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Building a Toolkit for Outdoor Learning

Building a Toolkit for Outdoor Learning

Our Education and Outdoor Learning Officer, Paddy Hayes writes about finding your own way of connecting with nature.

We spent part of the past few weeks working with staff and primary teaching students from the University of Roehampton, exploring how to best equip teachers to share a love for nature with the next generation. In discussion with these students and some local teachers it became clear that a good starting point would be to create a ‘toolkit’ of ideas: what to do, how to do it, and why it matters. This isn’t just important for teachers and schoolchildren – after all, at Barnes Common we promote Lifelong Learning. So, to inspire you to take the next step in your Lifelong Learning journey, here’s a guide to building a toolkit that works for you in 2024. Use these questions to develop your own list of go-to activities for different places, times, and purposes. 

What’s my why? 

It’s perfectly fine to head out into nature and just experience it for what it is. However, even this has an underlying purpose, usually enjoyment, relaxation, or improved mental wellbeing. So, I recommend considering why you want to spend time in nature. For some people this might not change what they do next, but for some it could really help identify the next steps. It can bring variety to your experiences and help you consider which places and times are best suited to certain aims. For example, outdoor play is great for young people, but it might not be sensible in sensitive habitats. Tree climbing might not be suitable during nesting season or in areas with standing dead-wood. Knowing why you’re heading out will help make sure that everyone has a good time and gets something from the experience.  

How do I start?  

There’s no right answer here, but a good option if you’re not confident on where to start is to join a group – maybe our monthly Yaffles Family Nature Club or our weekly Conservation Volunteering? You’ll gain knowledge and meet others who are interested in the same things. Start creating your list of ideas for connecting with nature by copying what others do – you’re more than welcome to attempt anything that we do at Yaffles yourself afterwards! Most of my best ideas are borrowed from others, and any of my own I aim to share. Organisations like the Woodland Trust and the Natural History Museum have great ideas for young people, and sites like Tree Guide UK are fantastic for older learners. 

When is the best time to explore?  

Of course, it’s tempting to wait until spring and summer to explore outdoors regularly, but as we all know, we often find ourselves very busy with other activities during these months too. So head out as soon as you can, because you’ll find those summer leaves look a little greener when you remember what the bare trees looked like, and those crickets and grasshoppers will be even louder when you remember the winter silence. There’s much to appreciate in late winter – you can still try some bud ID before the leaves show, or try to identify the difference between the flowers Cherry Plum and Blackthorn. Gaze at the dangling catkins and wonder – why do wind pollinated trees often produce male flowers before the female flowers? 

What activities should I do?  

The only one who can answer this is you, and it all comes down to the first question above. As a guide, I suggest considering how connecting with nature might point you toward personal (or collective) actions – for example by learning about native pollinator species, you can select the right plants for your garden to support them. Whether you choose to build skills, knowledge, community, or something else, I would encourage all of you to remember the affective aspect of connecting with nature. How does being in nature make you feel, and how do you care for it? Our Nature Connectedness is a strong indicator of our tendency to practice environmentally positive behaviours. 

I hope this helps you to get started, keep going, or take your learning to the next level. Now that you’ve started, your next challenge is – can you convince your family or friends to learn with you?