Nicholas Watts on bird-watching and outside learning for people with learning differences.

Bird watching has the power to both stimulate and calm the senses. The Big Schools’ Birdwatch encourages schools across the country to get out into nature and help record the diversity of wild birds in the UK. The Birdwatch also runs the National Nestbox Week and sets the scene for blending nature and learning for all students.

Exposure to nature can provide children with a range of physical and mental benefits and events like the Birdwatch support teachers of children with learning differences to better structure their outside learning. Interaction with animals and using nature in learning creates a non-judgemental environment for children to learn, provides a multisensory experience and has even been shown to have a positive effect on literacy attainment and personal development in school children.

Shh… a redstart.

Judgement-free environment
Michael Kaufman, director of farm and wildlife at a therapeutic school in New York, says that ‘Animals teach just by being who they are.’ This is also true of wild birds. Unlike pets, garden birds are wild animals and children will come to understand that they need to be treated differently. 

Children will only be able to observe wild birds if they are quiet and cautious and will recognise that loud noise and activity can result in the birds leaving. Elements of responsibility are also part of the activity. For example, bird feeders need to be filled at the same time each day for the best results.

Children can also develop their communication skills by describing the birds they observe, noting visible differences and behavioural variations between the birds they encounter. 

Multisensory learning
Interaction with nature provides a multisensory experience which can be therapeutic for children who may otherwise struggle with classroom-based learning. In addition to providing stimuli that can help children to articulate the world around them, sensory learning can be beneficial to students’ wellbeing. A study by the Wildlife Trust on how nature affected learning showed an increase in personal wellbeing and health over time, as well as high levels of enjoyment and an increased connection to nature. Another study by the RSPB found a correlation between exposure to nature and English attainment similar to the correlation with attendance, suggesting that, when it comes to expression, learning in nature can be significant in noting progress for students.

Good for children of all physical ability levels
In addition to these benefits, bird watching is a nature activity that works for children of varying physical abilities. Maggie Jackson, Early Years Lecturer at Halesowen College, stated that ‘interacting with nature can show children the value and interest in observing rather than acting. Bird watching in particular doesn’t always require active participation.’ 

While there are physical benefits to children exploring and engaging with nature, these activities are not limited to those who have the ability to move around freely to begin with. This helps create an inclusive environment and leaves everyone free to learn in whatever way they are capable.

Whether or not it’s during the Big Schools Birdwatch, bird watching is a great way to engage children with the world around them. Putting up a nest box in school can help create routine and stimulate self-expression, all without restricting access to children of any ability.

Nicholas Watts
Author: Nicholas Watts

Nicholas Watts
+ posts

Nicholas Watts, MBE, is the owner of Vine House Farm since 1964. With decades of experience in farming and wildlife management, Nicholas has supported countless wildlife conservation initiatives throughout his years of work.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here