Growing with nature

Growing with nature

Emma Bradshaw

Fiona Groves Education and Learning Policy Manager shares her thoughts on how nature nurtures.

When I have conversations with others about growing up, I am always aware that my early experiences were really rich, varied and came from a supportive family community with a tradition of getting outside. I was privileged to have multiple opportunities to connect with the natural world from a very young age. Early memories include visits to the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield, myself and my sister pushed from the city centre in a huge pram to play under the trees with our fluffy owls and bears, each owl a different but distinct shade of pink!  

I was able to draw on these experiences in my early career as an education ranger in Sherwood Forest, to help give structured and supported play and learning experiences for a whole range of ages. Activities with pre-school children were always extremely rewarding; teddy bear picnics, animal track hunts, building animal homes, art frames and nature colour matching were great ways to connect the very young to nature. 


Fiona Groves

Nature nurtures 

At the Wildlife Trusts we understand the key role that nature plays in enhancing all aspects of our children’s development, especially in nurturing our critical thinkers of the future. The evidence is stronger than ever. Those with access to nature and green spaces are more active, have greater mental resilience, are able to take informed risks being outside and have better all-round health. However, for many of our younger generation, opportunities to experience supported play and learning or even just ‘be’ in nature are not available. Many young people, especially in deprived areas, lack regular access to places and spaces for this.  

Our learning work in reserves, community and school settings have become increasingly important as a foundation for equal and inclusive access to a ‘natural learning journey’ and so vital for very young children. As early adopters of child-led approaches such as Earth Education and Forest School, many of the Wildlife Trusts have worked alongside pre-school and nursery teachers and leaders as ‘nature connectors’, helping to give young people a sense of awe and wonder about our natural world and the wildlife in it. We support this work further through programmes like Nature Friendly Schools that help give teachers confidence and tools that they can use on their own. We know that teachers really value the work we do. 

“I think the Trust offers a valuable learning opportunity to children who perhaps need space, time, energy, fun and to develop a love of the outdoor environment. Working with their team, they were all understanding, professional and pitched the activities at the right level for the children”  
Colin Barr, Assistant Head at Yorkswood Primary School. 

Engagement in action 

At Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Children in Need funding has allowed work with a nursery class for over four consecutive years. Vicky Dunne, Education Manager describes the impact this work can have: “We run weekly forest school session on the school site and see such significant improvements in emotions, social and physical wellbeing, an example here of one child holding a worm, they were extremely unsure of this and would not take their gloves off. By the end of our sessions every single child would hold animals and our leader had to check the pockets of the children before they left the session, to make sure they did not try and re-home the animals in the forest school woods by taking them home with them”.  

We have seen a notable improvement in children’s development for those children regularly attending sessions.


Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

Vicky continues, “Another example here is of a young girl who had recently arrived in the area from India. She used to scream every time she saw a worm as she thought it was a snake. She gradually learnt the difference and joined her classmates in discovering the worms in the woods”. 

At Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, ‘Nature Tots’ is a programme that helps parents with their children to foster a love and appreciation for local wildlife. Structured sessions support and build children’s development in speech and language, motor skills, and social and emotional skills. 

Katrina Preston, the Engagement Manager says “We have seen a notable improvement in children’s development for those children regularly attending sessions. It can be hard work for parents to plan outdoor experiences into their days, but coming to these sessions makes it that bit easier and parents attending the group are building up support networks, encouraging each other to meet up outside of the group to go on nature walks or to meet at the local park for more outdoor play time.”  

Changes to Nature Tots have been made as a result of adaptations to Covid 19 guidelines and now sessions are conducted on a one-to-one family basis. Each family has their own preparation box, all the equipment and resources needed for each session and staff working rigorously around hand washing, Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing to enable outdoor sessions to go ahead.  


A brighter, wilder future 

Our vision is for every child – through early years, nursery, primary, secondary and beyond – to be able to learn in and about nature, transforming the way we educate. We owe this to all young people for their sakes, for our sakes and for nature’s sake.