As we enter week seven of lockdown, the humdrum soundscapes of metropolitan life continue to take a forced hiatus. With many of us in confinement, unable to attend school and working from home, attention is being refocused to our immediate environment and the nature within it. The almost eerie disappearance of environmental noise pollution has allowed us to tune into a diverse and melodious natural soundtrack, from birdsong to the pitter patter of rainfall. Normally shy animals are venturing out into the usually bustling city in their droves; deer, foxes and curious squirrels tentatively taking their streets back. A decline in fuel emissions means that it is easier to spot constellations in the night sky and people’s interest in gardening is soaring.
My own garden has become a sanctuary to escape to. Though small, its abundance of wildlife has been a welcome distraction from the difficulties of recent life and has helped me stay connected with nature despite not being able to venture too far. It is home to a friendly and well-established menagerie: two foxes, Basil and Britney. Cyril and Sylvia, a pair of plucky grey squirrels, Gatsby our colourful jay, and Tristan and Isolde, song thrushes whose polyphonic dual has become our rousing daily alarm. We’ve come to know each other well recently, these animals and I, and unbeknownst to themselves they’ve become a reliable and unflappable constant, watching on calmly whilst I nervously get to grips with the technical intricacies of Zoom!
Many studies claim to demonstrate the positive effects of the natural world on our mental health and emotional wellbeing and having experienced and observed the benefits that Forest School sessions have on Pre-Prep children, I can wholeheartedly agree. Even a brief nature fix can lower stress levels and help children and adults recalibrate emotionally. Relaxing in the garden, listening to bird song, cultivating plants, and appreciating and taking care of the animals and habitats that surround us; by nurturing nature, nature will in turn nurture us. I hope the silver lining afforded to us by this temporary situation, is a healthier symbiotic relationship between humans and our habitat.
With this in mind, I have listed some activities, reading and websites below:
- The Wildlife Trust has a plethora of simple and accessible ideas about how to embrace nature whilst also nurturing yourself. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/looking-after-yourself-and-nature
- 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ is a guide by The National Trust. Many of these activities are possible despite social distancing measures and are just as enjoyable as an adult. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/50-things-to-do
- The Lost Words by Robert McFarlane is a book of spells that seeks to conjure back the lost knowledge of the nature that surrounds us and educate the adults of tomorrow. In the words of Robert McFarlane, “We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to.” Read this and relate it to what you see on your next walk or in your garden.
- Grow your own vegetables or plants. You can use seeds found in fruit at home or near trees if you cannot get hold of a packet of seeds. Recycled packaging such as old tins, milk cartons and boxes can be used as planters.
- Keep a garden diary or window diary. Use your senses to be mindful in the moment. Notice and write down what you see, smell, touch, taste and hear when you look out of a window or sit in your garden. What changes can you notice each day? What remains the same?
Julie Metcalfe joined Highgate School in 2013 as a Key Stage One teacher. Currently she teaches in Year Two, and also leads Forest School sessions in the Pre-Prep. In an age where humans are quickly losing touch with nature, and our environment is in decline, Julie sees Forest School as a way to reignite children’s spark, love and respect for our world. Outside of school, Julie enjoys playing the violin, reading and exploring the countryside.