Over the past year, as we have been forced to slow down and restrict our activities because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is has become apparent just how important it is for our health and wellbeing to have access to a local outdoor space. From an educational perspective, there has been a surge of interest in the links between outdoor learning and wellbeing, and colleagues around the world have been sharing inspirational work that is aimed at supporting educators in taking their teaching and learning outside.
In response to these developments, we have brought together a BERA Blog special issue that is focused on the five ‘ways to wellbeing’ introduced by the New Economics Foundation (Aked et al., 2008). To their framework of taking notice, connecting, learning, being active and giving, we have added a sixth of ‘slowing down’. Our contributors, who come from New Zealand, India, Finland, Slovenia and the UK, each provide their take on these different ways in which we can contribute to wellbeing, whether it is through taking these different steps ourselves, sharing them with others, or incorporating them into our everyday teaching.
In ‘Taking notice: Children’s observation skills in nature as a basis for the development of early science education’, Gregor Torkar explores the importance of taking notice, discussing how teaching young children to develop the skill of observation helps them to develop their ‘invisible glasses’ – their worldview – from an early age. His project shows that young children’s observational skills can be developed successfully in a short time. This process of noticing and reflecting on what is going on around us helps us to work out what matters to us, influencing our actions and contributing to our wellbeing.
Exploring the theme of connection in his blog post ‘Connecting to the land and nature’, Mike Brown movingly describes how the inseparability of land and humans is expressed and enacted through language and tradition in Maori culture, and how this connection to the land is, in turn, inseparable from wellbeing. He argues that by being respectful and open to different ways of knowing, we can build new connections that will help us to find a way to make changes necessary to thrive in a sustainable manner.
In ‘Ageing in nature: Outdoor learning as lifelong learning’ Barbara Humberstone, Di Collins and Geoff Cooper challenge the idea that older people should be treated as one homogenous group in our population, and their higher risk of infection from the virus in a pandemic. The authors are three active and engaged senior colleagues who worked and now recreate in the outdoors, and in their blog post they present how their continued learning through life is contributing to positive mental wellbeing.
Sruthi Atmakur-Javdekar demonstrates in her blog post ‘Being active in play environments: The key to children’s health and wellbeing’ how play is fundamental to children’s health and wellbeing as it promotes creativity, imagination, self-confidence and overall physical, social-emotional, and cognitive growth and development. She calls for more equitable access to play areas so that children have sufficient opportunities in their local surroundings to engage in a range of play type. It is critical, Sruthi argues, that these spaces have diverse environmental qualities, so that children and caregivers can stay physically active, meet friends and connect with the natural environment.
In his blog post ‘Giving back to nature’, Dom Higgins argues that it is time for a new kind of giving – one where we take direct action to bring nature back into everyone’s daily lives. Access to nature is not equitable and, as a result, many do not feel close to, or part of nature. By giving time to volunteer in nature, Dom demonstrates, we can all improve our health and wellbeing – people who regularly volunteer are more likely to have a positive outlook on life than those who do not.
In the final blog post in this special series, ‘Slowing down: A prescription for dawdling?’, Tanja Liimatainen uses a short story from her practice to demonstrate how dawdling can inform a slow pedagogy, whereby learners and educators alike can become more aware of themselves, each other and their environment. By dawdling, Tanja argues, we can all slow down and allow time for curiosity and imagination to direct our actions, which in turn may enable us to be more conscious of and attentive to our wellbeing.
We thank all our contributors for their interpretations of these six ways to wellbeing, and look forward to ongoing conversations through the Nature, Outdoor Learning and Play special interest group (#Nolap / @BERA_Nolap).
by W.H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Aked, J., Marks, N., Cordon, C., & Thompson, S. (2008). Five ways to wellbeing. New Economics Foundation. https://neweconomics.org/2008/10/five-ways-to-wellbeing