Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates call for students to #LearnMoreOutdoors

Young people eager to see appreciation of the outdoors continuing after schools return and post-pandemic

To mark World Wildlife Day on Wednesday 3rd March, Ulster Wildlife and its Our Bright Future Youth Advocates have launched the #LearnMoreOutdoors campaign, with an aim to encourage teachers to take their lessons outside of the traditional classroom environment and to spend more time learning in and about nature.

In 2020, it was widely reported that people were connecting with the outdoors and nature more than ever as the Coronavirus pandemic restricted activities and inspired appreciation of the natural world. In Northern Ireland, the ‘Get Into Nature’ campaign encouraged us to respectfully engage with the outdoors without causing damage. The Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates are keen to see that our connections with nature continues and is not lost in the rush to recover lost academic progress as schools return.

Evidence shows the benefits of outdoor learning include (but are not limited to): improved health and wellbeing, decreased stress levels, has a positive impact on behaviour and increases connections with the environment. It is also particularly important in the current climate as outdoor learning is an ideal setting for enhanced ventilation.

To promote the positive and transformative impact that learning outdoors can have as we progress out of the pandemic, the Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates have created a series of video resources highlighting the benefits of outdoor learning, methods to overcome commonly perceived barriers and advice for subject-specific curriculum integration.

Anna Kernahan, 18-year-old climate activist and writer from Belfast, Founder of Fridays for Future NI, Amnesty International Bravery Award winner and Youth Advocate, said, “We want to continue raising awareness and education about outdoor learning, highlighting the benefits increased engagement would bring for children, young people and teachers. It is a key way to develop peoples’ care for the environment surrounding us, and enriches a student’s education.”

Frances Logan, final year student at Queen’s University, Vice President of the United Nations Association at Queen’s, UK Youth Ambassador for the ONE Campaign and Youth Advocate, added, “We appreciate that lost classroom time is a concern for many parents, teachers and indeed students. However we feel that this is a crucial time to be delivering a message of positivity about outdoor learning. In order to reduce the strain on education professionals, we have developed a series of online resources in a simple tutorial style, in an effort to remove any stress and provide a template.”

Ulster Wildlife is currently engaged with the Our Bright Future project, an ambitious and innovative partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, bringing together the youth and environmental sectors. Each of its 31 projects across the UK is helping young people aged 11-24 gain vital skills and experience and improve their wellbeing.

The project, through surveying the participants, found that one of the key changes our young people would make for themselves and the environment is an enhanced opportunity to spend time learning in and about nature.

Dawn Miskelly, Director of Development & Engagement at Ulster Wildlife, said, “Our Youth Advocates are acting as catalysts for delivering change for their local environment and community; whilst contributing to a greener economy.

“As schools return post-lockdown, it is important to note that outdoor learning would be a significant way of ensuring optimal ventilation and would contribute to an effective Covid-19 recovery strategy. We are keen to meet with Education Minister Peter Weir MLA to discuss outdoor learning recommendations for schools but stress that this should not be limited to consideration in the short-term. We hope to see an ongoing commitment that will continue to benefit the youth in our society, who have made clear their wishes for increased opportunities.”

Dawn Patterson, Project Officer at Ulster Wildlife, added, “Our Youth Advocates hope that their #LearnMoreOutdoors online resources will encourage and support teachers in their efforts to increase participation in outdoor learning activities, in the absence of formal recommendations. As a teacher and someone who takes young people outside as part of my work, I appreciate any hesitations they may have but we directly see the positive benefits that outdoor learning has on our young people.

“There is a wealth of human history and culture intimately connected with our relationships with the outdoors. We grew and gathered plants for food and medicine, mathematics and scientific theories were linked to patterns and cycles in the natural world. When we highlight how barriers can be overcome, every school subject can in some way be connected and exemplified in the world outside the classroom.”

The Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates #LearnMoreOutdoors online resources will be shared on the Ulster Wildlife social media channels from Wednesday 3rd March, and hosted on the Ulster Wildlife website for download. To find out more, visit https://www.ulsterwildlife.org/learn-more-outdoors

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