times. Risk assess your break times to take account of being outdoors in all weathers and remember to consider the health and cognitive benefits of children having outdoor breaks.

Consider time in nature as part of a programme of support for individual children who additional support needs. 
The well-being of children and young people is at the heart of the Getting it right for every child approach. Frequent, regular access to greenspace may be effective in terms of meeting some children’s needs.

Check the views from classroom windows. If children cannot see trees and plants from where they sit, another alternative is to have posters of natural places on classroom walls.

Get your children involved in an outdoor award project.  The John Muir Award combines environmental action with time in greenspace and can be undertaken by a class or even an individual or group of children.

Take your class on trips to natural sites and visit a wide variety of different habitats.  Go the seashore, moorland, a farm, a loch. If your school has no funds for trips, make this a focus of an enterprise project. Enjoy adventure activities and remember horse riding, dolphin watching and similar experiences can be new and different for many children.

Work with parents and carers and make time to explain why you are taking the class outside more often. Invite parents to join you and be an extra pair of hands.

All of the above apply to secondary schools. However even more possibilities exist with older children and with a little thought and creativity, the subject and timetabling routines of secondary schools can provide focused opportunities for being outside.

Save time and get your class to meet you outside at the start of a lesson rather than in a classroom.  Find a suitable outdoor meeting place where children learn to go for your lesson.

Plan joint projects and themes across departments. For example a one or two week project about trees lends itself to cross-curricular work in S1 and S2 and transition activities.

Set up a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme or John Muir Award group. Both organisations provide support and advice. Even the community and service aspects can include a nature or environmental theme.

Assess outdoor activity centres for their integration of sustainable development education and nature activities into the programmes offered.  For example, experiential opportunities to learn more about river ecology en route to a rock climb if the journey to the rock face goes past a river. This is a much more holistic and effective approach to outdoor education.

Consider applying for a research grant from the British Ecological Society to study a specific aspect of the natural world. This can be done through the science, maths, IT or other department depending on the purpose of the research. See the website for more information 


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