‘Nurture Children’: proving the benefits of outdoor education for vulnerable/troubled youngsters

NB:

  • What is discussed on this page is just one element of our work to date, albeit an important one which we would like to expand.
  • Most children we engage with have no particular problems and do not come from difficult backgrounds.
  • We never reveal the identities of the children involved in our ‘nurture children’ work and they do not appear in any photographs on our site.

In 2018 we were pleased to receive funding through Edinburgh University’s Edinburgh Local Community Grant Scheme for our ‘Nurture Children’ Project (officially titled ‘Green-Learning’). This allowed us to offer the benefits of our Edible Schoolyards work (see our Reports page for information on this) to local primary school children to local children aged from eight to twelve who were affected by issues such as anxiety, suspected ADHD, traumatic bereavement and substance-abusing parents.

children on bug safari
Engaging with nature helps children thrive. [Photo from National Trust's 'Natural Childhood' report - not the children in our project.]
Jaimie MacDonald
Jaimie MacDonald played a big role in our 'Nurture Children' work.

Children’s physical and mental health is known to benefit from interaction with nature (see, for example, the National Trust’s ‘Natural Childhood’ report) so while we were delighted by the success of this little pilot project, we were not entirely surprised!

Benefits reported by teachers

Socio-emotional
  • Decreased anxiety while gardening. Children reported feeling calm. This was also seen upon returning to school that day.
  • Increased happiness levels on the days that the project took place.
  • Children formed friendships with their peers in the group.
  • Team-building skills, especially through working together to build planters.
Academic
  • Communication skills were improved as children reflected on their learning through weekly journals.
  • Increased knowledge and awareness of nature.
  • Becoming aware of different vegetables and fruit and trying some they had never tasted before thereby increasing their consumption.

LCCiP staff’s observations

Happy!

The children were asked to say how they felt at the end of each session and. although this could be mixed. we had mainly positive responses.

“Muddy, super-duper happy, amazing!”

Increased knowledge and awareness of nature

The children were taught about soil/compost, conducting experiments to see which mix of compostable materials best support seed/plant growth. We sowed seeds and took cuttings, selecting vegetables that the children would like to try eating. We also observed the insects and animals that live on the Croft, from worms to wrens, ladybirds, and a very exciting spotting of a dragonfly!

Making and building skills

Children helped build two wooden raised beds in the school grounds, having the chance to use tools, and improve their coordination and dexterity. This is where we planted seedlings and cared for and watched them grow.

Increased activity levels and time spent outdoors

When asked, the children all said that they felt good spending time outdoors during the session.

“This is hard work” and “This is better than PE”

Child and fruit trees in Berlin school
A photo of a fruit tree avenue in a Berlin school, taken from Grounds for Learning's 'Lessons from Berlin’s school playgrounds' report - another source of inspiration for us.
photograph of bare feet on soil
Barefoot safari. Image from Learning through Landscapes' excellent website. Click on the image to visit it.

More funding to continue this work, please!

In conclusion, we would love to continue and expand this very promising work but, as a small charity with limited resources, we need more funding to do this.

Speaking of limited resources, we are working hard to generate income through our various social enterprise projects, such as Nourishing Leith, with its re-opened Hingabootery cafe (September 2019) and our Croft Carbon College’s ‘Collective Action‘ programme. However, it is likely to be a few years before we can support all the valuable schools work we would like to do from these sources. Please contact us if you think you can help.