After months of lockdowns, social isolation and lack of opportunities for visits and activities, students from Kempston’s Grange Academy were able to spend two days during their Easter holidays, exploring the great outdoors.
The 16 children, aged between seven and 11-years-old, enjoyed a two-day activity course with Country Days in Felmersham where they were able to learn some new skills and make new friends.
“Due to their special needs, some of the students would not have ventured out from their homes without knowing anybody,” said Nikki Horner, a member of staff at Grange Academy who accompanied the children on their trip.
“After two days at the nature reserve our students were smiling from ear to ear and even our most quiet students were able to talk about what they had achieved.”
Nikki and fellow volunteer, Shannon Poulter, supported by the team at Country Days, helped the children to work as a team, develop their social skills and get creative through the discovery of the natural environment.
“The whole premise of Country Days is to have fun learning outside,” said Esme Watkinson and Helen Hadfield, co-founders of Country Days.
“The Nature Reserve at Felmersham with its 33 different varieties of trees, a pond with Great Crested Newts, frogs, snails and ducks and a large open playing area offers plenty of opportunities for all the children to do just that and they really did.”
The Easter break was the first time Country Days have been able to welcome children back to the nature reserve since the pandemic.
“To have beautiful sunshine last week after the pandemic had curtailed plans last year was very rewarding,” said Esme.
“And finding several owl pellets in the wood and seeing them under a microscope was a very exciting first for many of us including the children.”
During the two-day activity course, children took part in a range of activities at The Leys Nature Reserve.
In bushcraft, children developed their ’survival skills’ by learning how to build dens; in pond-dipping, children learnt how to collect samples and identify pond-life; in science, children had a go at building a bird’s nest; in sport, children were encouraged to participate in new games to build resilience; in creative recycling, children designed and crafted their own suncatchers; and in art, children practised observational drawing and watercolour painting inspired by nature.
Comments from the pupils included, “I liked pond dipping, building and doing arts and crafts”, “We found a cute newt and I wanted to take it home” and “We found owl pellets made from owl puke!”
“Research has proven that spending time outdoors is beneficial for emotional, mental, physical and social wellbeing,” said Helen.
“Country Days gives children in Bedfordshire the opportunity to explore the wonders of nature, reconnect with the wild, and discover the world around them.
“We believe that feeling connected with the natural world creates a sense of wonder and these stimulating moments provide life-enhancing and long-lasting memories. There is no digital animation that can truly capture the magic of discovering frogspawn in winter, finding the first flowers of spring, running through summer meadows or seeing the leaves turning gold in autumn.< "At Country Days, we want to give all children the opportunity to learn about nature, from nature, in nature and we believe this has never been more vital."
Country Days has been supported by the Harpur Trust who recently awarded the charity £3,389 to purchase pond dipping equipment, create an additional landing stage at the pond, build a new science shed and to add two compost toilets.
“When deciding on what grants to give, the Harpur Trust always consider how something will specifically benefit disadvantaged pupils,” said Lucy Bardner, community programmes director at the Harpur Trust.
They also recently donated £2,000 to the Grange Academy for a secure store for their Forest School equipment after their old shed was broken into.
“We hope both grants will give Grange pupils the valuable opportunity to experience and learn about their natural environment,” said Lucy.