Tag Archive | ecology

Decry the tidy – it’s not educational!

He’s one of the Marmite people. Someone who either provokes love or derision! Whichever, it’s usually a strong emotion towards the presenter, author and naturalist, Chris Packham. I’m not sure which it is from me except that I do have immense admiration for someone who’s stuck at his cause despite the difficulties and challenges he’s encountered.

I’ve been sitting outside reading his book ‘Back to Nature’, co-authored by conservationist and environmental activist Megan McCubbin. And it’s brilliant. It talks about how our need for nature was exacerbated by the Covid crisis and Lockdowns, bringing people back in touch with the natural world which too many have neglected for too long. But this very readable book is also a stark examination of the harm we do nature, much of it clandestine and political, dotted with facts and figures many of which I wouldn’t have believed possible, and exposes the many flaws in our conservation practices which most of us are ignorant of.

But we can make changes for the better in our own small, day-to-day ways. And one of these is to do with being tidy!

When you’re a home educator you need to learn to live with untidy!

An untidy house, with materials and resources, projects and creations strewn about, is far more likely to stimulate children’s brains into action than a bare a tidy one. And action, of whatever sort, gets the kids’ brains learning and developing, is good for their bodies, minds, spirits and education. (Read more on this in Chapter 25 of ‘A Home Education Notebook’) Basically, where there’s stuff about and things going on, there is stimulation and busyness and skills being learned as youngsters cannot resist the temptation to touch, handle, investigate, explore and use, all pre-cursors to learning. Untidy has enormous developmental potential and value. Far more than show-case, manicured rooms. They are as boring as Chris says manicured lawns are!

For it’s untidy in nature that Chris says we also need. We need little untidy patches, however big or small and wherever they are, to give nature hidey holes, and foot holds, and feeding stations in our concrete and commercial worlds. We need to encourage our kids to grow things, even if it’s a pot outside the door with weeds in. (Weeds are nature too). We need to observe and celebrate those bits of green growing out of cracks in pavements and walls. We need to get away from the idea of tidy gardens and environments and make any little space, garden or otherwise that we’re lucky enough to have, wildlife friendly rather than manicured. Leave leaves, stalks and stems, let old sticks and logs lie, and neglect little corners and scruffy places for these will all give some wild critter a home. And never spray your dandelions!

What this will also provide are opportunities for you and the family to explore and investigate what happens and who lives there, and ensure that your child’s educational understanding is of the fact that every little creature, plus all the invisible ones that will be part of their food chain, matters in the balance of all things, matters for the food we eat, for the homes we have, for the sustenance provided by the planet that we all depend upon.

In the bigger picture of nature and education untidy doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you can in these small ways make a contribution to the natural world. Understanding it is an essential element of any curriculum, of any educational process. It’s not just the big things that big conservation pioneers do that matters. The small things that you and the children do – and do without – matter just as much.

Love or hate Chris Packham his book is an examination of the world you’re potentially leaving your children and how you as a family can make it better for them. You might like to give it a read!

The earth is more important than maths and grammar

Bread in the making!

Pulling out of London on the train recently I love to look upon the back gardens. Behind the terraced streets these little green oases must offer some much needed sanctuary to the wildlife (never mind the humans)!

From the centre of the city, where the soaring icons, office towers and blocks of flats butt up against each other without a scrap of space between, we begin to pass these tiny, tatty back gardens where people are making such a champion effort to provide that sanctuary with what little space they have. And even those rammed in high-rise blocks boast boxes and planters and gardens on rooftops in gallant attempts to create a little natural space where nature can flourish among places covered in concrete. Sometimes it does it on its own and a buddleia protrudes from a wall and weeds grow on sidings. But many Londoners are giving it a helping hand, creating spaces to invite insects, birds and critters we’ll never see to drop in.

When I see these awesome attempts to give nature a welcome I am filled with awe and wonder. And immediately stop taking for granted the abundance of natural space and greenery I have round me where I live now. I grew up in a top storey flat in London so I know what it’s like to be concreted in. I know how precious these few natural oases are. We didn’t have one!

I’m also thinking about the children who live without them now. About the generations of children who never experience countryside. And how they will ever be able to understand the significance of nature and natural science.

From the tiniest miniscule organism, through all the plants and animals, to the largest oldest tree everything has importance in the ecology of the planet. Everything needs a place. And we depend upon it all for our food, for our air, for our survival and that of the planet. And I worry that those children with shuttered, sheltered existences will never have the opportunity to know anything different, will never truly understand that significance, being so far removed from it on their pavement journeys between home and school and their virtual lives of indoor entertainment.

Surely this knowledge and experience is far more essential to an education, will have far more impact on a future, than times tables and grammar? It is imperative. But as kids follow academic curriculum and obedience to indoor culture I wonder how nature will make its impact known.

So I urge all families to help your kids understand the ecology of the earth that is battened down beneath that concrete, understand that it is still what everyone needs for their survival wherever they live, whether they have contact with it or not. Cities and towns have places to go to get down to the earth, they have planters and gardens and parks, and even farms, where that understanding can begin. And failing that you can simply stand in the supermarket by the fruit and veg and ask the question; where does all this come from and what aspects of nature do we depend upon to get it here, from the bees that pollinate, to the insects and leaf matter which make the soil, the animals that fertilise it, to the workers who make it possible. That question will take you on a journey.

The earth may not be under your feet as it is now under mine, but it is just as essential to your life. And it’s essential to every child’s education that they understand that!