The School of Nature, a programme in its second year run by Frederick University in Athalassa Park in Nicosia over the Easter holidays, is seeking to broaden children’s minds.
The goal of learning through nature is to stimulate students’ minds, rather than solely concentrating on fostering only cognitive abilities, said Nicoletta Christodoulou, the lecturer who designed and coordinated the programme for four to eight-year-olds.
Children are given the opportunity to experience a unique learning experience in the park through a series of recreational and original educational, scientific and artistic activities.
In this way, the creative, critical and autonomous thinking of children, as well as their imagination and self-confidence, are nurtured.
“We have created a sterilised world for our children which is unfair,” she stressed. “We need to create opportunities for them.”
“In nature you can learn mathematics in a way that involves real life problems. For example, if it is decided to build a bench in the countryside, students will learn how to measure and what angles are about in a meaningful way.”
Though the programme has been run in Scandinavian countries and in the USA for years, it came to her attention only when she lived in the US state of Georgia from 2014 to 2017.
Realising the potential of this pedagogy, she then visited other schools in Denmark and the US to see the possibilities.
“It is an opportunity, but some people are not comfortable with change,” she said about her experiences.
She saw that some teachers were skeptical and not sure what to do in a big space initially, but soon developed new progressive methods when they warmed to the idea.
To test if Cypriots would go for it, she decided to gauge the climate before going ahead with trying it out in Nicosia, by sending out a questionnaire to parents via the Frederick network. Most responses were positive.
She also had a meeting with then education minister Costas Kadis, to see what the official state support might be like, and he was enthusiastic.
The support helped Christodoulou make up her mind to try it out, and the programme has now run four times, twice in the 2018 Easter holiday, and twice during the summer of the same year.
The lecturer in the school of education needed to bring in others and a team of teachers, masters and undergraduate students are now involved in the planning and execution.
The one-week programme is meant to be a resource for others who want to pursue something similar.
So far, the experiences have been only positive, the lecturer at Frederick University whose interest lies in non-formal learning, said.
“One child was swearing and kicking on the first day,” she recounts. “We decided not to interfere, and also didn’t tell the parents. On the second day he changed completely, he was so much calmer and for the rest of the time there was no swearing at all.”
This, she believes, is because he felt he was part of the group, but also being in nature makes people calmer in general.
The coordinator says the team building exercises, but also simply being outdoors resulted in the youngsters making friends from day two, something that in conventional schools may take months.
Declaration of interest: until April 15. Limited number of places.
Location: Athalassa national forest park in Nicosia. (The children will be picked up at the entrance of the Park in the parking area by the animators / trainers of the programme).
Meetings: April 22-26
Cost: € 80 per week for each child (breakfast included).
Time: 8am to 1.30pm
Dr Nicoletta Christodoulou
Email: [email protected]