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A small bird eating from a feeder in a grassy field

Changing lives with the great outdoors

Spending time outdoors, with the rush of trees, the trickling of streams, the buzz and flutter of wildlife, can be incredibly beneficial for all ages. But for some young people in particular, it can transform how they learn and engage.

Meet Holly, a Learning Officer on the Green Pathways project, run by amphibian and reptile conservation charity Froglife, and funded by BBC Children in Need.

Through tailored outdoor learning activities, Green Pathways works to raise the aspirations of young people who are experiencing challenges in their lives, such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health issues or difficult home circumstances.

In a special piece, Holly explores the importance of outdoor learning, and how outdoor activities can help to boost confidence and benefit wellbeing.

For some young people, particularly those who struggle academically, working outside often provides a unique and special experience.

Somebody pond dipping, holding an insect above a tray with an identification guide next to it
Somebody pond dipping, holding an insect above a tray with an identification guide next to it

It’s amazing how pond dipping can have such a positive impact; that process of finding something and then consulting an identification guide to discover what it is. There’s an instant feeling of achievement.

The relaxing and calming environment of a nature reserve, community garden or country park, can be vitally important in raising confidence and aspirations, whilst also improving mental health and wellbeing.

Green Pathways is an ‘ecotherapy’ style project that helps to connect children and young people with their local green spaces to build and improve their emotional and physical wellbeing.

We aim to improve confidence and aspirations; develop social skills; encourage enjoyment of nature and being outdoors; increase knowledge of wildlife and develop transferable conservation skills.

Green Pathways provides positive experiences, encouraging them to work together with other young people and supportive adults, including school staff.

Many of the young people who attend the project don’t spend a great deal of time in natural places, and often don’t have the opportunity to get involved in activities learning about nature.

This can be due to challenging or difficult home circumstances or the complex needs of the young person.

Others may have negative associations with or are not engaging in school, and need help in finding ways to reconnect.

Green Pathways provides positive experiences, encouraging them to work together with other young people and supportive adults, including school staff.

We run projects which encourage the young people to work together, and learn more about wildlife conservation. That could be designing and developing wildlife gardens, constructing bug hotels, digging ponds or making bird feeders.

Then we also run activities such as den building, pond dipping and even reptile surveys, which help to improve their confidence and social skills.

Three brown welly boots upside down in a row
Three brown welly boots upside down in a row

Many young people comment on how much calmer and happier they feel after sessions, realising the positive effect that nature has on their wellbeing and how helpful it can be with feelings of anxiety.

Others discover how much they enjoy the natural world and are inspired to volunteer, or even pursue a career in wildlife conservation.

For one student, it was the first time their teacher had seen them smile.

I enjoy many aspects of working on the Green Pathways project. But the part I love the most is seeing the amazing experiences that young people have outdoors. It’s often accompanied by a clear positive change in their self-esteem or confidence.

During all our sessions, we carefully create a safe and nurturing environment to enable young people to feel more confident and try new activities.

A little while ago, we worked with a young person with mental health issues and low self-esteem. As sessions progressed they became increasingly confident, and eventually shared that they were now going for nature walks and taking wildlife pictures in their own time, as they had found it to have such a positive effect.

Another time, a pupil was referred to Green Pathways from a Special Educational Needs school. He had very low confidence and selective mutism.

During all our sessions, we carefully create a safe and nurturing environment to enable young people to feel more confident and try new activities.

We build positive and encouraging relationships with the young people, supporting them with activities until they feel able to work independently. Sessions are tailored to the needs of the group and go at a pace that suits them.

On this occasion, after a few sessions we saw his confidence start to increase. Then, during a den building activity, he started to vocally instruct and encourage his peers, who all responded well.

It was a huge achievement, and it was clear that he felt much more confident outdoors than in the classroom.

The funding we receive from BBC Children in Need is crucial. It means that we can offer the project for free, removing one of the main barriers that might prevent engagement from young people and their families. It enables us to make significant differences to their lives.

For the young people, it’s a chance to connect with nature and with each other, to get inspired and to learn, to discover wildlife conservation, and to create lasting memories.

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