Regardless of where you’re growing up, in the UK, Kenya or Lebanon, trees are equally important to your daily life. But how often do kids have the chance to get out into the woods? In the UK today, only 10% of children spend time playing outside, compared to 40% for their parents’ generation. Studies show that green spaces and trees are important for childhood development, concentration levels, anxiety control and much more.
Imagine you were 10 again, bent over your workbook, scratching your head, trying to work out percentages in class. Wouldn’t you prefer to be out in the open measuring the percentage of oak, ash and birch trees in a given area of forest?
To introduce kids to the important role of trees in sustaining life on earth, International Tree Foundation launched a school-based programme in 2012 called Tree Power. In the UK, a number of other organisations have already highlighted the benefits of outdoor activities for children and advocated for them to become more widespread over the past years.
And they are not alone in recognising the importance of the great outdoors on human beings. Scientists researching the relationship between green spaces and cognitive development say that “nature is thought to play a vital role in brain development”. A study on school children in Barcelona found that children who are exposed to more green spaces develop certain skills faster, such as problem solving, reasoning and memory.
Even 5 minutes outside play a day is thought to increase self-esteem and creativity, and countless studies have found a long list of benefits the outdoor activity has on us, especially at a young age.
Trees: a “Glocal” Subject
Tree Power merges outdoor education and global learning. Whilst introducing kids to world issues such as global warming, the programme gives them the chance to be Tree Explorers, nurturing their appreciation and interest in trees from a young age.
Tree Power aims to inspire, developing the Tree Guardians of tomorrow, aware of the implications of deforestation at a local and global level, active protectors of trees.
The world over, trees are key to our ecosystem and very existence. As well as stocking carbon dioxide, they fertilise soil and stabil
ise land, and are linked to the livelihoods of millions of people, producing fruits, nuts, medicinal products and firewood.
Which is precisely what makes trees a perfect topic for early introduction to “Global Citizenship”, “Development Education” or “Global Learning”.
These concepts are becoming more and more widespread in education systems worldwide. We live in a globalised world, and topics like human rights, sustainable development, inequality and poverty effect all societies, at different levels. Global education helps children develop important capacities, and aims to create cultural empathy and understanding between the world’s people. That might sound like a daunting task in a conflict-stricken world. But perhaps bringing it back to a seemingly simple, everyday thing like trees could make it all the more relevant and concrete.
Take a Leaf out of my Book
International Tree Foundation has already worked with teachers to carry out pilot projects in several primary schools in England. We are also working with partner organisations in Malawi and Kenya in order to increase communication between school children across the globe. So far, the feedback has been very positive from teachers and children, and we would like to increase the number of young people involved in the coming years.
Learning about trees can easily be integrated into school curricula. Teachers could cover the history of deforestation in their country and compare it to global forest loss due to illegal timber logging and land-grabbing. Geography lessons could have a focus on mapping the different types of trees in a given space of forest. A maths teacher could measure the distance between trees, and convert from meters to centimetres, and art competitions could be organised, like the one we organised here in 2007.
Trees are important to so many aspects of our lives that they make a very versatile subject. Given a little creativity, they can be weaved into any educational programme!
Blog post originally published on the World Forestry Congress blog, as part of the #Forests2015 Blog Competition.