It is waiting for spring,
for the warmth of the sun,
when buds burst from the branches.
What colour, what fun!(It Starts With a Seed, Laura Knowles 2016)
Spring is a fantastic time of year where you can see changes in the landscape. After the cold and barrenness of winter the thaw starts, the sun is out, brighter and longer, new shoots appear and the earth suddenly seems to come alive. Birds arrive from migration filling the air with their song, early flowers bravely bloom and life begins again. It is no coincidence that Spring is marked by festivals and celebrations in many cultures and religions and has been an inspiration for literary works. Spring is also a great opportunity to do some class activities that help learners to reconnect with nature and the great outdoors.
It is not only fun to escape the physical confines of the classroom but also has well-documented wellbeing and learning benefits. The Wildlife Trust and UCL Institute of Education’s research on evaluating the impact that experiencing nature has on children found that:
After participating in supervised outdoor activities in nature children showed:
- an overall increase in their personal wellbeing and health, with the greatest improvement being in those who initially reported low levels
- an overall increase in nature connection over time
- high enjoyment levels, and were motivated and engaged
- an overall increase in pro-environmental values. These values were expressed as support for the protection of plants, animals and the environment, recycling, and reduction in energy and water use.
Children also reported that they gained educational benefits:
- 84% felt that they are capable of new things when they try
- 79% felt that the experience could help their school work
In addition, the vast majority of children also felt more confident and improved their relationships with peers and their teacher.
Connecting with nature is clearly beneficial in lots of ways. Using our Spring book collection as a stimulus here are some activities that you can do with your class to help them to connect with the green spaces around them – parks, gardens, allotments, recreational areas as well as the countryside in its more traditional guise.
Charlotte Voake’s A Little Guide to Trees and A Little Guide to Flowers is an inspiring way to start a scavenger hunt. It is beautifully illustrated with tips for identifying species and a space for scrapbooking at the end. Go out as a whole class using the online resource from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) or use it as a homework activity. Designed for use in their gardens it is generic enough to work well elsewhere. Encourage the children to investigate and describe their objects. Which senses do they engage? Can you tell me about them? If necessary provide a list of adjectives as appropriate. Extend the activity by asking the children to write a short piece of prose about their finds and their senses.
Grow your own… It Starts With a Seed by Laura Knowles tells the story of a seed to a tree through the seasons and all the creatures who make it their home whilst ‘That’s not a daffodil’ is described by the publisher as “a playful story about an inventive boy, a kindly gardener, a growing friendship and the promise of a bulb”. The RHS Campaign for School Gardening has a Spring Seed Sowing plan with core gardening activities and supporting optional tasks. The learning objective is to learn that seeds are part of a plant’s life cycle and understand what is needed for seeds to grow. Its approach is cross-curricular.
The book Lifecycles: Seed to Sunflower is a great accompanying text with photographs of every stage, labelled diagrams to explain growth and development, fascinating facts and discussion points for further learning.
The Outdoor Art Room: Spring by Rita Storey is a great resource full of ideas that get children outside and interacting with nature. It helps them to discover new things about their environment. Follow the step-by-step photographs to make for example eco seed pods, a windmill bird scarer, and a spring blossom picture. Using the book you can feel confident that the activities have been planned not to have any adverse environmental impact.
It is not just a tree but a wonderful world,
Full of beetles and grubs and squirrels and birds
All busily making
a life of their own,
In their leaf-laden,
Bark-bound arboreal home.
Spring isn’t just about the rejuvenation of plants but wildlife too. You can bring that alive in the classroom by learning birds and their songs using the Woodland Trust Bird Song Identification. Use it every day for a fortnight encouraging the children to listen carefully. Print pictures of the birds and where they typically nest. Monitor progress with intermittent quizzes. If you are feeling more adventurous, with some simple planning and preparation you can hatch frogspawn in a plastic tank in the classroom and watch it metamorphose to tadpoles and then a common frog native to the United Kingdom. The Primary Science & Technology Bulletin gives practical detailed advice about what to do and the related learning opportunities. Jan-March is an ideal time of the year to start the nature adventure. Butterfly and Ladybird eggs and larvae are alternatives.
Engagement with the great outdoors need not stop at the end of the school day. There are a growing number of campaigns and resources you can use to encourage your class to continue to connect with nature. Print the National Trust’s PDF ‘50 things to do before you are 11 ¾’ as a challenge. It includes things such as rolling down a big hill; cloud watching; playing pooh sticks. The National Trust says:
It’s not just a case of getting outdoors or learning the names of different birds – we want children to really explore the hooks, nooks and knobbles of nature in all different seasons, and build special memories to last. Research tells us these experiences of connecting with nature boost children’s physical, social and mental development. And it’s lots of fun too.
Alternatively, select some fun family activities from the RHS such as making a bee hotel or growing tomatoes. You can look at the BBC Springwatch web page together for ideas. Some country parks run Wild Wednesday (a forest school) throughout the school holidays whilst local Wildlife Trusts run activity days that you can book or nature reserves that you can visit for a day out. You could make your own Nature’s Calendar based on principles of the one developed by the Woodland Trust so that the children notice the daily changes in the environment around them on their way to and from school. If any pupil or their friends/family grow food in their garden or allotment get the children to track its journey using photographs or pictures from the earth to the plate. For example, rhubarb is an easily grown early vegetable that could be cooked by pupils into a delicious crumble.
The seeds are now ready
To float in the breeze…
….and some of them…
…might just grow into…
Help your class to connect with nature and the great outdoors to grow – you never know where it might lead. So wrap up, get out and enjoy!