The benefits of Nature Education for children
Kahu de Beer chats to Nature Library founder, Kathy Broadhead about the benefits of time in nature for children and why it’s the best teacher of all.
KD: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do…
KB: My love of nature was nurtured from a young age and grew throughout my life. I have always felt a strong affinity with and deep love for nature and have spent my life connecting with, learning about, working in and protecting nature.
Because of my experiences with nature and how they have impacted my life I have always wanted to share this gift with others, and also protect what I love so much. So, I trained and got a great deal of experience in environmental science and education. I am a trained teacher and hold a Master’s Degree in Education, a PG Diploma of Teaching and a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. But in my experience, nature is the best teacher of them all!
Nature has also been an incredible source of healing for me personally. I’ve experienced the phenomenal healing power and absolute joy of being in nature, time and time again. And as such, I love sharing the magic of nature with others and seeing the huge benefits that come out of those experiences.
Nature Library is all about helping kids connect with, learn in and develop a love of nature. And supporting teachers to do the same, using nature as their classroom and co-teacher.
We offer a range of programmes to support this kaupapa: Nature Kids – Weekday Nature School and School Holiday Programme. Nature Education Teacher Training and Kākano Kids In-school Programme.
KD: What made you decide to start Nature Library?
KB: I’d dreamed about creating Nature Library for a very long time. It was born out of my own connection with nature, my deep understanding (and later learning and research during my Teaching and Master’s Degree) of how important it is for children’s growth, development and wellbeing. And the understanding that true empowered and embodied environmental stewardship (kaitiakitanga) is developed through experiences of and with nature.
After working in environmental education roles for other organisations I realised I wanted to do things differently, and in a more holistic way. I got a big nudge from the universe and summoned the courage to start Nature Library five years ago.
KD: What do you love most about what you do?
KB: I love seeing children (and teachers) come alive in nature, seeing their curiosity sparked, a sense of wonder and joy develop and deepen. I love the incredible creativity that comes from time in nature, and the calm and focus it provides. Children get to just be children, be themselves and feel freedom. There is SO much to love, I could fill pages.
Personally, I love that I am supporting children to develop a relationship with the natural world that will support them for a lifetime, a relationship that will contribute positively to their growth, development and wellbeing. And that they, in time, will support the natural world because they have grown to love and care for it.
KD: How do you find spending time in nature impacts on children and why is it so important for them?
KB: It is through connection with nature that empowered and embodied environmental stewardship (kaitiakitanga) is developed. There is no better way than through direct experiences in nature to develop a love and care for our natural world, which ultimately will lead to taking action for it.
KD: Can you share any specific stories where you’ve seen transformation in a child/children through their involvement in one of your programmes?
KB: There are so many stories of transformation… one that stands out recently is a boy that was having trouble at school, unable to focus, resistant to learning, and disruptive in class. Over the term at Nature School he developed into a positive leader and supporter of the other children, he was able to focus and engage through our hands-on learning experiences, felt calmer and more confident in himself and to try new things. There was another child with severe anxiety and very low confidence, who was scared to go to school. Over three terms at Nature School she developed her confidence and calmed her anxiety enough to go back to school full time.
KD: Do you find spending time in nature is especially helpful for children with special needs? In what way?
KB: It definitely is, and there is a lot of research to back this up. Some of the reasons it is so helpful is that Nature has a naturally calming and grounding effect. It is a highly inclusive and supportive environment, meeting each child at their level, academically, socially, emotionally and physically. It gives them the freedom to follow their interests and lead their own learning. It is a fun learning environment so it makes them more engaged and attentive.
KD: What would a typical day in nature school look like?
KB: We spend our day outside connecting with, exploring, playing and learning in and with nature. We blend intentional nature experiences and free nature play, all day. Our Kaupapa is whakaute, respect for ourselves, others and nature, we weave this through all we do.
We start off at our base – connecting, chatting and catching up. Usually climbing trees, noticing nature and what is happening around us, grounding into our space and our day. We pick special nature names for the day and play our name game. After morning kai is our intentional experience time, these are hands-on experiences linked to our theme for the term. They can be creative, curious, explorative, research, science, seasonal or literacy based activities or experiences. These tend to lead us off on an adventure as we explore the local environment and a specific area depending on our theme and focus for the day. The children usually decide where we should go to explore and have our experience. Lunch kai is usually up a tree, or in a beautiful nature space we’ve wandered to and after lunch the child-led exploration and play unfolds, often inspired by our intentional experience and by the nature space around us or an interest the kids have. There is no limit to their creativity and curiosity when it comes to free play time. We wander back to base for our end of day, often with a stop for a favourite game of ours along the way. Back at base we keep a nature journal, writing and drawing our experiences to remember for the day. We connect and reflect on our day in our sharing circle and enjoy a cup of wētā wee to end our day.
You can find more information about Nature Library HERE