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‘Green learning’ provides inspiration for nature poetry

Media release

Children are more creative when they learn in natural surrounds according to new research from Curtin University.

Fern leaf

Primary school students in Australia and England were put to the test to see whether writing poetry in a natural outdoor setting produced more creative outcomes than writing in a classroom, and the answer was yes.

Dr Paul Gardner and Sonja Kuzich from Curtin’s School of Education ran comparative trials with 10-year-old students in both countries and the results, recently published in the Cambridge Journal of Education, gave a big thumbs-up to the positive influence of natural settings.

“We found that students who had direct contact with nature by immersing themselves in a bush or forest setting were much more descriptive and vivid in the language they used than the classroom-based writers who ‘imagined’ being in nature through photos,” Dr Gardner said.

“There was a much higher and richer level of imagery amongst the poems crafted by the ‘outdoor’ groups compared to the ‘indoor’, which suggests that learning in natural environments could enhance creativity and language development.”

In total, 97 students took part in the study, split across four classrooms, including two based at an English primary school and two from a primary school in Western Australia.

In each country one class visited natural bush or forest before writing a poem based on what they saw, smelt and felt. The other class viewed A4 laminated images of the same bush or forest setting.

Ms Kuzich said the difference in creative language used between the classes was obvious with twice as many UK forest students using figurative language (such a similes and metaphors) compared with their class-based counterparts.

In Australia that figure rose to more than four times when comparing the poetry of the bush-based students to those who remained at school.

“Our results showed that being in a natural environment resonated with the kids finding their poetic voices, drawing on inspiration from what they experienced. Some of the student’s descriptions about their natural experiences included ‘it was like walking on marshmallow ground’, ‘sharp pine cones like grenades’ or ‘crows that bark like a dog’,” Ms Kuzich said

The researchers made sure that the student groups in both countries were as alike as possible in order to provide a sound comparison. Classes in both England and Australia were similar in size, age, gender makeup, their suburban settings and both were public or state schools.

The study took place in May in the UK and June in Australia so the climates were as similar as possible, and the bush or forest settings were also comparable in size and travel distance from each school.

The researchers say further studies of larger groups is now recommended to gain greater understanding of the influence of nature spaces and ‘green learning’ in schools.

Future research may also be needed to examine if the green learning can be translated into other learning themes or context to see if there is a flow on effect in different environments.

The full paper Green writing: the influence of natural spaces on primary students’ poetic writing in the UK and Australia can be found here