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Tiny Forest Science Days with schools – effective and fun outdoor learning

As a young professional starting my environmental research career within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), I believe opportunities should be widely available for all, starting with the youth of today. I am an advocate for equal opportunities, and for facilitating engagement of STEM activities from an early age, especially within underserved communities that often lack these opportunities. The Tiny Forest schools programme encapsulates this.

Children are the drivers of our future; this makes youth engagement and an early exposure to STEM even more important.

The Science Days offer an escape from the confines of the four-walled classroom. Leaving the classroom, kids become kids again; running around, following their curiosity, trying new things and getting their hands dirty.

A school group from Trinity School in Frome, conducting our soil texture and compaction survey.

What is a Tiny Forest Science Day?

Tiny Forest research uses a hands-on approach called citizen science. Citizen science is when scientific research actively involves non-scientists to further the research. For our programme, we are researching Tiny Forests as an urban nature-based solution to green our cities and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Our research looks at some of the benefits a Tiny Forest can provide its local environment and people, such as carbon storage potential, flood management in urban areas, increased biodiversity within the area and urban cooling.

The focus topics of Science Days are carbon storage, flood management - investigating soil, engaging their seeing, touching, smelling senses, biodiversity – looking out for butterflies and other pollinators, and unveiling the ground dweller invertebrates under our biodiversity tiles. We also focus on connecting people with nature, aiming to raise environmental awareness which encourages more sustainable action towards nature and has been proven to help our mental health.

A typical Science Day is broken up into these topics and we use simple methodologies to collect data, with the emphasis on learning practically. The Tiny Forest Science Days compile and integrate different aspects of learning which goes beyond the traditional classroom teaching style; STEM especially, seeing and doing is learning.

The impact of a Science Day

While delivering a summer of Earthwatch Science Days, I see the energy bursting from kids the moment they step outside. The enthusiasm shooting through their arms as they ask a simple question, ‘Why are trees important to us?’. I hear the high-pitched squeals as the ground dweller survey uncovers SPIDERS! Their excitement is contagious. The things they have told me that they enjoyed the most about the Science Day include:

  • “Playing with the mud”
  • “Getting dirty and cleaning my hands on the grass”
  • “’Lifting up the stone’ to uncover an ‘ants’ nest’”
  • “Touching and measuring the trees”

A school group from Grove School in Cambridge, looking under our biodiversity tiles looking at ground dweller biodiversity.

It amazes me how Science Days allow different students to excel, giving them confidence to take back into the classroom. The activities teach teamwork, independence and communication skills, opening their minds to everything that’s around them but might not be seen on first glance, and puts into practice lessons learnt in school.

It is not just the students, teachers that attend the Science Days with their class see the simple yet powerful lessons the Tiny Forest citizen science activities teach.  While participating teachers watch on as their students work together; measuring tree height doing “maths on the go”, tallying and classifying dweller species and learning how to use new equipment.

They have enjoyed identifying the trees and became more confident as the day went on,” said one primary school teacher from Glasgow. Another told us, “I think the Science Day is great the way it is.”

Lessons learnt

Valentine, a Year 3 student from a Cambridge primary school, made me smile as she said “I will remember my tree”, referring to the individual tree she had helped to plant. She checks up on it every school lunchtime and she finally got to measure it with us.

Time flies, and the sessions draw to a close. With a final message from us, “you are all now scientists!”, smiles and excited whispers spread throughout the groups.

I find these days the most rewarding; seeing everyone enjoying themselves in this new environment. The Science Days create a lasting impact on students’ lives and teach more than just the highlighted environmental topics.

What did you learn? “Everything, it was all new,” answered a primary school student from Glasgow.

Get involved

Could you become a Tiny Forest scientist this summer? There is plenty of data to collect at any of our 149 forests across the UK. Be sure to bring friends, family and loved ones to a Science Day near you! Find out about our Science Days here

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