Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries
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Today I wanted to write about a little boy in our PRU group named Joshua. He's about 8 years old, loves the outdoors, enjoys playing, exploring and learning about the creatures, fungi, and plants that live in the woodland. He listens respectfully, is polite towards others, and is very helpful.
With such good behaviour, you may be wondering (just like I did) why is he at the PRU?? But the Joshua I have come to know is the 'Forest School Joshua', the character he transforms into when he comes to the woods. The Joshua that his family and teachers know is apparently very very different...
Today, while chatting with the PRU staff, they revealed that back at school Joshua displays quite disturbing behaviour and often uses obscene language. I was shocked at this, as it seemed nothing like the calm, sweet Joshua I knew! They said that Joshua is one of the most extreme cases they have ever worked with and emphasised how incredible his transformation is when he comes to Forest School, a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They expressed how lovely it is to see Joshua relax, play and just be a kid for a bit whilst in the woods.
Now, we never get the full background story for the children who attend Forest School, but we are sometimes told a bit of information about their circumstances at home, which are usually horrific. Without going into detail, Joshua's circumstances are no different and he has been through a lot of trauma for someone at such a young age, which helps explain his disturbing and antisocial behaviour at school. But why is he so different at Forest School? There could be a number of reasons for this, but I expect the environment has at least a little bit to do with it...
Research has shown that our environments effect our stress levels, which impacts on our mind and bodies:
“The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that” (University of Minnesota, 2014).
So a change in environment can have a massive impact on a person's mental and physical wellbeing and, therefore, on their associated behaviours. Interestingly, research also shows that when we spend time in a natural environment, it has a positive and powerful effect on us:
“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones” (University of Minnesota, 2014).
Could this explain Joshua's transformation? Does just being in nature calm his stress levels so much that it alters his behaviour so drastically? I can't say for certain, but it's definitely a strong clue towards solving this Jekyll & Hyde mystery...
University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows Renewal Center (2014) How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?, http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing, 27/04/2016.