As a school, one of the main lessons we learned from Covid was the importance of the natural environment for wellbeing as well as physical health. In order to embed use of our local natural environment within the curriculum, all of the children will take part in regular activities that connect them with the living world around them. Through the last few years of building work and the pandemic, our site has become neglected but we are fortunate that the school, working with many community and parent volunteers, has been able to start the process of reinvigorating the pond and allotment areas. We plan to use these areas and the rest of the site to teach children practical skills to do with nature, horticulture and ecological systems, as well as inculcate in them a love of and sense of responsibility for, the living systems around them. If you have any questions, comments or would like to be involved, please get in touch via the school office.
A high quality ecology education for pupils at the school should inculcate in pupils a profound sense of connection with and responsibility for, the natural environment. It is not an ‘outdoor learning’ curriculum that seeks to use the natural environment to fulfil other curriculum aims. It does complement the school’s science curriculum, which should inspire excitement and curiosity about natural phenomena, and scientific tools are fundamental to it. For example, several of the enquiry types listed in the National Curriculum for Science have a direct bearing on this ecological education curriculum. This would include, for example, use of secondary sources to research requirements for hibernation sites, use of comparative tests to research effective growing media at the allotment, and observing changes over time over the seasons.
However, an ecological education curriculum has broader aims than a science curriculum. The current severe, sustained and unrelenting decrease in UK wildlife diversity and abundance represents a significant threat to pupils’ wellbeing and quality of life over their whole lifetimes, as well as being a problem in its own right. In the increasingly urban, motorised society of 20th and 21st Century Britain, each successful generation has had a more and more limited exposure to the natural environment of the island. This has led to the baseline assumption for what constitutes healthy nature being degraded and denuded for each successive generation.
However, the built environment that the pupils will spend almost all their lives around offers many opportunities for environmental amelioration, and the school site offers many opportunities for environmental education. Small green spaces can support high levels of wildlife, in terms of both biomass and diversity. Brownfield sites are very often significantly more biodiverse than greenfield sites, due to the necessity of dedicating most rural land to efficient food production, which means that a large amount of rural ‘greenbelt’ land in fact has very few microhabitats and consequently low diversity of wildlife given its size. By contrast, urban brownfield sites may have a large number of microhabitats, edges and liminal spaces that supports a great diversity of wildlife. Thoughtful planting, for example of long-flowering shrubs, provides pollen and nectar for insects. Environmentally aware development of green spaces, for example keeping deliberate overwintering spaces for invertebrates and hibernacula for amphibians, makes a big difference too. Even in terms of larger environmental impacts, urban, built environments offer opportunities that rural areas may not. For example, in 2020 Cambridge City planted or gave away 850 trees, while South Cambridgeshire gave away 150 trees for Parish Councils to plant. Fulbourn Primary School’s position as a village school on a large site with several distinct spaces in a village which nonetheless functions for many families as a suburb of Cambridge, should therefore be an advantage in the mission to ‘re-enchant’ today’s children with the natural world.
As well as its links to the science curriculum, an ecological curriculum also encompasses geography, with an emphasis on place, landscape and human interaction with the physical world. Many claims are also made about the benefits to children in terms of their wellbeing, emotional regulation, social skills and health of interaction with nature. This makes it extremely relevant to the PSHE curriculum too.