Finding Nature on National Poetry Day 2022 

The 6th October marked National Poetry Day 2022 which was themed this year around The Environment; and, against the backdrop of the hottest summer on record and soaring energy prices, the importance of reconnecting with nature feels more important than ever.

forest school gdst


To celebrate National Poetry Day, Anne Musgrove, Head of Prep at Sutton High School shares her reflections on how Sutton High went about creating beautiful new learning spaces inspired by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ bestselling book The Lost Words.


’Remember your words can plant gardens or burn whole forests down.’ — Poet Gemma Troy


In Autumn 2018 a colleague gave me a wonderful gift: a book which has subsequently become my favourite of all time. Full of stunning watercolour paintings, with gold leaf making them shine and capture the importance of the subject, nature – animal, bird, flower or tree. Each subject is accompanied by a poem, a thought or a spell, which entrances the reader. As I read, outside, the autumnal conkers cascaded to the ground and, returning home, I felt inspired to open my own watercolour set again after many years and start painting again: the power of nature. And even more importantly, this magical book has inspired and engaged our pupils to paint and write, too. 


‘Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker – gone. Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren…all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories. — illustrator Jackie Morris and author Robert Macfarlane’s of The Lost Words


Illustrator Jackie Morris and author Robert Macfarlane created The Lost Words in response to the Oxford Primary Dictionary removing words such as acorn, conker and bluebell, whilst at the same time adding in new words such as voicemail and broadband. 

The removal of these seemingly humble words caused quite a stir, and led 28 authors and illustrators to write an open letter requesting the words be reinstated. How can our children look after nature if they do not know what it is? They are not going to feel passionate about saving the local bluebell wood if they are unable to describe the calm and beauty that comes with walking through one during a crisp May morning. Children need to learn about nature in nature; as the educationalist Margaret McMillan stated, ‘The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky.’ 


‘The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky.’ — educationalist Margaret McMillan


The Lost Words selects 20 animals which children might see in their local woodlands (as an aside, I recently at last spotted my much-sought after kingfisher after 50 years of searching!). Each animal – bird or plant or tree – has three sections. The first is of jumbled up letters-  the animal disappearing – the next is a spell to conjure the subject back in gold leaf. The final section is that animal in context: for example, the prized kingfisher with its young over a stream. 


The wonder of words and nature inspire an outdoor learning project

Having pored over The Lost Word, I knew I wanted to use it at school and in a meaningful project. In the autumn of 2020, we were attending architect meetings about our new Prep building, Fernwood House. We had decided this building was to be a centre for Early Years that reflected the fact that these children are building foundations for life. We wanted an environment rich with experiences to develop their vocabulary. We also wanted an outdoor classroom, which we call The LookOut, for all our Prep pupils to use. Quite simply, we wanted our pupils to learn about nature in nature: research clearly shows this results in pastoral and academic benefits. 


“Having pored over this book {The Lost Words}, I knew I wanted to use it at school and in a meaningful project.” — Anne Musgrove, Head of Prep at Sutton High School


At those early meetings with architects and landscape designers, when we described the vision for the project, this book was central to our discussions. This learning environment was more than just a space to provide more classrooms for a growing school, it was a space to inspire and to create a feeling of change, to be beautiful and to be a joy to learn in. 

Fernwood House has become a reality and, on this year’s National Poetry Day, as the girls read the Lost Word poems in their mini amphitheatre, they were surrounded by beauty. The wooden animal and bird carvings, which have become the class line-up posts, curve around the playground, drawing you into a space surrounded by carefully chosen flora and fauna. Ivy, beech, rowan, holly, honeysuckle, and more are growing in the hedges and surround the play areas. One morning, I spotted a real fox squeeze under the gate early as I arrived; he appeared to do a double take at his carved twin proudly looking over the playground. 


“Fernwood House has become a reality and, on this year’s National Poetry Day, as the girls read the Lost Word poems in their mini amphitheatre, they are surrounded by beauty.”



Other outdoor learning projects and initiatives at the GDST

At the GDST, we place significant importance on making time to ensure our students can be outside taking part in outdoor learning activities, to encourage and nurture in them an interest in and a love of nature. Learn about other outdoor learning activities at GDST schools.