While having a bit of filing sort out and tidy up this week, I came across the photos from a Wild Beach school project I ran last term. I’m particularly proud of this project, so thought I would share a few highlights from it. The children featured below spent a morning or afternoon every week for six weeks at Milton Locks Nature Reserve, a 15 minute walk from their school in Portsmouth. They were offered a variety of activities to participate in aimed at getting them learning about nature, building their confidence, developing their skills and relationships. They could choose how they spent their time and were encouraged to come up with their own activity ideas and to take responsibility for their own safety.
Here are some photos of the six year olds having a wonderful time at one of the Trust’s smallest nature reserves and some insights into why we think the Wild Beach (Forest School) approach is a brilliant way for children to learn about their local coastal environment.
The value of making a sea monster trap
What’s going on here then? Well if you asked the children in this picture what they are up to, they would answer that they were making a sea monster trap. I have no doubt that this is exactly what they are doing, but I would also point out that they are making a lot of discoveries about the coastal environment in the process… They are finding different shells, seaweeds, isopods and parts of crabs. Some of the spire seashells are so tiny, they didn’t notice them until they’d got stuck into playing. They are discovering that if you dig below the mud you find clay. They are finding pieces of broken glass which have been weathered smooth by the environment. They are finding out what happens when you mix sand, mud and clay with water. They are listening to seabirds, smelling the sea air and noticing the tide coming in. They are working together as a team and learning that getting a bit dirty doesn’t matter.
Learning to fly
These two boys have discovered, not just that they can make a kite all by themselves, by that they can make a kite which flies really well. They had to follow some instructions to make their kite, find a feather to hold the paper taut and practice tying knots, but they were motivated to listen, watch and learn. Now they are flying their kites, they are learning about the wind: what direction it is blowing in, that it doesn’t blow at a constant speed (there are quiet spells and gusts). They are looking up at the sky and perhaps spotting a plane or kestrel flying overhead and wondering what makes them fly. They are motivated to learn more.
Stuffing a scarecrow
Proving once again that children’s imaginations outdo adults a hundred fold, this lad is using some equipment I brought along to build shelters to create a scarecrow. This involved a lot of problem solving, knot tying and hunting for some extra materials. In the process, he collected seaweed (to stuff the head), discovered that ants live in nests in the soil and spotted butterflies feeding on plant nectar.
What did the parents think?
I sent out some feedback forms to the parents of the children who participated in our Wild Beach programmes at Milton Locks. I was curious to know what they thought their child had got from the experience and if they had noticed any change in their child following the programme. Here are some examples of comments that came back :
“He has learnt about the environment and wildlife”
“It was a great experience to really explore the local area and explore the nature/wildlife.”
“She seems to have more confidence outdoors.”
Time in nature
I think the key value of the Wild Beach programmes was that the children were given time in nature to get to know it, feel confident about exploring it and the opportunity to make their own exciting discoveries. A recent survey found that the amount of time children spend outside has dropped by 50% in just one generation. If we are going to reverse this worrying trend, we will need more programmes like Forest School and Wild Beach to give the next generation their natural connection. If you have a child or a grandchild, you can help them get inspired by taking them outside to play in nature regularly. You don’t need lots of equipment or activity ideas (as you can see the children will help come up with these!), just take some time to let them discover nature.
By Polly Whyte, Making Waves Project Officer (Hampshire & Isle of Wight)