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Nature Schools sounds like the best of my outdoor education 60 years ago!

Posted: Wednesday 8th February 2017 by DevonWildlifeTrust

Meshaw wild flowers

Devon Wildlife Trust member Daphne Pleace reflects on childhood wildlife walks and nature-focused teaching as she backs DWT’s proposed Nature School.

I was at primary school in the 1950’s: just an ordinary village school, no doubt similar to hundreds of others in the country at that time. What I remember most, though - apart from the lovely Miss Taylor and the horrible Mrs Green - was our regular nature walks.

We’d ramble along the river and canal banks, or explore the local wood - climbing trees always allowed - or if it was a rainy day, we’d wear something like a bicycle cape (who’s old enough to remember those?) and journey more sedately through the local recreational gardens. Wherever we went, Miss Taylor would keep up a running commentary of the names of trees and flowers; cloud formations and wind direction; any birds, insects, or other wildlife we came across; and a host of other fascinating snippets about the nature we could - and sometimes couldn’t - see all around us.

We would collect things for the classroom nature table and on our return, complete some writing or drawing or craft work based on our finds.

I remember still much of what Miss Taylor told us about this bird, or that flower, or what caused a rainbow, or what plants people used to eat, or use as medicine.

I remember too my excitement and sense of importance when I was chosen as Nature Table Monitor and allowed to label and arrange things to suit myself.

A lifelong interest in nature

Life, society, and educational methodology move on, and in these pressured times that style of teaching (‘facilitation of learning’ is the phrase I prefer) is perhaps not accountable enough, or ‘learning outcome-d’ enough, but it certainly suited me, and gave me a lifelong interest in nature. When I’m out and about with friends maybe a generation (and more) younger than myself, they are often surprised by the amount I seem to know about British flora and fauna - although I know how much I don’t know!

I think the complete eradication of those outdoor experiences (even in biology lessons!) at the academic grammar school I subsequently attended was part of the reason I hated my secondary years and fared badly in everything but English lessons.

I went on to become a teacher myself and although I was an English teacher in secondary schools having to work within the constraints of National Curriculum, and set book lists, I encouraged as much reading and writing about the natural world as I could.

But with many current initiatives such as Forest School, the increasing recognition of the importance of outdoor learning, and now the exciting new potential for Nature Schools, then hopefully our children will once again benefit not only from learning about the natural environment from directly within that environment, but via project based approaches will also develop their mathematical, scientific, linguistic, artistic skills… and more.

Daphne Pleace

Former secondary school teacher, Daphne Pleace is a member of Devon Wildlife Trust and has recently returned to her Devon roots. With an MA in Nature and Travel writing, Daphne tries to combine her two passions of writing and nature whenever she can and is currently writing a book about her experiences in the natural world. 

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