Nature Nurtures

Logo: Dandelion

By Hayley Room, Co-founder of Dandelion Education Ltd

A little boy in an anorak digging dirt into a small wheelbarrow
Digging, ready to build a rocket, in the construction area (Dandelion Education Ltd. Photographed by Es Follas-Shell)

Never before has mental health and threats to the natural world featured so centrally in the press and media; indeed it is difficult to swipe through any social media platform without a mention of the Earth’s destruction, along with posts instructing us how to maintain our mental well-being, and thrive not simply survive.

The two topics are vitally connected and symbiotic. We cannot ignore either.

The irony, of course, is that swiping these platforms is a core factor that often governs and creates a mental ‘un-wellness’, often leading to a social media anxiety disorder, through which we attempt to find solutions, ironically, through social media!

There is no escaping this facet of life; today’s world is in a tech driven fast paced society; it cannot be denied that technological developments deliver many benefits, but, it cannot grow trees without human intervention, or provide us with the tranquility, contentment and joy, found within our green spaces.

A little girl removing pumpkin seeds on an outdoor work bench
Removing pumpkins seeds, ready to sow in the Spring (Dandelion Education Ltd. Photographed by Es Follas-Shell)

As children, the great outdoors provided past generations with vast opportunities for simply ‘being’; we had ample opportunities for playing outside and exploring freely; learning through the seasons with friends, learning by ‘doing’. This first hand, experiential learning, has been pushed aside by a society and culture that often sees only danger in our outside spaces.

However, there is a faction of green devotees sweeping the country and bringing children, and adults back to basics and our roots; there is an acknowledgement, along with vital research that proves the positive benefits of being outdoors, and also, importantly, working outdoors.

Prior to developing Dandelion Education, along with my friend and business partner, Emma Harwood, I was a teacher in a mainstream primary school. The delivery of learning was via tech, or texts, books not phones!

The seasons that battered the windows were experienced through a steamy window. If it rained, we couldn’t play outside for fear that the children may dissolve!

Yet, I did brave the elements and witnessed first hand that, when my children were engaged in outdoor learning, the purpose of the learning became clear, and the outcome was deeply embedded. The resources were vast and rich, far superior to the resources we could provide in our indoor spaces.

Two children giggling as they make food on an outdoor work bench
Creating soups and stews in the Dandelion Café (Dandelion Education Ltd. Photographed by Es Follas-Shell)

The children did thrive in outdoor spaces, the benefits were evident each and every day.

These benefits were not noticed solely in the children. The staff, the adults, all experienced the same state of contentment, and when the adults felt ‘well’ this emotional contagion transferred to the children, who also felt a state of wellness that led to an open learning state.

Heading outdoors leads to spontaneous play that leads and fuels learning; when children are engaged in this, we see a multitude of vital learning benefits. To name but a few, we see improved physical health and core muscle strength, a natural PE lesson guided by the children, with all children joining in at a level they set for themselves. We know that high levels of physical development fuel our brains and link to positive cognitive development.

The children also develop spatial awareness as they explore the environment freely; noticing small changes in the environment they begin to engage in the natural world, developing care for all things in their shared space.

A very happy little girl playing with tools and toys on an outdoor work bench
Feeling proud whilst designing a new toy on the tool table (Dandelion Education Ltd. Photographed by Es Follas-Shell)

They experience growth, death, decay and life cycles, first hand; conversations around ‘big’ concepts such as life and death are a natural occurrence when the resource topic is naturally there at your fingertips.

Children’s confidence and self-esteem grows as they take part in high risk play, learning social etiquette and learning by trial, error, and investigation. Problem solving is an essential outdoors; managing risk independently must be taught; opportunities must be offered in safe spaces when children are young, in-order for children to grow into adults who can make positive informed and well-thought out choices.

The imagination can run wild in an outdoor space full of open-ended natural resources; a stick is not just a stick when it can be a support for a den roof, a bridge strut to negotiate a boggy patch, or a tripod leg to hold a pan over a fire (on which you’ll cook lunch!)

Of course, a huge benefit to working and playing outdoors, is an increased nature connection acquired via real-time sensory experiences. Children develop a greater understanding of our world, and our impact on it. This cannot be accomplished indoors.

Portrait photograph of Hayley holding a small dog
Hayley Room (Photographed by Es Follas-Shell. Property of Dandelion Education)

A sense of ownership and belonging to something greater than us leads to a sense of responsibility and care for the world and the earth beneath our feet. This benefits today and all of the tomorrows to come. This marries the need to save and care for the environment, with the need to be ‘well’ in-order for individuals and the world to thrive.

When children are free to play, explore, imagine, and learn in our green wonderland, who knows what can be achieved and how far we can all go.

About the Author:

Hayley (pictured here), and Dandelion’s co-founder, Emma Harwood, have developed a sound pedagogy which holds child-centred learning, and holistic child-development, at its heart. Together, they share the belief that every child has unique potential; they share a dream; a dream of a truly child-led education system in which EVERY child is free to play, explore, imagine, and learn; a dream that nurtures creative and critical thinking; that empowers small children, with giant voices - emotionally literate voices, with which they can be heard.

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Posted On: 15/01/2024

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