Welcome to our website. By participating in this whole school project we aim to explore and reflect on:
A meadow in early morning somewhere on Earth. Hidden here is a world as vast as our own, where the weeds are like impenetrable jungles, stones are mountains and even the smallest pond becomes an ocean. Time passes differently here- an hour is like a day, a day like a season and the passing of a season is a life-time, but to observe this world we must fall silent now and listen to its murmurs
~ Microcosmos-Le People de l'herbe 1996 directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennon
Our school is a small, special needs primary school in South West London.
'The world is changing too quickly to use the past as our only model for the future. In every decision we make within the school we ask ourselves the questions: What is best for the child? What is needed to prepare for the future? It is a simple exercise, which provides clarity and directs our actions. The only true evaluation of a learning environment is the measure of academic and emotional growth experienced by each child within that environment.' > ~Libby Hartman, School Director
'We have come to believe that education is solely an indoor activity' 1)
David Orr published this statement sixteen years ago and yet it still resonates with contemporary concerns. Policymakers, researchers and educators are realising that in an increasingly urbanised world many children and young people are growing up in a 'nature-deficit' culture 2), and that education has a key role to play in building a stronger relationship between the natural world and modern humanity.
Policies, such as the UK Governments' Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto 3) and grassroots movements, such as the Children and Nature Network 4) are seeking to set in place experiences with nature as a common event in school and family life.
Through witnessing our children's interactions with nature, reading research and filming our lessons, we have recognised the social, emotional and cognitive benefits that connecting with the natural world can bring to our community of special needs learners . Inspired by this experience we have developed a new cross-curricular approach, which integrates internal and external learning environments, anchored in nature studies, throughout our curriculum and therapeutic programmes. Since embarking on this developmental journey we have recorded positive impacts on our learners' individual academic profiles and our own professional development.This website records our reflections on what we believe has worked and what has not (and why), and the tools, frameworks and activities that we have developed as educators/therapists.The experiences of the children at the school are a central focus of this process. We also reference the books, websites and research papers we have used to inspire and inform us. For example, research by Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan (2001) has demonstrated that 'activities in natural green settings were far more likely to leave ADD children better able to focus and concentrate'. We are drawing on their research findings and others to inform our evolving practice.
We are keen to enter into dialogue with other educators and naturalists and provide a forum for the exchange of ideas to develop this work further. We are particularly interested in nature-based education with children on the autistic spectrum and would welcome discussion with parents, educators, researchers and therapists.
'Nature can be a high-rise view of the park or a pot of grass growing on a fire escape as much as it can be a backyard or a dirt road bordered by day-lilies and clover '. Louis Sagar, 1995
All of our children have learning difficulties. A few have mobility challenges and several are on the autistic spectrum. Our children prefer visual learning to auditory cues and do not respond well to long auditory introductions to topics. Some of the children are non-verbal.They respond well to sensory stimuli particularly when they can focus on individual organisms.
'Touch, by clarifying and adding to the shorthand of the eyes, teaches us that we live in a three-dimensional world. ' Diane Ackerman, 1995
When in the garden children are looking under trees, under tables, in the grass. They are exploring for themselves, searching for living creatures and consolidating previous learning experiences.They are able to see first hand, and in their own processing time, what they have only briefly experienced in the classroom on a much smaller scale. This experiential process draws previously silent children towards speech, offers a framework for reflection and rewarding opportunities to apply their new knowledge.