Do you know what a Woody Pear tree looks like? What about the colour Eurasian Coot chicks? Can you identify the birds in your area by the bite mark patterns on gumnuts? Do you how to walk in the bush without making a sound?
No? Until recently, neither did the students that attended the WA Parks Foundation Nature Connection Series facilitated by Educated by Nature.
What is the Nature Connection Series?
The program was a partnership between Educated by Nature and WA Parks Foundation, supported by funding from the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group. It ran for eight weeks, across four metropolitan schools. The program was then evaluated by the Sheridan Institute of Higher Education.
Schools were selected using the Socio-Economic Index for schools. Schools with a score under 90 matched the criteria for the project. Of these, those with easy access to local bushland were invited to participate in the program. For 2021, four schools were chosen to participate, Grovelands, Westfield Park, Glencoe and Ocean Road Primary Schools. Year 4/5 students and their teachers met each week for a 2-hour immersion into nature. The locations were as varied as the classes, ranging from the Novaro foreshore to Westfield Heron Park.
Under the supervision of their teachers and parents and with guidance from an Educated by Nature facilitator, the students explored, mapped, sketched and played in their local spaces. They learnt bird tracking skills and animal form games. Discussions were had about habitat and surrounding plant life. They built bush cubbies and used them as bird hides or for dance parties. Each week built on the last as the students observed the changes to their space over the 2 months. They learnt to identify the birds that shared their space and shed a tear when one came to misfortune. They made close connections to particular parts of the bush with favourite trees climbed or rocks conquered. One major highlight was watching a kangaroo with a joey hop past as a group shared stories of the day.
“It feels like now that we are getting comfortable with the maze of bushland, the animals and birds are getting more comfortable with having us there too.” Tamara, Educated by Nature facilitator
In the evaluation study of the program, it was found that “All the teachers, parents, school leaders and facilitators indicated that the student connection to Nature improved.” (Conradie, Joubert and Leitão, 2022)
“Our class is noticing nature more. There’s a difference outside. In school we learn more reading and writing. Here we learn more about animals. I’ve learned my friends like nature. I’ve learned that I really, really, really, really, really like nature.” Student
Caring for Natural Environments
Each week there was time for high-energy games and activities but also space to sit quietly. Space to just observe and become one with the environment. Rain, shine, or storm the students couldn’t wait to get out into their space. The care and love they showed for the plant and animal life will not just be unique to these places but will live with them as they interact with many other wild spaces throughout their lives. At one school, towards the end of the series, they discussed how the space had been transformed. It was not just their care, but also the neighbourhood seemed to have more respect for the space with less rubbish being dumped. They created a plan to let the school know how much rubbish was blowing into the space from their lunchtime snacks.
“I’ve learned how to respect nature and how to treat it. We need it to live. We need trees and bees and birds. I feel like when I go out here now, it has advanced my knowledge and my experience in nature. I definitely want to do it again.” Student
Impacts Beyond Nature Connection
Outside of the nature connection time the effects of their weekly immersion were seen in the classroom. Teachers reported an increase in school attendance. Attention in classes improved. The students were more engaged and wanted to do independent research. One teacher commented that no one wanted to miss a Tuesday. They remarked that although the students always came back to class tired, they were focused and eager to keep learning.
Students were also returning to their local space outside of the program to check in on cubbies or birds. As facilitators we saw them grow in confidence each week, to explore further and to push their edges of comfort outside. We thrilled in the shared stories, the “come see this” and “look what I found”.
All school leaders, facilitators and teachers involved in the Nature Connection Series 2021 responded that they valued the impact of the project on the professional, pedagogical, or creative practice of the project teachers. In addition, most of the teachers thought they would continue to use some of the activities, lessons, projects, strategies and approaches they developed or learned during their Nature Connection experience.
“I adapted how I teach some classes. I let kids develop inquiry questions. But I had to learn to relinquish control to the kids to do their own learning.” Teacher
A Unique Opportunity
The nature connection series created a unique opportunity to gain a connection with local space. In our busy lives, we often fail to see the changes in the environment right where we live. But at least for these students, the flowering of a Nuystia tree or tail of a dolphin will not go unnoticed.
We are grateful for our funding partners involved in this project series. Without them, these schools and their students would not have been able to access the support and mentoring to help them utilise their nearby nature spaces. For us at Educated by Nature, we have been able to widen our reach, bringing Nature Connection programs to more than only the schools that can afford it.
If you would like to find out how your students could be involved in a similar Nature Connection Series at a bushland space local to your school, please email as at firstname.lastname@example.org to discover more.