Wild Monkton – by Rachel Glasgow Assistant Head Co-Curricular, Monkton Combe School

Monkton Combe School, Somerset

Growing up on a farm in the middle of the Dorset countryside gave me a hidden advantage. Not only could I escape from some tricky times at school but I could truly be myself. I could hit a tennis ball against the barn wall; I could take my dog out to see the cows; I could lie out on the manicured lawn; I could try and learn the names of the hundreds of birds my dad seemed to recognise in an instant. I could rest. I could run. I could climb. I knew being there made me feel better. I just didn’t know why. Little did I know then how much the outdoors was getting into my very being and helping shape who I would later become.

Twenty (or so….) years later, I find myself in the privileged position of being able to work at a beautifully situated school in a valley on the edge of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I now have the information at my fingertips about the benefits and reasons why being outside made me feel better when I used to get home from school, and now I have the opportunity to help shape the future of our teenagers with this knowledge that being, and learning, outdoors is good for them.

So what are the facts? ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ is now a well-attested phenomenon, describing the human costs of alienation from nature and its effects on children, families and communities. By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Research shows that today, average 8 yr olds are more able to identify video game characters than native species such as oak trees and beetles.

One clear benefit of time outdoors is the increase in cognitive gains for our students – again research shows that school students engaged in learning in natural environments have been found to have higher achievement (in comparison to their peers or projected attainment) in reading, mathematics, science and social studies; exhibit enhanced progress in physical education and drama, and have a greater motivation for studying science. It increases skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making and creativity. Outdoor exposure is particularly beneficial to those with ADHD – 20 minutes outside has been found to significantly improve the ability to concentrate.

But also there are many improved health and wellbeing aspects to this project – spending time outdoors can help reduce levels of stress hormones, restore attention after the mental fatigue of concentrating on school work, reduce obesity, improve life satisfaction and lift low mood.

Lastly, we want to instill in our young people a desire to care for our world – we want to develop young adults who will in their lifestyle and commitments, consciously take action to protect the environment. Increased ‘Connectedness with Nature’ has been shown to lead to pro-environmental choices (such as turning lights off, picking up litter) and pro-nature choices (e.g. feeding the birds), in a way that merely learning about it theoretically in class does not.

So we’re going to develop our plans around 4 areas of development:
We want our students to thrive (improving wellbeing in our students and staff through exposure to the outdoor environment) to learn (increasing knowledge and understanding of our natural setting and improving life skills) to conserve (stewarding the Monkton estate to enhance the landscape, habitats and biodiversity) and to share (being generous in allowing others to benefit from our setting).

So far this year we have developed our weekly Conservation group; we have created a plan to develop the large copse area by the River called Mill Field; we have taken part in the inter-house Great Monkton Allotment Challenge; we have run outdoor mindfulness sessions and we have invited WOLT (Wiltshire Outdoor Learning Team) into the valley to run outdoor activities. We have also started to build links with A Rocha, a charity who works with communities to help encourage them to think about their use of the environment and to develop practical ways to care for people and the planet.

By the end of this year we hope to have started to develop quiet outdoor spaces around the campus for nature appreciation, prayer and reflection. We are expanding the Year 9 Outdoor Ed programme to include Bushcraft and Survival Skills. We are restoring the old rowing tank so that we can offer pond dipping to pupils from local schools as well as open up our rowing centre to visiting teenagers. We are working with the Grounds team to ensure our magnificent grounds are being managed in a sustainable way. We also want to continue with our species audits for swifts, house martins, butterflies, moths, dragonflies etc. We want to have a joined up programme through all three Monkton schools, particularly in the area of outdoor pursuits and conservation, while continuing to offer our spaces to local schools and other organisations.

Maybe one day we’ll even have our own Monkton farm and then my life really will have gone full circle.

Rachel Glasgow (Assistant Head Co-Curricular at Monkton Combe School in Bath)

Monkton Combe School – Somerset

www.monktoncombeschool.com

School website design: Innermedia