A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. – Gertrude Jekyll
From time to time in Schools we need to stop and pause in order to create the space to remember why we do what we do and there is no better place to do this, from my experience, than Northholm. I know that when the many tasks that are part of my role become too tiring, I look for an excuse to head outside … or as my Secretary explains it to anyone looking for me, “I go walkabout”.
This practice of ‘walkabout’ has always sustained me regardless of age or responsibility. The explosion of different sensory stimuli that I experience from being outside rejuvenates me and allows me to refocus my energy and gain clarity over the many complex issues that are part of the busy world I live in.
This is no different I am sure for our students and for other staff and no doubt, part of the reasoning behind our Founding School Council’s decision to establish Northholm away from the bustle that is synonymous with our 21st century lifestyle.
I know I have referred to this topic at different times over my years as Principal, but like the original members of the School Council, I still believe that the environment we enjoy at Northholm, makes a significant contribution to the wellbeing of our students and staff.
The ability to step outside a room, into a clean, fresh environment is something we cannot celebrate enough as what we see, hear or smell at any moment in the day not only changes our mood, but how our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.
A pleasing environment, such as we enjoy at Northholm, reduces our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones, making us feel better emotionally and enhancing our overall physical wellbeing.
The stress of an unpleasant environment on the other hand, elevates our blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses our immune systems, causing us to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless.
Even something as simple as a plant in a classroom (not to mention a rabbit or a guinea pig such as those that share the classrooms with our Junior School students) can have a significant impact on the level of stress and anxiety we feel at any given time, regardless of the reasons for our discomfort.
As humans, we are programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements calming, a fact that has been demonstrated through numerous studies into the optimum environments for hospitals, healthcare facilities and schools. In fact, from my perspective one of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing.
There is growing support for the view that time in nature or exposure to nature scenes, provides respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks and increasing our ability to pay attention. Conversely, “nature deprivation,” such as time spent in front of TV or computer screens, is not surprisingly perhaps, associated with depression, loss of empathy and lack of altruism.
I encourage everyone to think about your own experiences in relation to time spent in nature and if like me you remember the many benefits this experience offered, I hope you will look for the opportunity to revisit special places with your children and enjoy some downtime together, for the benefit it will offer not only for your own health and wellbeing, but more importantly, for those all-important relationships between people.