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Policy recommendations for employing urban forests as enabling learning environments

there is a place
where children who have never walked, find freedom
where children who have never talked, find words
and more often than not, where every child finds a smile

-Source unknown-


Playing and learning in the forest stimulates the imagination, creativity and entrepreneurship. Nature is a great place to gain experience for the development of social and motor skills.

The positive impact of a green learning environment is even more significant when working with children with cognitive disabilities, learning disorders, attention disabilities (such as ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders. These children learn better in a natural environment rather than in a f classroom. An informal teaching setting in a forest therefore increases their chances of meaningfully becoming part of the society.

On this basis, BOS+ (Belgium), GOZDIS (Slovenian Forestry Institute) and Merseyforest (UK), together with schools and partners from Slovenia and England, have been executing the Green Learning Environments project, with co-funding from ERASMUS+ programme by the European Commission. 

Building on the experiences and expertise gathered over three years, the project team has published a Policy Brief. It aims to raise awareness on the concept of Green Learning Environments and the positive impacts of green environments on learning outcomes for children with mental disabilities.

The brief starts with sketching the background and some scientific evidence on the topic, describes obstacles for implementing green learning with children with mental issues and finally presents the project findings and recommendations for practice and policy.

The policy recommendations are particularly interesting, as they explain how joint efforts by education and urban greening sectors can ameliorate lives of children with special educational needs. These recommendations include:

  • Non-formal learning activities in green learning environments should become part of the educational system for all children in Europe.
  • The education systems across Europe should look to provide support for more green learning, including increasing awareness regarding the benefits of learning in natural environment, the creation of sites for teaching in the natural environment and signposting to organisation that can provide support (Jelen, 2018).
  • Learning and spending time in green (learning) environments can make an important contribution to increased social inclusion of children with special needs. Green learning environments promote the skills and competences that are important for lifelong learning and the social inclusion of all children.
  • Accessible green areas should be provided close to schools, possibly within school grounds to allow as many children as possible to enjoy a green learning environment.

Next to the policy brief, the project also published a searchable database with good examples, a  toolbox for teachers and educators, and a comprehensive pedagogical approach that includes suggested reading on the advantages of green learning environments. 

Want to learn more about Environmental Education and Urban Forests? Attend the Environmental Education session during EFUF2019 in Cologne. More information and registration through http://2019.efuf.org

Photo@ Vilda/Jeroen Mentens.

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