More than 500 students have taken part in activities at Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath since schools reopened in September as part of a City of London Corporation initiative to get the capital’s children active outside by learning about nature.
The governing body launched a new COVID-safe outdoor schools programme for kids in London to explore nature at its green spaces, including Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath – teaching them skills such as building dens, orienteering and lighting fires.
Barncroft Primary school in Waltham Forest also took part in the initiative through new ‘Nature and Wellbeing’ workshops that have been developed in response to concerns over the impact of COVID on mental health, and to support schools who may experience difficulty travelling to one of the sites.
Many children in London have limited access to green spaces, including those who are indoors without a garden. Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Open Spaces and City Gardens Committee, Oliver Sells QC, says: “It is a fantastic time of year for children to get outdoors and immerse themselves in nature. Our open spaces are absolutely stunning in autumn and the perfect time for our young people get some fresh air and take the classroom to the forest.
“This new programme will connect children with the nature that is around them at a time when we are all recognising the true value of our sites. They have been learning valuable, essential life skills, that cannot be properly taught inside.
“Spending time outdoors and learning about nature can lead to a dramatic improvement in both health and wellbeing. During the current pandemic which we are all navigating together, this is more important than ever before.”
In April, the City Corporation launched a new online learning initiative to get children and families learning about nature during the COVID-19 lockdown. The programme got kids learning about the outdoors, even if they did not have access to a garden during COVID-19.
The project involved fun, nature-focused activities that promote learning through informative videos, craft activities and hands-on exploring which schools and families can then do themselves – including, videos teaching children how to do a bug hunt and create eco art, or worksheets demonstrating how to make a bird feeder or sun catcher.
Activity worksheets and videos were sent on a weekly basis to over 800 London schools, with teachers sharing them with the children at school and those at home. The City Corporation managed to get the resources to food banks and children’s centres – reaching families who may not have access to a computer.
The activities were published on a weekly basis on social media platforms, then sent to schools – all for free. Some of these are still running.