Co-creating a curriculum to support pupil wellbeing in primary schools
9 Nov 2023
Funded by the 2022–2023 British Curriculum Forum Curriculum Investigation Grant, this project sought to understand how a group of year 5 pupils form connections with nature through the arts to support their wellbeing. The research investigated how these pupils conceptualise the notion of a nature-connected curriculum that aspires to support pupil wellbeing in primary schools. Taking place at a large primary school in north-west London with a diverse and vibrant community, the project involved teachers and pupils co-creating a bespoke curriculum that aimed to help pupils to connect with nature and develop their sustainability skills.
The overarching aims of this project were first to understand how a group of year 5 pupils form connections with nature through the arts to support their wellbeing. The project further aimed to understand how these pupils conceptualise the notion of a nature-connected curriculum that, at its heart, aspires to support pupil wellbeing in primary schools. The project used the research from Walshe et al. (2022) to highlight how such an approach builds pupils’ eco-capabilities to support long-term wellbeing as a result of being immersed in nature.
A range of activities took place across the academic year 2022–23 to build skills to support pupils to understand their sense of belonging in nature and enable them to look at nature with a range of lenses. A mosaic approach, adapted from Clark and Moss (2011), was used to capture a wide range of data to understand first how pupils can be supported to develop a sense of connecting with nature through the arts to enhance their wellbeing and second how this scaffolding could enable pupils to develop a bespoke curriculum to support wellbeing in primary schools. The project incorporated a living willow sculpture as part of the legacy and focal point of the work. A resident artist visited the school in February 2023 to work with the year 5 cohort to develop a willow sculpture of a ‘bee’. This enabled pupils to incorporate the skills they had developed in their design and technology (DT) lessons of designing and building dens.
Four research questions were used to frame the development and delivery of this project.
How can pupils in primary school be supported to develop a sense of connecting with nature through the arts to enhance their wellbeing?
What scaffolding can schools provide to pupils to support them in the development of an art-based curriculum to connect with nature?
How many of the eight eco-capabilities did the pupils develop by the end of the project?
What role do teachers and school leaders play in enabling pupils in the development of a nature-connected curriculum?
Pupils have become more aware of how being in nature makes them feel and understand how it contributes to their wellbeing and happiness.
Pupils have developed a range of activities that will allow all pupils across the school to connect with nature and thus support their wellbeing.
The project findings suggest that the skills developed by pupils through the academic year have long-term benefits not just for the individual pupils in the study but also for the wider school community. These benefits include an intrinsic understanding of personal wellbeing and how activities in the natural environment can enhance wellbeing. Furthermore, immersion in this project has supported pupils to understand how looking after the natural environment can start locally and with themselves.
Pupils have developed the following eco-capabilities during the project: autonomy; bodily integrity and safety; individuality; mental and emotional wellbeing; relationality: human/nonhuman relations; senses and imagination; and spirituality. These eco-capabilities were developed through enabling pupils to help decide the direction of the project and by taking learning outdoors for extended periods more frequently – creating more space within the curriculum for pupils to connect with nature. Giving pupils the time and space to experience nature and reflect on this helped facilitate a greater sense of awe and wonder.
Teachers have considered the impact of nature connection when designing the curriculum, which has supported their wider thinking on adapting their curriculum content to incorporate the natural environment. The year 5 pupils will become leaders in ‘nature connectedness’ in the next academic year and will continue to promote learning in and through this area.
The project has highlighted that school leadership plays a vital role in enabling the development of a comprehensive nature-connected curriculum that is sustained and embedded across the school community.