The Harmony Project – evolving and growing the Dunannie curriculum

By Fiona Read, Head of Bedales Nursery & Pre-prep, Dunannie

The world is slowly reopening. As I write, those of us in England are anticipating being allowed to mix indoors once more, to enjoy again the human contact we used to take for granted, and to travel – albeit in a limited way for now.

It is exciting and welcome, and also a time to think carefully about how we want, and need, the world to be in the future. Central to this is our relationship to the natural world, with the COVID pandemic having underlined that we simply do as we please at our peril.

So, why should any of this be a concern for a pre-prep school head as she thinks about her school’s curriculum? One answer is that children are inheriting from us adults a world in which the pressures we place upon it mean it is more likely to bite us back. Consequently, exploring our relationship with nature and understanding the consequences of the choices we make are important. For example, COVID is widely understood to have originated at the uneasy interface of human and wild animal populations, and to have spread quickly through burgeoning urban populations, and our ever-growing appetite for migration – these are both the products of our age, and associated with a range of other ecological and human problems. If we are to avoid repeats of the pandemic, as well as other unwanted impacts, we need to rethink how we do things. Today’s children will be the next generation of problem solvers and will need to find creative solutions to the global challenges they will face in the future.

At least in part, that is why Dunannie has incorporated the Harmony Project into its framework for learning. Inspired by the vision of HRH The Prince of Wales and designed to help schools develop a curriculum inspired by nature, the project explores how applying principles of nature – such as interdependence and adaptation – can guide us in the ways we live both individually and collectively.

An understandable response might be that this is a little young for children to be grappling with such ideas. However, recent protests underline the importance of a healthy planet to young people, and at Dunannie we have been struck by the interest and understanding of our children. We don’t need to introduce them to the idea that there is a relationship between the choices we make and their wider impacts – they already know.

Equally important is that our adoption of the Harmony Project does not happen from a standing start. The Bedales ethos as established by founder John Badley – ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ – prescribes an education for the whole person, combining the academic, the practical and the social. Accordingly, we already take every opportunity to get children learning outside, which they love, with most, if not all, subjects benefitting from the connection. The time they traditionally spend identifying birds, growing vegetables and caring for lambs is as much a part of them growing into their adult selves as is time spent in the classroom and library.

Curriculum and formal learning aside, our application of the principles of nature through the Harmony Project can better ensure our pupils’ wellbeing and connection to their world – a particularly hot topic right now. In 2020, the re-opening of schools saw a renewed appeal for government to support the use of outdoor learning in response to the pandemic. In a letter to the Chair of the Education Select Committee, the group ‘Our Bright Future’, which included representatives from the Wildlife Trusts, the National Youth Agency, the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Friends of the Earth, identified recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to reassess “how we socialise, work and learn”. Research shows that time spent learning outdoors and interacting with the natural world can raise children’s educational attainment, resilience, and wellbeing. The group proposed that this should be the subject of a government inquiry, with a view to making outdoor learning part of the regular curriculum.  We are far from alone, then.

This may sound rather ‘high concept’ and a big change, but in practice it need be neither. Rather, the Harmony Project brings additional focus to many of the things that we already do and love, and will see us do more. Ours is a broad and flexible curriculum and, shaped by the interests and responses of our children, it will evolve and grow in true Bedales tradition –learning with a cloak of fun.

More information on the Harmony Project can be found here. There is more about Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie here.

Writing in nature

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This half term Block 3 have been using their English composition lessons to read and write poetry about nature and the seasons. Naturally, John Keats’ To Autumn proved an inspiration for many with phrases that everyone half knows, even if only from the Mr Kipling advert! We’ve also read Seamus Heaney’s Personal Helicon,in which he muses on the way that nature creates and reflects artistic inspiration and helps us to know ourselves better.

Our local favourite is Edward Thomas, who many Block 3 students know from visits to The Poet’s Stone – a hop, skip, and very steep trek up Shoulder of Mutton Hill. The poems But these things also and The penny whistle evoke the landscape around Bedales and students gained a clearer insight into the subtlety of nature writing from the detailed imagery Thomas uses.

I’ve been really impressed with the poems that the Block 3 students wrote in response. You can read a selection below:

Autumn is the soft dying days when the light fades into mysterious night;
Autumn is the cold seeping into your cheeks making them go a rosy pink;
Autumn is the sharpness of the cold in your lungs and the chilly nip of the crisp air;
Autumn is the cosy afternoons by the fire and the musty November smell;
Autumn is the silence in the sky;
Autumn is the path from summer and the bridge to winter.

Posy

The autumn came that year, too fast, too soon.
The rolling winds whipped in from the west.
And all that was in light, shadow overtook.
The late summer fruits lay rotting in the fields,
As if summer itself had forgotten them.
More harvests failed with every looming day,
As the thunderclouds crowded low, drenching the ground.

Where there should have been leaves, golden and red,
There was the black rot of decay.
Where the autumn grass once would have lain,
Bear rock, earth and mud had overtaken.

— Jake

Standing tall, silent, sturdy,
They loom above you,
The pines are straight and thin,
They have stood for tens, hundreds of years.

Needles drop, crunch underfoot and rot,
Branches fall only to be replaced many years later,
Squirrels hop from tree to tree, escaping from some unknown.

— Xander

Winter is coming
Winter is coming thick and fast
The earth is getting hard and frosty
The sun has hidden behind a cloud
And you may be thinking what is happening
And I tell you Winter is coming
It doesn’t matter what you think
It doesn’t matter what you do
Winter is always coming.
When the leave stand strong
Then Winter is just around the bend.
When the hedgehogs are curled up in their dens
And the rivers are freezing up
The wind blows hard on my face
And I know Winter is coming.

— Jack

The trees shiver naked in the blowing wind,
The cool rush of a fresh breeze,
Leaves scattered across the floor,
With little wellies splashing

The winter bounds stick to the paths
With the mud rushing on
Nowhere is safe from the weather
Not even the warmth.

— Mo

Bedales, biodiversity and lockdown

Biodiversity

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

Lockdown will be one of those defining moments. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing. For me, it will be the transition from standing in front of a class of children in my lab, to sitting staring at a computer screen on my sofa – an alien world and one that I am not enjoying! However, it hasn’t all been bad. The stillness and quiet has let nature be heard and during lockdown both Mary Shotter, our Biology technician, and I have immersed ourselves in it.

Mary has taken a biodiversity study of the Bedales site, and I have been taking photos of the wildflowers during my daily walks in the vicinity of Bedales. From these walks, I have put together some wildflower quizzes that have been available on the B-More Teams channel. I have really learnt a lot doing this and seen flowers that I hadn’t noticed before. My husband and I have been lucky, living close to school and the Ashford Hangers. The unnerving quiet of a deserted A3, which we walked over daily in those early days, allowed the birds and the rustling of the trees to be heard and heightened our awareness of nature all around.

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