Using the outdoors to support young people’s return

As schools reopen, outside space can be used to help young people with the transition back to the classroom.

26 August 2020

This term will be like no other. There will likely be a mix of emotions; pupils and students excited to see their friends again but also having to navigate a new way of learning and behaving. On top of this, many young people will have felt enormous strain during the months of lockdown and a socially distanced summer holiday.
A survey by Young Minds, sent in June to over 2,000 young people found that 81% of 13-25 year olds said that the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health.
The impending return to school, college and university is a cause of great anxiety for many. Young people have reported they are worried about falling behind or that their friendships will have altered, and those that are starting at new establishments are worried about not receiving normal inductions and struggling to meet new people. Not to mention the constant worry about catching the virus or spreading it to loved ones or the pain for those who have been directly affected by the virus and possibly lost people.
We are under no illusions that schools and other education establishments will be under enormous pressure to keep children safe while also trying to continue providing them with an education, but using the outdoors might be just one way you can help support the return of young people.
We have put together some suggestions of how you can use the outdoors to support young people and give them a place to feel calm, free and safe.
Please bear in mind each institution will have their own precausions in place, please adapt these suggestions to support to your regulations.

Gardening club

Dr Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, RHS Wellbeing Fellow, says, “Cultivating plants provides children and young people a sanctuary from virus-related anxieties, and a place to develop feelings of fulfilment and pride in themselves. Gardening fosters creativity and curiosity, as even the smallest wonders of nature can be exciting and fascinating. Moreover, gardening can encourage a sense of belonging in a world from which they may have felt isolated from in the past six months.”
You may already have a booming gardening club or amazing allotment group going on and if that is the case, could you increase how many young people are able to attend? It may need some coordination, perhaps a call for more volunteers, but adding a few more sessions into a week could allow even more young people to feel the benefits of growing and caring for plants.
If you don’t have a current gardening club, we have got so many resources and activity ideas waiting for you to help you set one up. It honestly doesn’t need lots of money or even much space. You just need a bit of willpower and dedication and growing spaces come in all shapes and sizes from allotments on fields to everything growing in pots around the playground or on the roof. Just remember to follow the government guidelines or your own school/groups guidelines when it comes to groups numbers and bubbles.

Lessons outdoors

Any school subject can be taught outside if you’re creative enough! On our website we have a host of activities that can be used to teach various elements of the curriculum or you can be creative and plan your own. Alternatively, just stick to your lesson plan but take it out onto the playing field or playground instead. Not only will young people be able to have a bit more space physically, the fresh air can help to make them feel calmer.  

Chat and do tables

If you have the space, set up some tables dotted around your grounds where young people can have a chat with each other while doing something active with their hands – many people find it easier to open up if their hands are busy. Place2Be have some brilliant activity ideas for different age groups such as making dreamcatchers, rainbows of hope or gratitude jars. Tables could be made available during breaks or for young people who need a bit of time out of the classroom and want to spend some time on their own.

Mindfulness sessions

If you are able to find some time in the day, even just a few minutes of mindfulness could go a long way. If you can add it into the weekly routine, even better. Invite pupils and students to sit cross-legged or to lie down on the ground outside. If space allows, mindfulness sessions in outdoor and natural settings have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing stress. Ask them to close their eyes and listen to the sounds around them or to think about three things they are grateful for that day. If they start giggling, don’t worry, that’s still a sign that they’re feeling happier in that moment.

Safe zones

Akin to the chat and do tables, try setting up some safe zones in different places inside and outside of your school or establishment. If you have a particularly quiet area, set up a space where children can have 1:1 chats with a teacher or member of support staff, or use it like a drop-in space that is open at different times of day, where they can discuss any anxieties they may have. You could also set up some ‘happy to chat’ benches where young people could sit and chat with each other, possibly even with people they don’t normally talk to.

Do something for others

We can often feel better when we do something that will benefit someone else. Giving your pupils or students something to work together on that will help others could be a brilliant project to get them communicating and sharing. The RHS Big Soup Share is coming in October and while this year’s events won’t look quite the same as before, we’ve got lots of ways to help groups still host their events this year and ideas on how to use the events to help others.

Additional resources

There are so many amazing resources out there to help you support young people’s return. Here are a few of our favourites:
Anna Freud Centre
The Schools in Mind area on their website has some wonderful resources and information to support schools and teachers, which you can find here. We also highly recommend their booklet ‘Making the transition back to school’.
Place2Be have some brilliant activity ideas to help young people of all ages feel more hopeful, grateful for even the smallest of things and feel better connected to themselves, their friends and to you. They also have resources available to give out to your pupils and students.
YoungMinds has a wealth of information, advice and resources aimed directly to young people, particular of secondary school or college age, which you can point your students to. In addition, they have advice for schools and teachers here.
Mentally Healthy Schools
This website is a collaboration between several charities and has lots of brilliant guidance and toolkits for primary schools to help you prepare for the new term.
RHS Campaign for School Gardening
And of course for outdoor-specific activities, you’ll find plenty of ideas on our website to help with mindfulness or to plan what food or plants you might like to grow next year.

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