Since March headline stories have abounded across news outlets suggesting the positive impact that the decline in human activity, as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, is having upon the natural world. The National Geographic (April 2020) reported ‘carbon omissions are crashing’ and forecast a  9% drop in Europe this year, elsewhere observations were recorded about skies and coastal waters appearing bluer and the return of wildlife to our urban environments. Whilst these are all welcome, they are likely to be undone as fast as they have emerged; if we return to our existing lifestyles.

Home schooling during lockdown has provided one significant and hopeful opportunity for our interconnectedness with nature to be better understood.  Wildlife organisations such as the RSPB (May 2020) have reported substantially increased social media traffic to their resources and news coverage provides testimony to a growing engagement with gardening, bird watching and interest in wildlife. The Guardian (May 1st, 2020) reported that “pavement chalking to draw attention to wildflowers and plants in urban areas had gone viral across Europe” just one example of parents valuing and using nature for home schooling. This within a context of a society that has increasingly become disconnected from nature  (The Natural Childhood Report, 2013).

David Sobel (1996) points out in Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education that,  

“If we want children to flourish, we need to give them time to connect with nature and love the Earth before we ask them to save it.”

An abundance of research by (Chawla :2006, Wells and Lekkies 2006) demonstrates how pro environmental behaviours can be developed through providing children with regular contact with nature and with adults who hold positive environmental attitudes.

Lockdown has enabled many families to experience the value of nature and this now requires building upon more rigorously by schools and teachers, as society emerges out of Lockdown. Effective practice is key to the successful achievement of this aim.  Schools will require quality guidance and access to Current professional Development in order to embed researched informed processes.  Initial Teacher Education  will need to prioritise this on their programme in order to equip new teachers with the knowledge and skills to support school partnerships in the future. The new OFSTED School Inspection Framework (2019) with a renewed focus on schools ‘meeting the needs of their community’ and providing a broad curriculum to children provides official support for this action…

The social climate is perhaps now more conducive than ever in supporting our schools and curriculum in prioritising the environment and recognising the role of outdoor education in enabling us as a society to make the changes we need to build a new revised relationship with the natural world. This would be a lesson well learnt from the Covid-19 crisis.

Cait Talbot-Landers is Senior Lecturer in Learning Outside the Classroom Primary Education at Edge Hill University

One response to “Covid-19: An Opportunity for Nature and Outdoor Education”

  1. Nice article. Yes, more needs to be done, but it’s nice to see the many opportunities schools and children can engage in over the last 15 years or so with eco-schools and school gardens; participation in food growing and Incredible Edible type projects or wildflower meadow/habitat creation. Many environmental groups such as Friends of the Wood type projects have junior branches or members and primary schools are regularly involved in ‘In Bloom’ projects in their neighbourhood (such as at Maghull Station or Stockbridge in Bloom). In kids’ playgrounds, imaginative use of natural forms such as rock and wood are increasingly replacing the old piles of lorry tyres of earlier decades, as children are introduced to wild play and ideas around sustainability and the environment. Similarly, a look around the kids’ tables in any Waterstones shows the explosion in publishing of books with nature, the environment and animal conservation as themes – both fiction and non-fiction. Certainly more going on now than the old once-a-year nature ramble ‘treat’ that some may remember!