Monthly Archives: December 2017

Nectar of the Gods

Briony Davies for: Council for Learning Outside the Classroom 21 Nov. 2017

Are we just beginning to realise the importance of Nature as a teacher? How far have we progressed? So can we use nature as a learning tool to improving health and wellbeing without resorting to drugs?

In 2011 academics were claiming that the “erosion of childhood . . . . has continued apace since 2006” and that Britain has the lowest levels of children’s wellbeing in the developed world”.*

Its 2017 and newspaper reports about children’s mental health are increasing; could more be done to help teachers gain confidence in teaching in the natural world that has proved time and again to be beneficial to all who take advantage of this free asset. Time is running out.

Can we use the instructive study of the lifestyle of bees who,
like us are reliant on plants for survival: for foraging; house building; nest building and everything they do is for the ‘wellbeing’ of the entire hive, they are masters of their universe.

Although they have a comparatively short lifespan they are totally engrossed in communal living in a confined space. They instinctively understand the necessity for managing the temperature in the hive and also the need for additional micro nutrients (which reminds me of the elephants who led their herd to find special herbs in remote, rocky places) from vegetative moisture spots.

Beyond the hive they search far and wide for the ‘nectar of the gods’ and pollen to feed to their young. They are totally vegetarian and the females are the workers looking after the young, while males are completely sex obsessed and entirely reliant on the wider world to supply their needs. Who controls that world? Us – we are the most destructive creatures on earth.

Could helping bees become an integrated way of helping ourselves? We have the same needs and suffer from the same privations; anything that affects them probably affects us too.

Primary schools can keep bees. The children also learn business acumen by selling the honey; bees can inspire gardening and botany, subjects which generally come bottom of the curriculum scale. In war time Britain they were high on the list of activities because we were under threat – not from aliens but from ourselves, human beings no less.

These important lessons can be learned up to the age of nine or ten; after that they will act as a foundation educational tool for teenage studies of many kinds. It does not stop there, it will be knowledge gained for a lifetime – to be an inspiration for ever.
* Daily Telegraph: Graeme Paton, Education Editor, 24 Sept. 2011

Tread Lightly

Tread lightly on your planet: but how?
Met Office :“ . . . global sea level has risen by about 20 cm, primarily as a result of ocean warming and melting of land based ice”.

There is nothing romantic about the vital soil under our feet but we need to look after it as best we can. The above extract about the climate hides the fact that more heat means more rain and more rain means the nutrients in the soil will be leached out; it means that plants will try to adapt but the question is: can they adapt at an unprecedented speed?

Do we begin to teach this generation about the struggle and the effort needed to help the natural world adapt to our mistakes? Rain has dramatic effects on soil; bare soil, between crops, the nutrients are washed into the streams and then to the sea; the bright green seaweed around our coasts are evidence of this.

The run- off can be slowed down by use of hedges and more buffer zones of trees or even beavers; though their welcome is questionable. Increasingly technology is being applied in farming meaning not only more efficient use of additives but importantly less heavy machinery. Children need to understand these facts.

Natural systems need to be nurtured by this generation. We are at the top of the food chain and the health of the wild elements is an indicator of our health. If the insects go, so do we.

All primary children should be enabled to experience “soil”. Learning what worms and moles and fungi do and what different plants extract or improve it for the benefit of cereals and root vegetables is basic science.

An example of an improvement on traditional methods was in the news this week, the farmer covered his cattle manure, which produces gasses as it is broken down by microbes, with a sheet and then turned it over to increase the oxygen to then complete the process under cover again. The result was a 50% increase in the quality of the composted manure.

Keeping chickens is the easiest way to teach children about natural processes like this. The straw needs to be chemical free; the mix of straw and droppings needs to be stacked for six months before use because it becomes a very powerful fertiliser. Outdoor lessons can be conducted, learning by experimenting rather than entirely theoretically and they may even stumble across new facts.