(Editor’s note: Thanks Allison, this has clear links to our tree-planting project)
We are currently in a place where so many within society have no value for nature. They are aware that nature exists and I would class them in two groups:
- Those that see it as annoying: pesky insects and spiders, weeds in the garden, annoying leaf litter, bird mess, rats, mice, untidiness etc, and then spend money on killing, tidying, eradicating anything natural, difficult, slightly annoying for an easy, clean, manicured, maintenance free life; and
- Those that use it, maybe because it is a secluded place, away from the rat race, somewhere where no one can really see them, but they leave behind so much rubbish, destruction, waste etc; they might experience it but they don’t value it.
Obviously this isn’t everyone, but it is a large part of our population.
Our current younger generation are being brought into this world being taught these generational hand-me-down values and replacing life lessons with technology. Fed so much through gaming, mobile phones, ipads, TVs etc, driven to school, driven to the local shop, driven everywhere, they are transfixed by a fabricated world, and get less fresh air and exercise than inmates in prisons. We have lost the sense of community, we feel afraid of our society, of walking down the street, of letting our children play, of doing things that most parents or grandparents probably did when they were kids (but forgotten about). We have lost our connection to each other and to what matters – the outdoor spaces.
At the same time, there is huge evidence associated with nature and its value to our mental welfare. Mental illness has seen an increase from young children through to the elderly. Locally in Meir, there have been multiple incidents of late where people have succeeded or attempted to commit suicide. This is a travesty and needs addressing.
Many studies recommend that a person sits in nature for 20 minutes per day, and for at least a couple of hours in a park at the weekend, and once per month spend an entire day in a remote location in order to improve mental welfare. However, in the UK, many people are unable to access nature. They have little on their doorstep where they can truly escape or feel like they have access to a natural space. So many have no means of getting to a remote location to be with nature. These places are not on their doorsteps and many don’t have cars, or there are few buses that reach these destinations, or they simply don’t know!! In countries such as Japan, they have nature bathing as a means of ‘topping up’ on the Vitamin N(ature) needed to have a fulfilling life. They recognised that the dense population growth could not live without nature and created super woodland parks whereby they would bus people out to these nature bathing sites every weekend.
So what is the answer? Nature needs to be brought back into our urban world. Naturally wild spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, community created, inviting and well designed need to be integrated into our existing built environments. We need to break the cycle of neglect, lack of appreciation, technology focussed world and turn the table of time and allow children to develop their own values working from the bottom up. We need to change the next generation’s fundamental understanding of the value of nature and what it means to them, their families, their community, their country and ultimately their world.
Where do we start? Getting communities together to understand the value of this is hard, so it needs to come from the younger generation. It needs to be led by children and start in schools. We need to start small, aim big.
There are currently so many programmes out there for schools to access: Forest School training run by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, where teachers are being provided with skills to encourage kids to spend time outdoors in nature; there is RHS Campaign for School Gardening, where it encourages kids to create veggie patches and work with wildlife; Outdoor Classrooms; Learning through Landscapes etc. However, the schools have all this at their fingertips, but with a curriculum to centre their attention on, much of these become after school activities, which quite often those in need do not access. Often they lack financial and build resources to create fantastic natural spaces in school grounds.
How many school grounds do you see where the environment area is a small patch, or their veggie patch is tiny? And the rest of the school grounds are large swathes of mown grass? Or where the school have removed grass and replaced with artificial turf because what was there didn’t work. Why do they have to be manicured places? We are inadvertently teaching children that mud is bad, that mess is bad, that untidiness is bad, that wild spaces are bad, and that neatness, tidiness and artificial or manicured is good. It obviously has its place, but these are the images our children are seeing on a daily basis, so our schools are inadvertently feeding this cycle.
So, the idea is to create a project that allows children to design their school grounds, to share with their parents, grandparents, guardians etc to show them what they can design. This can be used as part of their curriculum – art, English language, maths (measurements, numbers) etc. Then to engage with local businesses. Our school recently had its roof repaired, and the kids were so eager to hear from the site foreman about what they were doing on a weekly basis that he ended up becoming a big part of the schools learning curriculum. Can you imagine the possibility of including so many interested businesses who can help? Such as plant nurseries, tree suppliers, The Woodland Trust, engineers, local builders merchants, brick firms who could supply materials for walls, local crafts people, artists. And then there are companies that could help to build or plant who could then talk to the kids about what they do etc. It is a way of engaging local businesses to local schools, local parents, guardians and grandparents to actively become a part of that school. That way the school becomes a pillar of the community and it emanates outwards. The outdoor environment is then a proper resource for the children that can be redesigned and redefined over time. The design can be used as a means of fundraising and marketing to generate interest. And obviously be enjoyed and used by the children and staff, and volunteers.
In terms of countercoin, the possibilities are endless – There are obvious business interests, but also community interests whereby helping the school create their vision could be rewarded with countercoins that could be used locally. This needs careful consideration locally as it would require local business interaction and this could take time.
In terms of taking this further outside of the school system, the process can be generated again from schools if required, and getting them to work with the community to learn/educate about climate change, vitamin N and the need for action. Schools have a massive leverage but find it hard to get out of their boundaries. It is often to do with money, time, logistics or safety concerns etc. It would be a big ask for schools to be a big part of a community based scheme, but once a scheme is generated in a school, and communities are brought closer together, then this could potentially be moved out of the school boundaries and into the wider community.
School Reward system
Children at the school work on a class dojo system. This is a reward mechanism for good behaviour, good work, good attendance, etc. There is also a team generated reward system whereby they use a plastic coin system to reach a certain goal and they receive a reward. It would be interesting if countercoin could be used in schools as a means of providing the child with a reward that could either be something really special coming into school, or them going to receive a reward externally.
….. and if you fancy that coffee, click here <—-