Should nature studies be dropped from the school curriculum?


child in wildflower meadowAccording to The Wildlife Trusts, proposed changes to the English national school curriculum could mean that children will not be taught about protecting the natural environment.

More than 162,000 pupils from 4,400 schools visited Wildlife Trust reserves in 2012 to learn about nature, ecology and the environment and to experience the great outdoors,  but the current draft curriculum apparently drops any reference to English school children being taught to 'care for the environment' or 'ways in which living things and the environment need protection'.

Simon King OBE, president of The Wildlife Trusts has called for Michael Gove, Education Secretary, to increase environmental education in schools. "A younger generation equipped to understand and tackle the massive environmental problems we have left them is our only hope for the future" he said.

Nature Studies - Then and Now

Back on the day, when I was a pupil at Bayford Primary School in Hertfordshire, we would have nature walks at least once a term during which, the teacher would point out  seasonal changes and we would learn how to identify trees, flowers and creatures, see what was happening in the farmers' fields and generally increase our awareness and appreciation of the environment.  Of course that was a small rural school and trips beyond the classroom were not beset with the formalities there are now; we simply put on our coats and boots, formed a crocodile and went. 

Today, in my capacity as a guider in rural Norfolk, I find that youngsters cannot name plants, don't understand how food is produced and view the countryside as a place full of stingy, scratchy plants and bitey insects.  They no longer play in the countryside the way we did, If they are allowed to leave the house unescorted, they must keep to the pavement and never venture down country lanes where they percieve that danger lurks behind every bush.

Could it be, that our extreme caution is making the countryside and of course the environment into an alien and scary place for our children and one that is impractical for regular class trips?  Little wonder that we have produced a generation who are chronically detached from nature and that horticulture and agriculture are no longer seen as valid career choices.

Practical Solutions

Perhaps we should look at ways of lowering the barriers between indoors and outdoors and simply view our fields, road verges, parks and woodlands as part of nature and therefore part of life.

Here's what I'd like to see more of:

  • School allotments growing food and flowers for eating and crafts (even if they're in the local park because the school grounds are too small to accommodate them)
  • Nature walks
  • Farm visits (or visits from farmers)
  • Bushcraft (teaches the potential of "found" objects, resourcefulness and practical skills)
  • Grass playing fields - with daisies and clover growing amongst the grasses to encourage bees
  • Conservatories/greenhouses on school premises 
  • Wild flower meadows as educational resources
  • Green roofs on bike sheds and bin stores as well as on the buildings
  • Cookery lessons using fresh ingredients - so that children know where food comes from
  • Sharing outdoor facilities with voluntary groups such as brownies, guides, cubs, beavers and scouts - leading to peer education.  By sharing I mean keeping charges to an absolute minimum.

Nature should be our biggest and bestest educational tool.  It's essential for our survival and children should all have a basic understanding of how much the environment does for us so that they grow up with respect and consideration for everything around them.