'If you start with nothing, it's very easy': MINDS teacher starts butterfly garden to liven up school lessons

Infusing elements of nature into education has many benefits.

Zhangxin Zheng | September 05, 2020, 05:58 PM

"Oh Ms Jenny, I see this butterfly!", exclaimed the students with special needs at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) Woodlands Garden School.

They are able to spot different butterflies by their colours because of what they learnt at the school's very own butterfly garden, Jenny Lim said to the media with a sense of satisfaction on Sep. 5.

Students learning about butterflies in their school garden. Photo courtesy of MINDS Woodlands Gardens School.

In the Saturday morning Zoom call with the media, Lim was exuberant when she described the "special visitors" to their school.

Lim said that the school sees sunbirds nowadays after growing many native plants in school.

Infusing elements of nature in teaching

MINDS Woodlands Garden School started infusing elements of nature into their curriculum after joining the Community in Nature initiative in 2016.

Lim, a senior teacher from MINDS, recounted how it all started.

Linda Goh, an NParks officer, encouraged Lim to try the BioBlitz survey, a programme by NParks that encourages Singaporeans to identify and count the number of plants and animals they see in nature parks and reserves at her school.

Lim recalled Goh telling her: "If you start with nothing, it's very easy!"

The conversation encouraged Lim and the other teachers to learn more about local biodiversity before imparting them to their students.

Now, the school brings the students to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve regularly and even has a butterfly garden.

Infusing elements of nature into education has been helpful to the students as they required a lot more visual cues to learn well, Lim added.

Senior students are also empowered to provide public guided walks in the garden during the school's open house.

Lim said that the trips to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve are therapeutic.

They help the students relax and increase their attention span, she added.

Besides the students, the parents who accompanied along also learnt a little or two about local biodiversity in the process.

Moving on to bees

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lim admits that outdoor learning experiences have been disrupted.

However, she said that the teachers at MINDS Woodlands Gardens School will continue to tap on the public resources to create more educational materials.

Lim also said that she will be looking forward to learn more about bees, the highly misunderstood insects that play a vital role in the ecosystem.

Perhaps a bee garden next?

MINDS Woodlands Gardens School is one of the four Schools of the Year which has been recognised for its efforts for promoting conservation of local biodiversity in the new NParks Community in Nature (CIN) Schools Awards.

Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, said that the new awards serve to acknowledge the educational institutions, educators, and students who have contributed significantly to our local biodiversity conservation efforts.

"You have incorporated nature into your curriculum, and helped us nurture future leaders in biodiversity conservation," Lee said.

The awardees' efforts are also showcased online this year, and you can find out more here.

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Top photos by MINDS Woodlands Gardens School and Tok Yin XIn/NParks Facebook