Emotional wellbeing and nature
Since 2008, 8th June has been designated by the UN General Assembly as World Oceans Day. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of oceans to humankind’s wellbeing and sustainable development while also recognising the many severe challenges that oceans face.
YoungMinds in Schools is funded by the Department for Education and aims to improve outcomes for children and young people with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties by providing a comprehensive suite of online learning resources for educational professionals, along with a range of training courses related to mental health and wellbeing in schools.
Designated days such as World Oceans Day can be great ways of refocusing on the ways in which the natural world supports our mental health and wellbeing. Just a quick glance at the natural history shelves of any great book shop will reveal a plethora of great nature writing by those who have explored what an impact the outdoors can have. Authors such as Roger Deakin, who wrote Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain, and anthologies such as Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water offer us keenly observed literary ways of connecting with the world about us, while thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Thomas Berry urge us, in their relative ways, to appreciate how fundamental the natural world is to our healthy functioning and enjoyment of life. (Needless to say there are many other writers who also do this.)
Examples of research into the positive benefits of nature are easy to come by. Try this, for example: The Cognitive Benefits of Nature, or this: The Psychological Benefits or Nature Experiences: Research and Theory. From these examples alone we learn that being in nature can significantly and positively impact cognitive, affective and moral development as well as helping us to exercise “directed attention and working memory”. Just a few minutes spent on an internet search reveal many other such studies and findings.
Proponents of Forest Schools have long known of the positive benefits of engagement with nature. The philosophy behind Forest Schools is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences.” This is about “an innovative approach to outdoor play and learning,” that aims to develop self awareness, self regulation, intrinsic motivation, empathy, social communication skills, independence and a positive mental attitude. There are many sources of information about Forest Schools. See also the Forest Education Initiative website.
For pure relaxation, it’s hard to beat scenes of nature. Fabulous if you can get outside, but for moments when that’s not possible, try these short films on the calming countryside, the serene universe and tranquil mountains. Second best to actually being there, naturally, but always a reminder of the positive power that nature can exert in our lives.
If you want to explore World Oceans Day with your classes take a look at the Ocean Info Pack website for ideas. It just might be a useful trigger to promote the benefits of the natural world more effectively throughout your school!