Early Childhood Outdoors is always looking to collaborate with others who share the mission for all children to spend more and better quality time in the outdoors with nature, and we recognise a strong idea for doing this when we see one:
“During a meeting early in lockdown volunteer directors at the Forest School Association (FSA) were worrying about the effect that lockdown would have on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. We discussed how the inequity of family’s access to nature, or even a green space, was being exacerbated without opportunities provided by schools. One of our directors said, ‘we need a Nature Premium, you know like the Sports Premium’.
It takes a great idea, someone to hold on to the idea, someone to encourage, more to volunteer and the result is the Nature Premium campaign. We are a small group of volunteers, working independently from the FSA, who have been working up a detailed plan for a Nature Premium, based on the existing financial model in the Sports Premium that funds regular PE sessions for school children.”
So, naturally, we joined the campaign as a supporting organisation straight away and want to let everyone in the ECO meshwork know about the Nature Premium campaign – encouraging you to add your support and take action. Sarah and her colleagues actually sent a copy of our Reasons to Be Outside booklet to Gavin Williamson, but I’m not sure that they have heard back yet! The Sports Premium is directed only at schools, but of course every young child, from birth onwards, has the right and the requirement for this crucial support for being outdoors in nature.
Thanks very much to Sarah Lawfull, one of the drivers of the Nature Premium campaign, for this introduction to the idea – do click through to the website, and start by watching the short video. Sarah is an early years specialist whose love of learning and trees led her into the woods. She now coaches and trains adults, through nature and the Forest School approach with a wide range of groups. Sarah is a Director of the Forest School Association and an Endorsed Trainer, working as co-director of Where The Fruit Is in the Oxfordshire area.
Children Need Nature Now by Sarah Lawfull
Digging in a mud pit, finding a ladybird, splashing in a puddle are all part of a child’s birth right. Rolling down a hill, singing to a snail, climbing a tree, and chasing a butterfly across a park are all simple ways to build physical confidence along with an understanding of science, creativity and learning to manage risk.
Great early years practice, built on the pedagogies of such giants as Froebel, Isaacs, Montessori and Malaguzzi, has its roots in the natural world. Information rich, the natural world arouses curiosity, offering invitations to play, to join in the fun.
A Nature Premium would support regular nature experiences for every child; funding regular, additional nature experiences would promote their wellbeing after lockdown and demonstrate a positive investment in their future development as part of the Green Recovery.
A small group of Forest School Association volunteers developed this campaign, knowing the benefit of time spent playing in nature for children’s holistic well-being. We are delighted that Early Childhood Outdoors has joined us, to help raise awareness and build the campaign.
Lockdown has highlighted the inequalities of access to nature. This is not a new phenomenon, but one which now, more than ever, needs addressing. Time in nature is crucial for children’s mental and physical well-being: the benefits are far-reaching and well-documented. Nature provides a way to feel refreshed, revitalised, calm and relaxed.
This is why we are asking Gavin Williamson, Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock to make the evidence-informed decision to support Nature Premium funding for every child.
Settings would be able to use the Nature Premium to fund staff training and improve their outdoor areas with the children, providing regular opportunities for everyone to reconnect, enjoying the healing effects of time in nature and working collaboratively on community based nature projects. The immediate benefits are huge, the medium and long term impacts make economic sense.
It would benefit staff too. People who spend time with nature have greater life satisfaction, more self-worth, more happiness and less anxiety; other outcomes include better resilience, improvements in social functioning and social inclusion.
The benefits for physical well-being are critical: pre-Covid19 in the UK, obesity levels were reported to be around 1 in every 5 children aged 10 to 11. In 2014-15 the NHS spent an estimated £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill health. The Government’s drive to reduce obesity and improve the life chances of children would be well served by providing this funding.
Wildlife Trust research found that natural environments can play a key role in increasing physical activity levels. Research published in 2018 showed that children used more energy playing in the woods at Forest School than on a school day with P.E. Not all children enjoy organised games and team competition: playing in a nature rich environment is more inclusive.
This global pandemic has shown what really matters to us. After months without nursery or school, access to extended family and play parks, many children will be returning to their settings having been locked down and locked in.
For those children living in homes without gardens or access to the countryside, local lockdowns continue this greater imprisonment. Just as the coronavirus has stolen their loved ones, it has also stolen their childhood. Prior to lockdown, there was already a mental health crisis, with children and young people in the UK being referred for additional support at an alarming rate.
Emerging from our first national lockdown, these children, their families and the staff supporting are likely to be experiencing higher levels of stress, anxiety and withdrawal as a result of their prolonged isolation, alongside the very real fear of catching the coronavirus.
Developing a safe enough approach to playing and working together is going to be vital if we are to learn how to look after ourselves, care for each other and love our living planet. Helping children to become happy and healthy, developing their understanding of how they fit into the world, building their brains and bodies, alongside a love for the wildlife on their doorstep must be a priority.
By signing and sharing the Nature Premium petition you will be voting on behalf of a child who has been locked indoors.
By supporting the Nature Premium campaign, you will leave a legacy for future generations: global citizens whose nature connected work builds happy people and protects the living planet.
All images in this post are (C) Where The Fruit Is, commissioned from In The Moment Photography, and must not be used without written permission from WTFI.