An innovative project – a collaboration between Sweden’s Lund University, UK organisation Learning through Landscapes, Birdlife Malta, and Birdlife Spain – is helping preschool and primary school children to learn more about insects, birds, flowers and plants, including how valuable they are and how we can protect nature.
The collaborative project ‘Natural Nations’ is introducing biodiversity in the curriculum, and aims to combat ‘species blindness’ – a term that has been coined to describe the lack of general knowledge about our natural environment which was previously being passed down through generations.
Many of today’s children and young people cannot name what they see in nature, however in an environment of climate change and concern, and with research showing that those who know more about nature are also more concerned about it, researchers are keen to change this trajectory.
Natural Nations seeks to increase understanding of the role of the ‘schoolyard’ (also capturing early learning environments) and its contribution to biodiversity in the built environment as well as highlighting children’s opportunities for ecological literacy.
“Through Natural Nations, we introduce biodiversity so that children learn early on about pollinating insects and birds,” explained Anna Persson, Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC), and Maria von Post, Department of Biology at Lund University.
“In turn, the children help provide data for our research, so that we can learn more about the impact of various measures.”
Along with colleague Johan Kjellberg Jensen, a doctoral student at CEC, they have worked on developing guides for educators and protocols for data collection as well as practical advice for plantings that favour pollinators, insects and birds.
New methodology and citizen science
Naturskolan in Lund has been working on green schoolyards since the early 1990s, and through their network they were in contact with the English organisation Learning through Landscapes, focused on play and learning in outdoor surroundings. Through the collaborative Natural Nations project, they also linked up with BirdLife Spain and BirdLife Malta, as well as researchers from Lund University in developing new teaching material and providing feedback by collecting and reporting data to an online portal.
“We always include current research in our continuing education programmes, but this time a clear link to the university emerged, since we built up a whole new concept and a method together over a longer period,” shared Anna Ekblad, Manager of Naturskolan in Lund.
Central to the project is the idea that teachers at primary and preschool levels should be able to work with guided and focused biodiversity questions as part of their ordinary work, not as an additional extra. By working with biology in this way, other subjects such as language and maths are integrated and provide an understanding of how researchers work.
Sample questions educators may ask through the course of the day include:
- How many species have we seen today?
- What do you think that animal eats?
- Where do you think that bird goes when it is cold?
The idea of the teaching materials from Natural Nations is that teachers and children will go out and conduct surveys of species in their local environment or around the school grounds.
Perhaps the planting of selected plant species could increase diversity? By repeating measurements over time, it is possible to see what effect any measures may have had, or whether species have generally changed between two points in time, regardless of whether any intervention has taken place.
Are there different insects and birds present in the habitat, are there more of them, or fewer?
“The data gathered becomes visible, entering species into the database is something concrete and they can see what the researchers are gaining access to. It is not common to get this clear connection,” Ms Ekblad said.
“In a few years from now, we hope to be able to begin processing data from different countries and see how they differ and where there are similarities. How important is the amount and diversity of flowering plants and the presence of more insects in urban environments? Does more food in the trees result in more birds nesting? There are many questions that we hope to learn more about,” concluded Ms Persson and Ms von Post.
The project’s page on Learning through Landscapes can be accessed here. The project’s page on Lund municipality’s website is available here, along with the web portal for reporting data from inventories.