Are “nature” schools possible in the city?

This article was co-authored with Corine Martel, Educational Counselor and Director of the EducNatu’re Center in Restinclières and Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Montpellier.

More than 80% of the French population are cities and with it the vast majority of schools. So how can most students benefit from these outdoor lessons that we are talking about more and more? Can school in nature really become the 21st Century Education Revolution?

Let us first remember that if the term “nature” implies a place where greenery dominates concrete, it is also important to pay attention to the small overgrown corners and parks that exist in the city. It is necessary to remember that under the tar there is soil.

Strategic projects qualified as “nature city”, “green city”, multiply.

Despite the urban density, nature is present around us, all the time, whether it is a park, communal gardens, trees along an avenue or planted on roofs and even the sky where an invisible biodiversity lives (bacteria, fungi and yeast transported by water ). drops). The current policy of urban space revegetation opens up new perspectives for teachers.

With the proliferation of strategic projects qualified as “nature city”, “green city” or “green and blue network”, the goal is to develop a more robust city, in order to limit the consequences of global warming, which translates into areas by reduce cities. heat islands, therefore, by planting trees or laying green roofs. So many items that are leverage and resources for a school outside the city.

School outside the city, a real need

The enthusiasm for school outside cannot be reduced to the period of health crisis and confinement that we have experienced; teaching in nature and with nature is a necessity and a need. In addition to the idea of ​​lack of nature, studies clearly show nature’s interest in psychological balance, health in general or creativity, basic elements of a harmonious education that respects the needs and biological rhythm of children and young people.

Read more: How (and why) do you help children connect with nature

The densification of cities has clearly reduced the connections between people and their environments. Combined with growing sedentary, confinement of children to cramped spaces, this development has only accelerated the gap between young children and nature, even as they strive to move, run and enjoy areas with hobbies.

The empty plot that was used as a wild parking lot at the Eugène Leroy kindergarten has been transformed into a gourmet garden for a few months. (Byen Lormont, 2021).

Curricula in most disciplines insist, especially through environmental education, on knowledge of the connections between humans and nature. Marie Jacqué emphasizes the importance of teachers’ different perceptions of nature. It can truly be the representation of a nature without the human species: a nature to be respected, preserved for itself. From this perspective, a sensitive approach to nature is preferred.

But nature can also be like an ecosystem to be understood in its relationship between living beings. This approach skillfully contributes to fostering cooperative teaching practices, exchanges with peers, and mutual assistance.

In all cases, the teachers who practice this school outside the city choose to anchor their learning as close as possible to reality so that their students perform in situ observations that will serve as support for classroom learning. For paradoxically, the impact of human construction may allow the observation of a biodiversity consisting of refuges of certain animal and plant species after the destruction of natural spaces. This is how projects can be developed in the city that support biodiversity, such as the pedagogical terrestrial areas or the ABCs of biodiversity, E3D labeling of schools and institutions.

This development is also not only school, but thought of times outside of teaching with the creation of the ground for adventure, educational spaces that allow children to acquire natural spaces.

Walking and revegetation class

The class walk represents one of the most emblematic and obvious activities at the school outside. It is part of French school history and a living school. In the beginning of XXand century, educators Élise and Célestin Freinet resumed this activity to make it an emblematic practice of their pedagogy by giving it an interdisciplinary goal and giving children the opportunity to truly be actors in their learning. This walk is an opportunity to develop with children their sensitivity to the environment and to encourage direct experiments with nature. For the Freinet spouses, this activity is a lever to radically transform the ways of teaching and learning by developing mutual help, sharing and cooperation between children.

Read more: Debate: Montessori and Freinet schools, let’s avoid misunderstandings!

Today it can be a tool to develop this school with the nature in the city. Admittedly, the administrative measures sometimes make it difficult to leave a class outside, but the goal is nonetheless to get far, but rather to observe the nearby space where nature is present in all its forms.

The current movement of playground restoration is an opportunity to develop the school in the institutions themselves. The benefits are not limited to imagining a flexibility of learning places, but to developing more resilient spaces in the face of global warming. This also makes it possible to combat the risk of flooding in certain cities and to create movement corridors for animal species.

Revegetation of schoolyards in Lille (France 3 Hauts-de-France, 2021).

To go from the paved courtyard to the naturalized courtyard, is to bring nature into the courtyard an opportunity to rethink teaching practice, by developing a vegetable garden, a garden, by implementing disciplinary or multidisciplinary projects at all levels from first to second degree. Easy access, the absence of specific administrative measures are all means to transform these overgrown spaces into focal points in the construction of learning, with times for reading but also for calculation or simply for resting in nature during meridian breaks.

Transforming the way you teach involves deep reflection on what you want and can do. It is a velvet revolution in the sense that it is ultimately not a question of change that is part of a break with his previous teaching, but of a fluid and complementary process.

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