Improving midlife health requires us to start early

A study involving people whose health has been tracked over five decades indicates that about one in three middle-aged people have multiple chronic health issues such as recurrent back pain, mental health problems and high blood pressure. The research shows the long-lasting links between childhood and adolescence and midlife health, and the researchers have recommended action on health targeted at children and young people in order to improve the long-term health prospects for future generations. Such thinking resonates with the aims of Life-Based Learning — an approach to education for pre-teenage children in which the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded life-based curriculum.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London, is based on data from a representative group of about 8,000 people who have been participating in the British Cohort Study, which has been periodically tracking their lives since 1970.

Key health problems were:

  • high-risk drinking (26%)
  • recurrent back issues (21%)
  • mental health problems (19%)
  • high blood pressure (16%)
  • asthma or bronchitis (12%)
  • arthritis (8%)
  • diabetes (5%)

You can read more about the research by clicking here.

A substantial proportion of the population are already suffering from multiple long-term physical and mental-health problems in their late 40s. It is not a good prospect for an ageing population that you can expect to live longer but many in poor health.

Dr Dawid Gondek, lead researcher, quoted on the BBC website

Not surprisingly, the study found that diabetes and high blood pressure were both more common among those who were obese, and that those from poorer backgrounds or who experienced mental ill health in their youth were also more likely to have poor health.

We found that adults from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, those who had been overweight or obese as children and those who had experienced mental ill-health as teenagers were all at increased risk of poor health later on.

Professor George Ploubidis, UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Our recent blog Dimbleby Report recommends whole-school approach to food education highlighted some of the evidence cited in the 2021 National Food Strategy, which calls for an urgent overhaul of the whole way we think about food:

  • four of the top five risk factors for early death and ill-health are related to diet
  • the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, higher than Germany, Spain, France and Italy
  • high body mass index (BMI) and poor diets account for many more deaths than alcohol and drug abuse

Life-Based Learning (LBL) recognises the importance of sport, physical activity and outdoor play in helping children to grow up physically and mentally healthy. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up LBL. Its approach to health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated whole-school focus on physical activity. A central feature of a life-based Body learning programme is a guaranteed 60 minutes of daily exercise for every child. It also involves learning about nutrition and healthy eating, such as the basics of how to cook healthy meals.

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by emailme3 from Pixabay.

Immersing children in nature from a young age is a massive win-win

The Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 report made the point that children who learn about woods and trees “are much more likely to grow up to be environmentally responsible adults”. Taking an interest in, and learning to care for, the natural world is not just good for the planet. It benefits individuals and communities. It is educational. It is fun. And it boosts mental and physical health and wellbeing. Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children learning about — and also experiencing and enjoying — nature and the environment as part of a fully rounded life-based curriculum that addresses the challenges that we all face, now and in the future.

Robert Macfarlane is a British writer and academic best known for his books on the natural world. On the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs this week he talked about children and nature.

Children are naturals at nature. They do it far better than [adults]. They lie down in it. They eat it… I would love to see every primary school in this country twinned with a farm. I would love to see every primary school planting trees in the cities and the countryside around. Some of that is already happening, but we could do so much more of it, and in that way we grow together people and place.

Robert Macfarlane, quoted on Desert Island Discs

In 2017 he published The Lost Words, created with the artist Jackie Morris, which was joint winner of the Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The ‘lost’ words of the book’s title are twenty of the names for everyday nature — words like ‘acorn’, ‘wren’ and ‘otter’ — that were controversially dropped from inclusion in the Oxford Junior Dictionary due to under-use by children.

Research commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts in 2019 showed that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature: “the children showed an increase in their personal wellbeing and health over time, and they showed an increase in nature connection and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.”

The research also indicated that the children — of primary-school age (ie pre-teenage) — also gained educational benefits as well as wider personal and social benefits:

  • 90% felt they learned something new about the natural world
  • 79% felt that their experience could help their school work
  • 84% felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried
  • 79% reported feeling more confident in themselves
  • 81% agreed that they had better relationships with their teachers
  • 79% reported better relationships with their class-mates

The Wildlife Trusts describe themselves as “a grassroots movement of people from a wide range of backgrounds and all walks of life, on a mission to restore a third of the UK’s land and seas for nature by 2030. We believe everyone, everywhere, should have access to nature and the joy and health benefits it brings.”

Their website offers lots of opportunities to get involved — from signing up and making a donation to volunteering and fundraising. There is plenty of information about events and campaigns happening across the UK and the website is also packed with tips on how individuals and families can do their bit to support nature.

The website is exceptionally good at showing how children can learn through nature and have fun at the same time and is a terrific resource for home-schoolers. For example, the page Help wildlife at home lists simple things that families can do to support nature — from building a pond or a bat box to conserving water and using less plastic. It also has a fantastic page devoted to citizen science projects, both national and regional.

Our recent blog Being involved in positive change can boost children’s mental health called for a bold and imaginative approach to boosting children’s post-lockdown mental health and wellbeing, offering “every young person encouragement and, more importantly, easy-to-access opportunities to make a positive difference to the environment.”

We also highlighted the BBC’s Plant Britain initiative, a fantastic opportunity to boost nature education and a chance for children and young people, families and schools to get involved in improving the environment and help make a visible difference for the future.

More About Plants, the Environment & Nature

Image at the head of this article by Amanda McConnell from Pixabay.

Involving children in preparing healthy meals makes learning fun

Life-Based Learning (LBL) is predicated on the idea that we must put children at the heart of long-term strategies that aim to tackle the immense challenges of the coming decades — everything from improving health and wellbeing to safeguarding nature and the environment. The recently published National Food Strategy does this: five of its 14 recommendations focus specifically on children. Involving children in planning and preparing healthy meals is a great way to encourage them to think about healthy eating and makes learning fun and memorable.

The National Food Strategy, an independent report, was commissioned in 2019 by the UK government and was led by Henry Dimbleby. Of its four main objectives, one focuses on ensuring that a future food strategy is environmentally friendly and sustainable, and the other three relate very directly to what we teach children and the support we offer to families:

  • Escaping the junk-food cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reducing diet-related inequality
  • Creating a long-term shift in the UK’s food culture

Dimbleby makes the scale and urgency of the problem clear:

Children’s diets are not good enough. Childhood obesity rates more than double during primary school. On average, children of primary and secondary school age eat less than half of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and no age group or income quintile meets the recommendation. The shortfall is worst in teenagers. This is not only a problem in childhood but also leads to long-term issues: a childhood diet low in fruits and vegetables is linked to increased cardiovascular risk in adults. Good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight in childhood help prevent obesity and diet-related ill health later in life.

from Recommendation 3 of the National Food Strategy

In a nod to Ofsted-speak, the report damningly labels the government’s approach to food education as ‘inadequate’ and implementation of the 2014 School Food Plan as ‘weak’. “There is no national champion for food education, no team responsible in DfE or Ofsted, no monitoring at a national level, and no subject reviews or research as there are in other subjects.”

Among many eye-catching proposals is a recommendation for an ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative, which “would make learning to eat well part of every child’s school experience”. As noted in our recent blog on the National Food Strategy, the report calls for a concerted whole-school approach to food education that is exactly in line with the aims and ambitions of Life-Based Learning. Other recommendations relate to support for families on low incomes, including the idea of a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme to provide targeted healthy-eating support.

In our blog Ready Steady Cook! Empowering children to eat healthily we argued that food education and healthy eating must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing. The LBL approach, designed for pre-teenage children, organises learning around three elements:

  • knowledge
  • knowhow
  • practice

The LBL approach integrates the subjects of the traditional curriculum into nine life-learning themes — of which The Body is one — putting life itself at the heart of learning. The Body learning programme includes teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating as well as helping them to learn the basics of how to cook healthy meals, as outlined in the national curriculum design and technology subject.

  • learning about the importance of healthy eating — knowledge
  • learning how to cook healthy meals — knowhow
  • applying the knowledge and knowhow — practice

The ‘practice’ element is crucial. Active learning — actively engaging children by doing and experiencing — makes learning fun, helps to embed new knowledge and enables them to see the practical, real-world relevance of their learning. There are plenty of websites packed with information, advice and guidance for parents not just about how to encourage children to eat healthily but also how to involve children in planning and preparing healthy meals. Here are three. You can find many more, relating to all nine LBL themes, in the Links area of our website.

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by Katja Fissel from Pixabay.

A Changemaker in the area of strengthening relationships

Rachel Bee (not, to be clear, one of the people in the image above) specialises in helping people to build stronger relationships with others, guiding them so they can co-exist in harmony with family, friends, colleagues and others with whom they need to forge a strong and deep connection. She works, for example, with parents, teachers, young children and teenagers. Rachel is an excellent example of what I refer to as a Changemaker, someone who is actively involved in working at the cutting edge of children’s learning and development, someone whose aims, interests and values resonate with those of Life-Based Learning.

Rachel uses her skills and experience to help others find clarity, happiness and success by giving them a voice and encouraging them to be heard. Key to Rachel’s approach is ‘co-creation’, defined by Rachel on her website as “a form of collaborative innovation: ideas are shared and improved together, rather than kept to oneself.”

You can find a link to Rachel’s website and details of how to contact her at the end of this blog.

Andrew Ketteringham, the chair of trustees of the charity Relate, summed up the importance of strong, lasting relationships in the foreword to Relate’s document What’s love got to do with it? 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy.

Relationships matter. Good quality relationships with partners, families, friends and wider social networks provide meaning to our lives and are central to our identity. But they also hold the keys to our health and wellbeing; to our ability to engage in and progress in education and at work, to our long-term life chances and to instilling resilience in individuals. They are also the cornerstone of a thriving economy and society.

Andrew Ketteringham, Chair of Trustees, Relate — from the foreword to a Relate publication

Relationships start with the family, with the bond that parents build with their children, who then do the same with their own children in turn. These same relationship-building skills spill out into the wider community, and — over time — our ability to interactive positively with others works to the benefit of society as a whole, cutting across all religious, ethnic and social boundaries.

That is why Relationships is one of nine Life-Based Learning themes. It focuses on pre-teenage children learning how to form fulfilling, empathetic and lasting relationships based on dignity and respect. Children need to be learning about the basic building blocks of healthy relationships — awareness of body language and other non-verbal forms of communication; understanding the potential impact of the words we utter and the way we say them; the universal moral imperative to treat others fairly — in their formative years when they are most open to learning.

LBL is an approach to education in which the life purposes attached to children’s learning make life the focus of that learning. The LBL approach ensures that every individual has the opportunity to know and look after themselves better; that individuals forge better and long-lasting connections with others; and that people as a whole live in greater harmony with the living world that is Planet Earth.

Get in touch with Rachel

Rachel’s Website

Changemakers Home

LBL
Approach

Image at the head of this article by Brad Dorsey from Pixabay.

Ofsted subject review confirms the importance of music education

A newly published Ofsted research review into music education contains some stirring phrases about the value and importance of music, not least in its opening sentence: “Music touches the very heart of our humanity and a sense of the wonder of music has touched human societies throughout history.” At the same time the review confirms evidence in other reports about how music is being squeezed in many schools and is realistic about what is possible — making a virtue of the fact that less is sometimes more — given the shocking lack of time often allocated to music in school curriculums: “These yearly allocations of time are mostly less than a typical adult working week.” Life-Based Learning (LBL) values music as an intrinsically important subject and because it is a tremendous vehicle for developing a range of key skills that support children’s learning and development more generally.

The review estimates that typical time allocations in primary schools might be 15 to 20 hours a year, rising to perhaps 20 to 40 hours a year up to year 9, at which point large numbers of children ‘drop’ music as a subject, though of course they may still be involved in music in some other way, for example through a choir or a creative production.

These figures support other findings, such as a BPI survey of 2,000 teachers, which indicated that music provision in state schools has been getting steadily worse in the last decade.

These Ofsted subject reviews are technical and do not shy away from discussing research into how learning happens in a particular subject. They are written very much with the subject specialist in mind. This TES article summarises the main point of the review in terms easier for the non-musically minded to digest.

The review stands up for the value of music education in its own right and challenges the extent to which music develops transferable skills. “[W]hat can be said with a degree of certainty is that learning music is good for becoming more musical.” Becoming better at singing or playing an instrument or writing songs “are wonderful things in and of themselves and need no further justification.”

By contrast, in our recent blog Music education is too important to be allowed to disappear we highlighted some of the evidence of the ways that music can support children’s learning, everything from “helping with behaviour and confidence to encouraging creativity and learning skills that can be used across many subjects”. This video on the BBC website captures it nicely.

We have also argued here many times that effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well and that music, along with the other creative arts, has a key role to play in developing children’s communication skills. “The expressive arts, in particular — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative spheres.”

The ISM Trust, supported by the Schools Music Association (SMA), has developed a practical toolkit to support primary school teachers in developing and delivering music provision. The Primary Music Toolkit won at the 2019 Music Teacher Awards in the Excellence in Primary/Early Years category. It is extremely user-friendly in terms of its layout and language, relevant to any country not just England, and also easy to implement in non-school settings, such as for home-schoolers.

Ofsted Music Review

Primary Music Toolkit

Music Education Is Far Too Valuable…

Image at the head of this article by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

Dimbleby Report recommends whole-school approach to food education

The National Food Strategy, published on Wednesday, is packed with sobering facts: four of the top five risk factors for early death and ill-health are related to diet; the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, higher than Germany, Spain, France and Italy; high body mass index (BMI) and poor diets account for many more deaths than alcohol and drug abuse. As a consequence, the health impacts of poor diet, caseloads of specific diet-related diseases and the cost of treating diet-related disease are all soaring. The headlines are (predictably) focusing on a proposed sugar and salt tax, but the strategy also focuses on the importance of education as a way of changing our food and cooking culture. In particular, it includes a call for a concerted whole-school approach to food education that is exactly in line with the aims and ambitions of Life-Based Learning.

The independent report was commissioned in 2019 by the government and was led by Henry Dimbleby. It outlines four main objectives:

  • Escaping the junk-food cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reducing diet-related inequality
  • Making the best use of the land and protecting the environment
  • Creating a long-term shift in the UK’s food culture

The report has important things to say on the damage that our eating habits are doing to the environment as well as to our health:

  • The food we eat accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions
  • The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife
  • It is also the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after the energy industry

One of the report’s most eye-catching recommendations is an ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative in schools for all children aged 3 to 18, in partnership with a new Office of Health Promotion. It says that food education remains “a second-class subject” and proposes curriculum changes starting with sensory education in early years.

In June we wrote that food education and healthy eating — knowledge, knowhow and practice — must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 we wrote that “the campaign to combat obesity needs to start with schools — not just as an add-on to the curriculum, but central to it … Only by direct focus and attention in the education of the young can there be any hope of slimming down the population.”

We later highlighted a National Audit Office report warning that the government’s target of halving childhood obesity by 2030 is likely to be missed. We wrote that we owe it to our children to give them “the knowledge and skills they need to grow up leading healthy lives.”

We will look in more detail in a blog next week at the report’s specific curriculum recommendations. Here it is worth highlighting the report’s call for a whole-school approach to food:

Schools should be encouraged to adopt a ‘whole-school approach’ to food. This means integrating food into the life of the school: the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.

Quoted from Recommendation 3 of the National Food Strategy Recommendations in Full document

This proposal is exactly in line with the ambition and approach of Life-Based Learning — an integrated approach that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next. Instead, Life-Based Learning reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes and, in addition, mobilises the entire resources of the school and the community to focus on life’s key priorities and challenges.

National Food Strategy

Click to visit the official website

Empowering Children to Eat Healthily

A recent blog on food education in primary schools

Life-Based Learning

Click to learn more about the life-based approach to learning

Image at the head of this article by David Cortez from Pixabay

Junior climate scientists are helping to make a difference

This feels like Groundhog Week. It was just a fortnight ago that we posted about a flurry of warnings relating to climate change and biodiversity crises, ‘climate emergency’, ‘tipping points’, ‘time running out’ and the like. This week has seen more of the same — a ghastly mixture of news stories about extreme weather events happening now and reports issued by scientific experts, politicians and others warning of dire consequences in the future if we do not act decisively and soon to safeguard the planet. And then, amid the doom and gloom, there also appears a delightful story about junior climate scientists — some of them very junior indeed — getting actively involved in environmental and climate change education and taking practical steps to help make a difference.

First the bad news: three examples from the last couple of days.

Research published in the journal Nature indicates that parts of the Amazon rainforest are now emitting more carbon than they absorb. Tropical rainforests have been described as the Earth’s lungs, but a combination of deforestation and climate change has severely damaged the Amazon rainforest’s ability to soak up carbon. Rather than acting as a carbon sink, regions of the Amazon have now become a steadily increasingly source of carbon release, thus accelerating the climate crisis.

After record temperatures in the USA and Canada in recent weeks, leading to hundreds of death, drought and raging wildfires follow. It is possible that Death Valley recorded the highest-ever verified temperature this week. Siberia and the Arctic regions have also experienced highly unusual weather in recent weeks and months and it was, apparently, the second warmest June on record for Europe.

Meanwhile, the European Union has now published ambitious plans and targets to tackle climate change, apparently named the ‘Fit for 55’ package “because they would put the bloc on track to meet its 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 55% from 1990 levels.” However, the plans are controversial — the chair of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee described one of the proposals as “politically suicidal” — and will face considerable opposition.

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice president in charge of the EU’s green deal, explained the urgency:

This is the make-or-break decade in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises. Yes it is difficult, yes it is hard. But it’s also an obligation, because if we were to renounce our obligation to help humanity live within planetary boundaries we would fail not just ourselves but we would fail our children and our grandchildren, who in my view, if we don’t fix this, will be fighting wars over water and food.

Frans Timmermans, European Commission Vice President

And now for some better news: a wonderful example of education and environmental activism, helping children and young people to learn more about the challenges that confront us all and to get actively involved in helping solve them so that we can build a more sustainable future.

In an initiative led by the UK’s Royal Society, children as young as five are taking on their own climate and environmental research projects. According to the Royal Society website, ‘Tomorrow’s climate scientists’ was introduced in 2020 and “aims to give students across the UK not just a voice, but an opportunity to take action themselves to address climate and biodiversity issues – to become the climate scientists of tomorrow.”

One group of primary pupils, for example, are investigating how clean the air is in their school. A group of older students are growing nature-friendly food on school grounds. As one of the adults in a BBC news clip says: “These are the scientists of tomorrow. They’ve got to think about their future and their children’s future. And it’s a long-term game. This is not something for a single generation. We’ve all got to play our part.”

Click here to watch the short BBC clip about the project, showing some of the impressive work that children are doing.

The Royal Society page also includes a link to an online Q&A aimed at children aged 5 to 14 called ‘Your Planet, Your Questions’. The event was organised by the Great Science Share for Schools and the Royal Society and was hosted by Professor Brian Cox.

Life-Based Learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants, animal life and the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Plant Life, Animal Life and Physical World are three of LBL’s nine curriculum themes that will bring a life focus to the curriculum for children aged 5 to 11 and ensure that they are learning the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

Read More About Environmental and Climate Change Education

Image at the head of this article by _Alicja_ from Pixabay

Passionate about change? Write a blogpost and share your ideas

Are you a changemaker? Are you passionate about wanting to build a better future for our children? Why not contribute a ‘guest’ blogpost to our website, setting out your ideas on the changes that you would like to see? We would love to hear from you.

We are keen to feature blogposts written by fellow changemakers. Life-Based Learning is about educating our children. But changemakers are people from all walks of life — not just the world of education — who see a connection or congruence between Life-Based Learning and their own work and life interests.

By the nature of their work with children, the thinking of many of those who feature on our dedicated Changemakers page resonates with aspects of the LBL programme for children up to the age of 12 (or thereabouts). These people are changemakers working at the cutting edge of children’s learning.

Other changemakers, experts in their own area of work or interest, are engaged in activity with adults that adds value to LBL’s primary aim to repurpose children’s learning. Educationists can learn from these people.

Have we piqued your interest?

Our blogs are usually about a three-minute read: short (roughly 600 words) and to the point.

We focus on issues that urgently need addressing. We feature individuals and organisations crying out for children’s learning to be brought up to date with the rapidly changing world and the increasingly uncertain times that are the hallmark of life in the twenty-first century. We also highlight examples of outstanding practice — people and organisations who are making a difference and who offer information and resources useful to anyone with an interest in primary education.

This is an opportunity to speak to a new audience, to raise or make a serious contribution to an issue relating to the future of our children.

Why not get in touch with us and we will send you some guidelines to help you with what we are looking for?

In the meantime, check out some of our recent blogposts.

A Summer of Reading alongside a Summer of Play will enhance children’s wellbeing

My earliest reading memory is The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, read to us by our teacher Mrs Holmes in what would now be called year 4. It sparked an abiding interest in tales of witches, wizards and sorcery and in the eternal battle between light and dark. The legend at the heart of the story tells of a king and an army of knights, asleep beneath a hill until the day when they must awake to save the land from peril. I treasure my own copy, which I rescued when the local library was throwing out old stock. If I were to magically wake up tomorrow as my 10-year-old self, it would definitely be one of my choices for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge for children aged 4 to 11.

The Summer Reading Challenge is part of the #SummerofReading initiative, a shared programme of free partner events and resources to support families and teachers to keep children reading over the summer. “Coordinated by The Reading Agency, it brings together over 20 organisations across the reading, literacy and cultural sectors to inspire families to share the love of reading for pleasure to build skills, increase confidence, support educational attainment and improve wellbeing.” In its aims it mirrors the Summer of Play initiative that we have blogged about in recent weeks.

This year’s theme is Wild World Heroes and has been developed in partnership with WWF to support wider learning about the environment and nature:

Wild World Heroes will inspire children to explore ways of helping to save the planet, with a focus on taking action for nature and tackling real-world environmental issues, from plastic pollution and deforestation to wildlife decline and nature loss. Through taking part in the Challenge, children will be able to join the Wild World Heroes to help solve some of these threats, learning about the importance of the environment while helping to restore nature levels in the neighbourhood of ‘Wilderville’.

from the Summer Reading Challenge website

Their advice for schools is a reminder of why collective action on children’s reading is needed. Taking part will, says the Challenge website:

  • Enhance and support [the school’s] reading initiatives and involve parents and the wider community
  • Celebrate the joy of reading whilst ensuring all children are able to read well by the age of 11
  • Continue to support pupils’ learning during the holidays
  • Help to prevent the trend for children’s reading skills to dip over the holidays

The Summer of Reading resources page is a collection of useful links to reading-related family activities for the summer. One link, for example, is to the British Library’s Discovering Children’s Books page, “brimming with videos, printable packs and activities inspired by the wonderful world of children’s stories.”

For those looking for reading suggestions, the website of BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, is well worth a look. They have just published their list of the 100 best books for children from the last 100 years — “the ultimate booklist to read before you’re 14” — broken down into four separate age categories from 0–5 to 12–14.

In the last few months several Life-Based Learning blogs have focused on why a coordinated and sustained campaign to promote children’s reading is so important:

We have also highlighted the many benefits of reading for pleasure. For instance, it increases educational attainment. It broadens horizons. It promotes tolerance and understanding across cultures. It develops creativity and the imagination. It boosts mental health and wellbeing. And — the biggest ‘for instance’ of all — it correlates with life expectancy.

Summer Reading Challenge

The Reading Agency

BookTrust Children’s Charity

Image at the head of this article is from the Summer Reading Challenge website. Illustrations to help promote this year’s theme are by award-winning children’s author and illustrator Heath McKenzie.

‘Bloom or bust?’: Climate change isn’t the only environmental crisis we face

Overpromising and underdelivering is a charge frequently levelled at the current UK government. Now an influential committee of MPs has accused ministers of failing to match their fine words with decisive action when it comes to tackling the biodiversity crisis and protecting UK wildlife. Campaigners are calling for legally-binding targets for nature and biodiversity that are as ambitious as those for climate change. Children — “the great hope” for the survival of the planet, according to Sir David Attenborough — must be at the centre of any strategy for the future. That’s why curriculum reform is urgently needed. Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children learning about the environment and nature, so that they are aware of the immense challenges the planet faces and the part they can play in helping build a more sustainable future.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s report — Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or bust? — says that the government is failing to stem huge losses of plants and species and that it spends far more on exploiting the natural environment than it does on conserving it. The report also criticises the government for failing to turn its rhetoric into reality:

Although there are countless government policies and targets to ‘leave the environment in a better state than we found it’, too often they are grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms.

Philip Dunne MP, Environmental Audit Committee Chair

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today, Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of nature charities, talked of the “slow ebbing-away of wildlife and diversity and the wonders around us”, warning that familiar species such as water voles, cuckoos, turtle doves and hedgehogs may become a thing of the past unless urgent action is taken.

The EAC’s report says that the UK has the lowest remaining levels of natural biodiversity among the G7, effectively the world’s richest nations. This BBC article sets out the biodiversity crisis in five graphics.

However, with fears about climate change increasingly — and rightly — making headline news, there is a risk that the threats to biodiversity and the ‘state of nature’ more generally are overshadowed. Richard Benwell, for example, said that there needs to be a net-zero target for nature and biodiversity to match the net-zero target for carbon emissions.

These issues — the damage caused by climate change and declining biodiversity — are of course inextricably linked. In the same Today segment on Radio 4, Andy Purvis, a professor at London’s Natural History Museum, discussed the example of peatland. About 10% of the UK is peatland — a vast carbon sink — but about 80% of it is damaged. If the peatland dries out, massive amounts of carbon will be released into the atmosphere, fuelling global heating.

Wildlife and Countryside Link involves around 60 organisations — from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to the RSPCA and the RSPB. “Our members,” says its website, “are united by their common interest in the conservation and enjoyment of the natural and historic environment. Together they are the joint voice of the environment sector.”

We have argued previously that learning about animals should be a primary-school curriculum priority so that our children grow up with an understanding of the need to care for animals, preserve diversity, protect habitats and manage the use of animals in sustainable ways to the mutual benefit of humans and the planet. Many of the organisations that are involved with Wildlife and Countryside Link have websites with teaching and learning resources for use in the classroom to support schools in delivering meaningful nature education. You can read a full list of the organisations here.

We recently highlighted the BBC ‘Plant Britain’ initiative, another fantastic opportunity to boost nature education and a chance for children and young people, families and schools to get involved in improving the environment and help make a visible difference for the future. It starts with a goal of planting 750,000 trees, “one for every UK primary school starter in 2020”, and over the next two years will extend to fruit, vegetables and flowers.

There are lots of ways that children can get involved in helping to care for and preserve nature. Kids for Saving Earth is an American not-for-profit organisation set up by two parents in memory of their son who was passionate about the need to create a healthy planet. As well as resources for schools, it has lots of ideas for simple, easy-to-do eco-activities that children can have fun trying out.

The mission of Kids for Saving Earth is to educate, inspire, and empower children to protect the Earth’s environment. Kids for Saving Earth provides educational materials, posters, and a highly acclaimed website featuring environmental education curriculum and activities. Many of our programs have been adapted to the Internet to make it faster and less costly to provide Earth-savers with updated information. Through Kids for Saving Earth’s Green Shop, you can order educational posters, certificates, guidebooks, CD’s, “green” gifts and supplies, and much more.

from the Kids for Saving Earth website

Life-Based Learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants, animal life and the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Plant Life, Animal Life and Physical World are three of LBL’s nine curriculum themes that will bring a life focus to the curriculum for children aged 5 to 11 and ensure that they are learning the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

Read the Report

Click to read the EAC’s report in full

Wildlife and Countryside Link

Click to visit the website of this coalition of nature charities

Kids for Saving Earth

A website packed with ideas for how children can play their part

Image at the head of this article by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay.

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