Taking an active interest in nature will transform children’s mental health

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay

Life-based learning on the environment ahead of the times?

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Last night David Attenborough, in the BBC documentary ‘Extinction: The Facts‘ tolled the bell on worldwide loss of habitat and biodiversity, threats to species and extinction of not just wild animals, but putting human existence itself at risk. Pulling no punches, Attenborough banged that bell to hell.

Unfortunately, while the message is not new, human impact on the environment is ever on the increase.

Only last week the Living Planet Report showed that, on average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2016.

The Independent Tackling the extinction crisis is everyone’s responsibility – and time is running short

One of the nine themes of Life-Based Learning [along with Plant Life and Animal Life] is ‘The Physical World‘. Children in Primary School learn scientific and geographical concepts, knowledge, techniques and skills through their exploration of the damage to the world’s physical resources by human activity and the impact this is having on life and living.

Is it too much to hope that the National Curriculum subjects can be rearranged to ensure our young children are prepared to meet the environmental challenges they will face as adults?

The Benefits of Plants

Image by Phichit Wongsunthi from Pixabay

More evidence emerges of the health benefits of the Great Outdoors and of our growing love affair with plants.

According to this report, a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain found that 71% of respondents feel that gardens and outdoor spaces have helped them with their mental health during the coronavirus emergency.

Meanwhile, this report in The Guardian talks of “a crop-growing revolution that enthusiasts say could transform how we think about nature, food security and our communities.”

Life-based learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants and of nature. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life as one of its nine curriculum themes.

The state of nature in Britain

Living, as I do, in a semi-rural area, in walks down country lanes surrounded by fields on either side, the lack of flora and fauna is stark. The fields are controlled to grow the crop and nothing else. The hedgerows are reduced to rampant brambles, stinging nettles, ubiquitous dandelions and wild plantain. The rich diversity of plant and animal life is gone. It is not surprising the State of Nature 2019 reports the continuation of the decline of the UK’s species. Yet, while the focus is on extinction and loss of species around the globe there is barely a mention made by the British media of what has been happening on our own doorstep for decades.

‘Our statistics demonstrate that the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970 and many metrics suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade. There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature in the UK.
Prior to 1970, the UK’s wildlife had already been depleted by centuries of persecution, pollution, habitat loss and degradation’: State of Nature 2019

Trees of Europe

More than half of the native trees of Europe face disappearance from the natural landscape due to mostly human activity as reported in The Guardian.

The threat to Europe’s trees is an important reason for conservationists to support the Merged Action Curriculum which has Plant Life as one of its nine priority areas of learning.

You can read an abstract from the report here.

Find out about the medical use of the Horse Chestnut tree here.