Nature isn’t a place to visit it is home
This is stolen from a far greater writer than I, Gary Snyder, but perfectly places the shift in mood towards our wonderful natural world since the pandemic hit the country and the rest of the world. How every family and individual has savoured the 1 opportunity to leave home every day and make the most of the green space around us.
With the world in turmoil, the one steadying feature has been the natural world and the many health and wellbeing benefits it brings. As a parent, the great outdoors is a huge part of juggling a learning, active and nurturing environment, not just for myself but apparently everyone else too – with the huge increase of walkers and cyclists in my local country park, further evidenced by a dramatic national increase in bicycle sales!
It has been fascinating to watch as families take to outdoor learning, I have witnessed more pond dipping and nature walks than ever before and in our own household we are now spending most of our precious time outdoors planting seeds, as new found allotment owners, and nature walks learning about tree species, bugs and flowers. The huge benefit of taking learning and activity outdoors creates a far more engaging (and frankly less stressful) environment, being more present in the moment, using a full range of senses to explore and learn and have some fun!
Of course, this isn’t a revelation, but in our busy lives and need to measure our children’s success in every way we can, we somehow forgot that slow living and connecting to the world around us is far more enriching and provides vital health benefits too!
London’s first public green space – Victoria Park, which opened in 1845 – centred around public health. The spread of disease among the 400,000 residents in the crowded East End was an urgent concern at the time. Access to nature was considered one of the main solutions.
In schools with environmentally focused curriculums attainment is 72% greater, with outdoor learning experiences allowing children to develop cognitive skills more effectively than classroom-based learning (Dillon et al., 2006). Learning in nature also benefits social skills, improves self-esteem and enhances social, personal and emotional development (Kings College, 2011)
(Source: Wildlife Trusts. Literature Review; Wellbeing benefits from natural environments rich in wildlife 2015)
Not only does the natural world provide these incredible benefits to people it is also a necessity for our environment.
Dr Meredith Whitten states that green spaces provide cleaner air, urban cooling and critical habitat. They help us get to know our neighbours and feel a little less isolated. They also increase tourism, enhance productivity, provide employment opportunities, and reduce energy consumption.
Yet, our current situation also reveals limitations in how green space is planned, managed and used – and how it is valued. With no statutory mandate to provide parks and green spaces, these spaces are deemed a discretionary service or an amenity – something that’s nice to have, but not essential. (April 2020)
As someone very engaged within the parks and open spaces sector, including schools, this is a hard reality to face. The pandemic has taught us how valuable green space is and how much we MUST do to preserve it and actively encourage better opportunities for our children in and out of school to feel connected with it.
Tower Hamlets only has 300 hectares of park space, for a little over 317,000 people; without Victoria Park, that number drops down to about 214 hectares, imagine the fewer opportunities for children here to engage with the outside world here and be in receipt of all those wonderful health and wellbeing benefits?
I for one have never been more appreciative of our natural world, and feel more concerned about those who don’t have the same access to it. The pandemic has taught us this value and we should strive to make better natural environments for children to play and learn within.
About the Author: Kristina Causer Head of Sales & Marketing has been working within the play sector for over 15 years and leads on many of Jupiter Play’s Innovation Hub research initiatives, including Inclusive Play and work with Coventry University understanding Physical Literacy.