A new study has shown for the first time that children’s connection to nature is directly related to their health and wellbeing.
The research undertaken by Queen’s University Belfast for the RSPB involved 2,400 children aged eight to 12 years, as part of the annual Kids’ Life and Times questionnaire.
It builds on our 2013 report which established national baselines for UK children’s connection to nature – in other words, their deeply-held feelings about nature.
Now, the work in Northern Ireland has gone one step further, by also asking children about their health and quality of life. It has found that (see page 14):
“connection to nature and children’s rating of their health and well-being are correlated – children who are more connected to nature rate their health and well-being as significantly higher.”
This is clearly great news for children; as well as for all those making the case for connecting them with nature!
However, the analysis by Queen’s University Belfast has also reinforced our 2013 finding that only one-quarter of children in Northern Ireland has a level of connection to nature that the RSPB considers ‘realistic and achievable’ for every child.
We believe that we all – charities, governments, schools, youth groups, families and individuals – have a role to play in connecting all children to nature; and inspiring and enabling them to help save it.
Do you want to give children an opportunity to connect with nature? If you’re a teacher (of have the opportunity to influence a teacher) consider taking part in our Big Schools’ Birdwatch! This simple survey for schools takes place after Christmas, from the 4th January to the 12th February, and involves classes spending one lesson (or lunchtime) counting the birds that visit their school grounds. Register at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch for a free bird poster.
Help us engage young people with nature!
Martha Devine, RSPB Scotland’s Community Engagement Officer in Shetland describes her delight at receiving a Shetland Environmental Award for innovative work with schools and explains more about the project.
Yesterday, Karen Mackelvie our Community Learning Officer went to receive a Shetland Environmental Award. She was thrilled to accept the honour which was for RSPB Scotland’s (mainly her) work facilitating the Nature Friendly Schools Project (now called Giving Nature a Home) at Brae Primary and other schools throughout Shetland. The award recognises projects which have contributed to Shetland’s rich and diverse environment whilst demonstrating sustainability, innovation and best practice.
Martha Devine (left) and Karen Mackelvie (right) delighted after receiving the award.
We were really pleased that Brae and Whiteness Primary schools also received awards for their hard work and for getting parents and the wider community involved in the final day of the project – a ‘Day of Action’ that transformed their school grounds.
Getting stuck in at the 'Day of Action' at Brae Primary
The Nature Friendly Schools project (Giving Nature a Home) is all about connecting children to nature using play. It gets classes thinking about their environment and making improvements for wildlife by providing more homes for nature in the school grounds. We’re talking ponds, bug hotels, wildflowers and long grass areas, bird feeding stations and frog pads – to name a few.
Buggingham palace and giant wood pile at Whiteness Primary
But the Nature Friendly Schools project doesn’t stop there. Research has shown that children build deep and lasting connections with nature, not when they are shown something by an adult but when they discover it themselves during play. So this project also encourages schools to allow children the opportunity to build a love for wildlife through connecting with nature during play. In the nature areas we’ve created things like stepping stones, climbing trees, den building material and shelters made from upturned boats, recycled pallets and tree trunks.
Stepping stones at Whiteness Primary and den building at Brae Primary
How does the project work?
After an introductory session with the school which includes risk assessment and a look at the science behind the project, RSPB Scotland runs three sessions with the bairns (children). Session one is an audit of the school grounds. We do the Big Schools Birdwatch (rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch) followed by a soil and earthworm audit. Then we map the school grounds. Different habitats are identified as well as places the bairns most like or don’t like to play. Session two is an introduction to project planning. Using cooperative learning techniques the bairns come up with a wish list for the school grounds and work out everything they need to deliver it. Then they write to the community, parents, grandparents, friends, local businesses to ask for help with everything they need for their final session – the Day of Action.
So far we’ve completed three ‘Days of Action’ in Shetland. Following requests from the bairns, all the items needed were donated and time and skills were offered up willingly on the day by folk in the community. Some of the men-folk were especially glad for a chance to help out in the school with something that doesn’t involve baking or knitting. A request for dumper trucks, diggers and tools was more appealing to them! The results have been quite breathtaking. The energy generated contagious. On every occasion we have been staggered by all that has been achieved in just one short school day. By working together, we have successfully created homes for wildlife and places designed by the children where they can get closer to nature.
So what’s next?
Whilst the ‘Day of Action’ marks the end of our part in the project, it’s only really the beginning for the schools. The project to create a nature friendly school is ongoing and indeed many new play items and homes for nature have been added to the nature areas through further ‘Days of Action’ organised by the school. As for us, we’re looking forward to starting two new projects this winter – at Dunrossness Primary in the south of Shetland and Mid Yell Junior High in the north.
I’m delighted to announce that Big Schools’ Birdwatch is now open for registration at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch
If you’ve taken part before than please sign up again – you know how great it is.
If you’ve not taken part in Big Schools’ Birdwatch before – you should.
All you and your class need to spend a minimum of one lesson (or lunchtime) between the 4thJanuary and the 12th February (the first half-term after Christmas) recording birds in your school grounds. Once you’ve done that, come back to our website and tell us what you’ve seen. Every school that sends us their data will receive a certificate and poster as a thank you.
To make this easier for you, every class that registers will get a free, full-colour ID resource (a set of A4 cards for younger children, a big, impressive poster for the older children).
Furthermore (aren’t we generous?) our website has downloadable resources such as survey sheets, poster blanks and activity sheets to support you. Brand new this year we have our memory game for younger children, and our Big Card Birdwatch for older pupils.
Need a reason to take part? Well, the Big Schools’ Birdwatch provides strong links to the science curriculum and can also give real-world relevence to maths activities such as tallying (for younger children) and data-handling. It also gives your pupils the chance to contribute to something bigger than just their class, their school or even their country. By taking part you’ll be joining in with schools from the Isle of Wight all the way up to the Orkneys.
Secondly, nature is in trouble. The population of starlings, for example, has dropped by over 80% since 1970. By recording birds once a year, you help provide us with a snapshot of how wild birds are faring in your area, contributing to a bigger picture of how well some of our favourite species are coping across the entire UK.
Please take the time to visit our website to register your school or class and to download all the information and resources you need. There will also be plenty of tips and ideas for how you can help to give nature a home in the run up to the Birdwatch via this blog and the @RSPB_Learning twitter feed on the Big Schools’ Birdwatch homepage. Simply visit rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch to get started.
If you have any queries, or would simply like to give us some feedback, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you enjoy taking part in this year’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch!