Why we urgently need The Nature Premium
Society’s relationship with nature requires immediate action and attention. We need to do this from the ground up. Starting with our young people, helping them to ‘grow up greener’. One way to address this is the swift implementation of the Nature Premium.
Supported and driven by the Forest School Association and the Institute for Outdoor Learning (and increasing amount of supporting organisations and individuals from across society), this campaign is crucial to give our young people a fighting chance, both now and into the future.
They are ‘…calling on the UK government to invest in a Nature Premium to fund nature experiences for all children in education. The investment would represent a statutory requirement for schools to regularly take children into nature. “Nature” could mean wild school grounds, woodlands, wetlands, gardening, conservation, Forest School, farms…’
There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s a big one. While we all know that time spent in nature is beneficial – we’ve likely all experienced it – but it’s very hard to condense that essence it into a neat data set. Politicians love nothing better than to quote and wave statistics around to prove this and that point. But when it comes to qualitative outcomes that really have an impact, there is more nuance to its impact than just pure data which makes it more difficult to justify. If the problem is as bad as everyone seems to think it is, then something has to change. I felt that way during the Covid lockdown. Despite all the restrictions, there was a real opportunity for some big changes. As creatures of habit, we’ve quickly slipped back into those old habits – nothing to see here – and we’re paying the price for it.
For all the good technology has brought into our lives, an imbalance has been created and it’s having a negative impact on development and well-being. Natural England research has shown through a study that ‘‘findings from the study found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week.’
The implication is that there are a lot of people who not spending at least 2 hours per week in nature and this needs to be addressed.
Attitudes need to change. If we only wait for the good weather, then we’re likely to miss out. Alfred Wainwright who wrote in his book A Coast To Coast Walk: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’
The Solution – A Nature Premium
The Nature Premium is similar to the current Sports and PE Premium, which started as part of the legacy focus of the 2012 London Olympics. The funding provides each school with cash to ensure every student is engaged in PE. The Nature Premium would operate on the same basis, with DfE providing additional cash to each school each year. Schools would be empowered to spend the funding according to their needs. With the current buzz around levelling up, the Nature Premium would allow better access to nature, especially for those in areas that lack suitable natural environments. The legacy of the Nature Premium will be a better environment, economy and well-being for our young people as they prepare for their future.
Much like the Sports and PE Premium (SPeP), a Nature Premium will guarantee funding that is set aside specially to provide opportunities for children in education to have nature experiences on a regular basis. What this will look like will of course vary from setting to setting. One of the areas highlighted in research by Marc Harris has demonstrated that keeping practice hyperlocal is the most beneficial best practice when it comes to location.
The Nature Premium website provides access to supporting evidence here.
First, getting the funding in place. The funding needs to be in place and guaranteed for the foreseeable future. A minimum of 5 years, allowing time for the establishment of best practice and define what access to nature will look like in individual settings.
Second, and crucially, accountability. As has often been found with the SPeP, while schools have to provide a report, this hasn’t always demonstrated best practice or value to the end user, the learner. Some clear reporting and accountability priorities could include: engagement of a trained and skilled outdoor practitioner (e.g. qualified teachers with Lv 3 Forest School practitioner et al.); guarantee that 2 hours per week per student is adhered to; school curriculum is not imposed on this time; free play accounts for at least half of the time; supported risk taking is included to name a few.
Third, providing sufficient funding to do the job.
Fourth, inclusivity. Forest School, for instance, is inclusive and holistic in its nature. It welcomes in learners wherever they are, with a view to them growing and learning through taking part in regular sessions, over time. I have seen many beautiful examples of SEND learners thriving with those who do not have any additional needs for support. More so, those learners quite regularly take on the mantle of providing support to these children and by doing so, make the session inclusive in their own way. Community, however, takes intention, time and effort to achieve.
The Benefits (*some of them)
Children have to move in the outdoors. Whether it’s exploring a woodland, balancing on a fallen log, climbing trees or digging for worms, physical effort is required. Physical literacy is the confidence, competence and motivation to use your body in different environments. What better way than spending time in nature to foster this. Navigating uneven ground, balancing at height, negotiating muddy or icing surfaces, handling digging tools, running, jumping, climbing are just a small sample of activities and actions that help develop physical literacy. Core strength improves, which translates into the classroom through enabling learners to hold themselves in their chairs. Gross and fine motor tasks improve pencil grip and by extension, neatness and stamina for writing.
Time outside is naturally inclusive and meets people where they are at. There are no SATs or ability groups. Accessibility issues can be overcome, but all learners are able to engage at the stage they are at. This is a great leveller, we can all feel the same sun on our faces. All are welcome, all are considered equal and all can take part. Activities can be adapted, visual communication cards can be used, learners can support their peers, the fire circle is where all are welcome to join.
Well-being in today’s fast paced world has be come a necessity. From the constancy of screens, to the demands of life and the cost of living, it’s enough to send anyone spiralling.
Time in a green space can help to balance this. The more time spent among the trees could see a digital detoxification take place.
The Japanese call this process shinrin yoku, or forest bathing as we know it. This is where you spend time in the forest, relaxing and observing in a quiet state, while breathing deeply.
While children may find this a challenge, taking time to slow down in a green space is a great idea. Even just being among the trees is therapeutic, as is the dirt. With the after-effects of Covid and the challenges of the cost of living taking its toll, our learners need time and space – green space. The nature premium offers an opportunity to resource this kind of activity.
Improved immunity and attendance
The natural biomes we encounter when digging in the dirt allows us to encounter different types of bacteria, naturally building our immune systems. In an age where cleanliness has possibly gone too far, our learners need to start getting down and dirty to glean the benefits of the dirt and the best place to do that is in a natural setting. I’ve read about an early years setting that have converted to an outdoor oriented setting and seen a dramatic drop in illness and huge uptick in attendance as learners get out of stuffy, germ-breeding classrooms and into the fresh air of the outdoors. It really is achievable.
I’ve really taken to the concept of the outdoor citizen since hearing about it. Academic Dave Harvey mentioned this in a Zoom CPD session I attended and spoke with him about after. The Institute for Outdoor Learning has some info on the campaign as it was back in 2018/19.
While the campaign didn’t gain as much traction as it should have, I think the concept is brilliant and necessary. We need to give our learners every opportunity to engage with and learn from nature. Being comfortable in and around nature, knowing what to do in nature and how to survive and thrive are all worthy outcomes. Our young leaners are the future stewards of the natural world, so we need to engage them in its care, enjoyment and management for the future. The nature premium gives us an opportunity to revisit this and revive the development of the Outdoor Citizen. Another way to consider it may be in terms of Outdoor Literacy.
Risk Aware Learners
We live in a risk adverse society. Our risk assessments look at reasons to not do an activity. Common sense is drastically lacking. Risky activity is on the decline. The view is that children taking risks could suffer injury, or even worse, litigation. One benefit of having a nature premium will be to provide opportunities for learners to engage in supported risk taking. Forest School is a great way for learners to engage in supported risk taking. Our Risk Benefit Analysis finds reasons to do activities rather than dismiss them.
Time spent in green spaces is a great stimulus for creativity. While learners may not be writing volumes while outdoors, they will be bursting with ideas and imagery and experiences they can bring back to the classroom and supercharge their writing and other creative activities (such as art or PE). The nature premium provides opportunities to foster and potentially release otherwise suppressed creativity.
Here at Among The Trees, I am building a community. It’s Where Good Things Grow, both personally and corporately. Learners interact with one another, support each other and learn from one another. Community takes intent, time and more often than not, food! Becoming a provider through a programme supported by a nature premium will see the creation of a community wherever that happens to be. Engaging with parents and learners alike extends that community.
Well-adjusted free thinkers
A lot of thinking is done for our learners today in the classroom. Getting out into nature provides an opportunity for them to think for themselves, form and test their own opinions and learn to get along with others. Physically engaging allows them to get whatever ‘it’ is out of their system and meet some sensory needs in the process. Coming back into the classroom, they should be ready to learn and focus their attention and efforts. But this takes time. A nature premium will afford learners the much needed time and opportunity to grow and develop as human beings who care for themselves, others and the planet.
The Way Forward
Change now requires urgency. Schools, businesses, families and government need to get on board and support the Nature Premium. An opportunity is before us and we need to take it up, now. To delay any longer may have a dire multi-generational impact. If, having seen this looming problem, we have a responsibility to address and fix it. The wheels of government move at a glacial pace. We require a groundswell for change.
One of the positive upsides to the implementation of the Nature Premium may be the impact it has on families. If we can engage and enthuse our young people for the outdoors, then they will speak positively of it at home and they may want to share it with their family. Can you imagine ‘outdoor homework’?
- Can you climb a tree while maintaining 3 points of contact?
- How many types of slug can you find under logs?
- How many birds can you identify in your local woodlands?
Now that’s homework I can get on board with! Imagine reporting your findings in class on Monday!
The commitment must be for the long-term with regular sessions across seasons and different types of weather. Anything worth doing takes time and effort. An act of will. A commitment to excellence. The UK has an opportunity to become a world leader in education and child development. Courage is required to implement the Nature Premium. Combined with a commitment to outdoor learning and time spent in nature. This is not pie in the sky dreaming, it’s achievable, and it’s achievable now.
Let’s get out among the trees and reconnect. If you’d like to get in touch and discuss further, drop me a line. I’ll get the fire started.
Please note: Photographs are copyrighted by Matthew Couper; reproduced with permission.