GETTING EARLY YEARS CHILDREN CLOSE TO NATURE—IN THE INNER CITY.
It all started 14 years ago when Maryland’s Headteacher, Lorna Jackson, asked a young child where eggs come from. He answered, ‘From the supermarket’. Well, yes, but …..
It’s hard to get young children close to nature every day in the concrete urban landscape that is the inner city. Right? Wrong!
Here at Maryland Primary School we believe that growing up in our urban environment it is even more important to keep children in touch with the natural world. Here’s why.
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Research shows that children in the early years who come into regular contact with plants and animals, including pets, farm and wild animals benefit uniquely:
◊ Promoting maturity in broadening their curiosity and outlook and
taking on responsibility of care and develops an innate love and
respect for animals, which transfers to their dealings with people.
◊ Drawing on ‘biophilia’ human’s natural interest in animals and other
living things (E.O.Wilson 1984). Provides infinite teaching opportunities.
◊ Observing and encountering everyday wild animals opens up a world of
wonder. Even a few trees and garden will attract birds, squirrels and minibe
asts. They have ‘superpowers’ to feed a child’s imagination—flying, climbing, digging.
◊ In early years, exposure to animals can prevent atopic diseases
(conditions associated with allergies, such as asthma, food allergies, rhinitis,
eczema) by boosting children’s immune tolerance. (University of Finland study
◊ Learning self-control—needing to be still and silent to observe animals,
understanding movements that scare and those that are positive.
◊ Building vocabulary and conversation skills.
◊ Learning about life cycles, including an understanding of death.
◊ Understanding where our food comes from.
We know from our own school performance data, that children who have had their nursery education at our school do better in Reception in Understanding the world area of learning, than pupils who join us in Reception from other nursery settings. This foundation sees its way through the school in the
science learning strand, as our unique outdoor provision for learning about the natural world is used to integrate across the curriculum and enhance the learning of ALL our pupils. Our 3-5 year olds are im mersed in outdoor learning of a kind that the curriculum doesn’t demand—the daily interaction with the natural world.
How do we achieve that at Maryland?
14 years ago after the infamous ‘supermarket’ comment, we took a dozen incubated fertilised eggs into our nursery. All the children in the school were able to observe the incubation, then the awe and wonder of the eggs ‘wobbling’ before they hatched and the reward of watching the antics of the fluffiest, noisiest chicks. Such unforgettable learning, as our children who are now adults remind us when they visit us. We couldn’t bear to part with the chicks and that is how Cluckingham Palace, our chicken coop in the Nursery garden, came to be. A couple of chicken generations later, our girls are thriving and presenting endless opportunities for learning of all kinds, including learning entrepreneurial skills. Our Eggsperts club of junior pupils run our egg and produce enterprise, selling to parents. Free range eggs and organic produce for dinner – from a school in Stratford. Who’d have thought?
We start early. Even the toddlers who attend our Children’s Centre have opportunities to visit our chick ens and enjoy the nature garden.
Once in our Nursery, our chickens and growing food becomes part of their daily experience. In all weathers!
As part of learning to care for and take responsibility for our school chickens, we have a holiday rota for for feeding and cleaning the coop. Our parents enjoy helping us out with their children in this vital task.
Nature’s Garden—an RHS gold award
Our chickens are just a part of the outdoor learning we provide for our pupils.
Nature’s garden is the name for our cherished nature garden that provides green play space for our children, who respect the environment as the home of plants and animals. They understand they are there as carers and visitors, even our youngest children adapt their behaviour for this space.
Our children have helped us developed thriving ecosystems in this space, such as minibeast ‘hotels’ and log piles near the pond for amphibians to overwinter. Even our compost is an ecosystem! You may not want to think about what lives in there– but our children are fascinated. Our gardening club work all year round to maintain the pond and plant life so all living things can thrive. Our prestigious RHS gold was awarded in 2015 – judged one of the best school gardens in London.
Each year group has a large planter to grow variety of produce every year to enhance the science curriculum learning. We produce, herbs, potatoes, onions, fruit to mention just a few. Our cook uses some of the produce and the rest we sell on to parents along with our eggs. Our enterprise club pupils run the sales and profits are ploughed back into buying supplies for our chickens. We encourage wildlife by having nesting boxes which attract a huge variety of birds, including a woodpecker who lived there for a few years. We have the rare Great Crested Newts in our pond along with fish, frogs, toads and exquisite water lilies.
The space has an outdoor ‘classroom’ and a shed that is our research station. We use these for science lessons.
We welcome groups from other schools to provide opportunities for pond-dipping, plant, minibeast and tree identification sessions and close observational drawing. They are able to use the resources we have developed to maximise this hands-on learning.