Ecopoetry in Schools is an outreach programme initiated by the American Studies and Literature and Creative Writing departments at the University of East Anglia, and supported by CUE East, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk County Council. Targeting primary school children (years 5 and 6), ecopoetry workshops are designed to support children’s engagement with the natural landscape as a means to develop imaginative and creative thinking and writing, and to demonstrate how these skills can in turn develop a relationship with nature and the outdoors.

Run by myself, David North and Toni Fernandez, the ecopoetry workshops stimulate and strengthen children’s environmental awareness and concern, thereby facilitating an engagement with poetry that is fun, interesting, and that breaks down the conceptual barriers so often preventing children (and adults) from appreciating and understanding poetry.  The workshops’ morning sessions consist of a series of outdoor activities whereby children are encouraged to interact with nature, to engage their minds and senses fully with their natural environment in order to appreciate ecological interconnectedness.  During the afternoon sessions, children use the immediacy of their outdoor experiences to write poetry.  They are taught the importance of individual and communal responsibility to each other and to our natural world, and how reflection on these issues provides a vital means of thinking and writing poetically.   

Close to a year after its commencement, the project has so far been a great success – indicated by the quality of the children’s poetry, as well as the evident enjoyment of the workshops by children and teachers alike.  Lord Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, has been generous in his allowing us to use his entire estate for free, and the input of David North, from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, has proved invaluable. The project could also not have existed without the vision of Dr Nick Selby and Professor Jean Boase-Beier. It is my hope to expand this project further over the coming year, reaching more schools, age groups, and teachers.  The Ecopoetry in Schools project is one important way in which UEA engages with the wider community and extends its already deep involvement in creative writing and ecological awareness and practice.

Dr Catherine Gander, American Studies Department, University of East Anglia


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