Category Archives: Literacy

Nature-Blind

Richard Louv spoke of young people suffering from “Nature Deficit Dis-order”, in his book ‘Last Child In The Woods’ commenting on the vast divide between todays young people and the world’s natural spaces. In his global campaign his aim is to introduce more young people to the educational and personal developmental benefits of emersing themselves in the Great Outdoors. Increasing scientific evidence is being published demonstrating that this ‘free’ and natural remedy which reduces modern day stress and anxiety supports the cause as the pace picks up in this Natural Revolution (Benefits of Nature: How Nature Helps Your Brain | Reader’s Digest)


Founder of TYF Adventure Andy Middleton from Pembrokeshire, an Outdoor Activist with a passion of changing the way in which we think, play and approach our symbiotic relationship with the outdoors recently guided Richard Parks, a new TV celebrity and formally a Welsh Rugby player, during a coasteering adventure. Andy during the day posed a question “how do we use the wild play in some of nature’s most beautiful places to inspire millions more people to shift the way they live to protect them for ever?”.

I think that both Richard’s and Andy’s philosophy is incredibly important to the health and well-being of our future living, but there is one question I came back to when thinking about the practicalities and strategies – how we achieve this? Introducing more ‘Vitamin N’ into our daily diet and being a Nature Guide may well be the answer, but as the old saying goes ‘you can take a horse…..’.

On a recent canoe trip down the awe-inspiring Wye valley, in its infant autumnal colours, it became apparent that the young people on the journey were not bathing in its radiance. Not curious at the detail in the way in which the river bubbled over the moss strewn rocks, they were thinking of the end of the journey, looking straight ahead, blinkered to the natural medicine that was passing them by. They drifted on past a Little Egret oblivious of the effort this African birds impressive journey had been to display its contrasting beauty against the backdrop of the British countryside. IMG_0593.JPG

As I too drifted behind the canoes I entered a meditation thinking about the strategies surrounding this problem that was visible in front of me. Yes, we can introduce the Outdoors, yes we can guide an individual into an incredible location, but fundamentally it is important to the sustainability of this Outdoor Revolution that we find a way of taking off the blinkers, maybe more than this, we pull off the ‘Blindfold’ that makes us ‘Nature-blind’.

I can sympathise to some extent with not being able to see things in their true light being colour-blind and having my own view of the world. I see one number on the colour chart others see nothing and vice-versa. I have had many journeys in the car with my wife when a loud “STOP’ interrupts the passage at traffic lights as I have not seen the red light. As one person sees the detail in a view others may not, so how do we get others to appreciate the wonders of the Outdoors? Is it just an age thing? Does empathy come with increasing years? Many years ago taking a climbing group to the sea cliffs at Porthclais where the view of the location is hidden from view until the final few metres, a teenager proclaimed looking out over St Brides Bay, “look at all that water…..and thats just the top!”. Is that empathy?

We need to take more time in this ever pressurised and digital world we live in to appreciate the surroundings and soak up the natural remedies. This could make our lives a healthier and happier one, making a more effective population and having a massive affect on the GDP world-wide. Noticing the small details and slowing our journey down, allowing the body to self-heal in the Outdoors is one step forwards in the right direction. We should be walking our pathway into the Outdoors with our eyes wide open and spending more time distracting ourselves with the Outdoors so we spend less time on our phones. This can only bring benefits. Our lifestyle today is one quick blur of so much information that we block out much of what is around us, like the journey down the river, the paddlers of the canoes did not notice the slightly submerged rock waiting beneath the surface until it abruptly stopped them mid-stream. Had their passage over that section been slower and more attentive they would have had been able to respond to altering their course. They had been instructed and informed of the skills to recognise the change in surface water indicating a submerged rock. However during their journey in this environment they had reverted to their default vision.

My thoughts are that all the combined efforts of the members of the Natural Revolution, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant make a valuable contribution  and are much needed with this recent momentum. Every person who loves the Outdoors, works, lives, plays, teaches, guides and reads about it are all crucial to continue this movement. We need to change that other well known saying  ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’.  We need to gather advocates of Nature along this journey in order to succeed. If you just look out through the window and see it as a pane of glass, you are off course. Its a portal to the Outdoors beyond.

“We must teach our children

To smell the earth

To taste the rain

To touch the wind

To see things grow

To hear the sunrise

And night fall”

John Cleal

 

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Beach school

Since growing up on the North Norfolk coast and experiencing the beauty and academic enhancement that going to the beach can bring, I have been an advocate of systematically recieving the ‘salt- injection’ periodically to keep up the levels of  coastal Vitamin N.

Today I was lucky to be invited to the beach with two schools and staff who were coming to the end of their Beach Schools training. We piled into the minibus borrowed from the comprehensive school and set off from the South Wales ex-mining valley primary and headed to where their predecessors used to convalesce beside the sea, Rest Bay at Porthcawl.


Suitably dressed in their fluorescent jackets so that they would stand out as a group against the dull Autumn colours of the beach picture. The children had no problem with wearing these bright additions to their warm jackets as they were too excited to notice. As they  skipped out of the bus the salt air hit them smack in the face from that onshore autumn wind, which set them off into rhythmic dance routines as they headed towards the high tide mark.

The beach school is another brand of Forest school but with sand, sea and pebbles. Not all schools have the managerial support to be able to do this kind of visit, let alone as regular as these two schools have had the fortune to have experienced. The day was planned out with a number of activities but open enough, like any good learning experience should be, to follow an opportunity that has been ‘plucked from the beach’. An example was that at one one moment a young girl came to me with a shell, ‘ but it’s different to all the others, is it a fossil?’ Yes, it was a ‘Gryphea’ a trace fossil from the limestone. But more interesting to the year 4 children was the Victorian fossil hunters name ‘Devils Toe Nail’. 

Like any child that has not been in an outdoor environment for a long time or even not at all, the excitement in the first few minutes can be too much to cope with. As we approached the beach from the car park the lure of the sea pulled the group faster and faster. Unfortunately between us and the sea was the beach road, however previous knowledge of the location meant that systems and control methods were already in place. A grounding in Forest School rules and behaviours did make the class management easier. The same rules were applied, work within the marked area (use of orange flags), ‘keep within the boundaries and explore with care and curiosity’ and a few extra put in – no throwing rocks, public and pets. 
Below are a few of the activities that were done on the day.

Beach Bingo – A prepared sheet set out like a bingo sheet. When each item has been found it is placed on the relevant box and ‘Bingo’ is achieved when all the items are found. This helped as the first activity as it allowed free spirits to run around getting some of the initial energy out of their system, whilst contributing to their team activity challenge as well. 



Pebble Discovery
– walk around the beach using powers of observation and creativity. Pick a pebble that, when you look at it makes you think ‘that looks like a …….’.     When you are satisfied that this rock / pebble has been selected, then it can be turned into that particular animal, bird or even sea creature. I used cheap pens from Wilkinsons for this activity only £1 a packet for 8 coloured pens on tight school budgets this is a winner compared to sharpies. They worked a treat, obviously making sure the pebble is dry before using them. 



Beach Bowls – I had taken a few old tennis balls in a recycled potato cloth bag, in fact the balls had all been found floating down the River Severn last summer when I was assessing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold canoe expedition. The game is simple and uses mental maths skills to play. Draw 3 circles on the sand and label them, I used 1,2,3. A rolling line marked on the sand and the game starts – see how many you can score. It takes a judgement of coordination of throw, accuracy, understanding of forces and needed and mental maths to add up the score. Differentiation could be subtracting numbers from a given starting number using the scoring circles. Having a larger circle surrounding the others so that the outer score 1 point every time, this gives success every throw and promotes continuous maths. I ended this game with the all rolling a single ball,towards a driftwood stick similar to ‘boule’ the string from the bag was used as a measure when it was close to call.

A literacy variation of this game I have used before has been to draw some circles in a connected line, maybe using pebble footprints to connect to each, and these are the parts of a story. Simply move from one circle to the next making up the next part of the story. This can be also done with objects found from the beach and placed in each circle which gives the starting point of the story part, or even a connecting word written on the sand to help ‘ when’ ‘ then’ ‘ and finally’. 

This idea was taken from an activity I use with chalk on the school yard, the beach surface is just and variation and adapted to the new environment. 

The day ended with a quick exploration of the rock pools and reflection of the days activities before the drive back to school. The sea air had waved its wand as we travelled back and the beach dust sprinkled as they dozed giving a much quieter return journey. But lots of stories to tell their friends and family. 

Natural Literacy

I had woken and was lying in bed listening to the rain pounding down on the roof tops and bouncing off the floor and the sound of the cars outside splashing through the puddles as they made their way along their journey. It made me realise that this was the ‘Sound of rain’. 

My new word from nature “Pisthurism’ (the sound of wind in the trees)  has made me think about literacy around us more than ever. I look at running water in a stream and wonder, why is it, that it is running so fast when the sound of it makes me calm down inside and slow my pace?

 

Why, when gazing out over the view of the Autumn gloomy dark landscape does it reflect me back to warmth and ‘ cosy-ness’ by the log fire.

It dawned on me, literally as the sun came up, but not being able to use its warmth for me to bask in, that the sound of rain whilst I lay warm tucked up in my duvet was handing me a feeling just through sound. I was unable to see the ‘stair rods’ bouncing off the road as it was dark. The ‘pitter-patter’ of the rain upon the slates, was not only wet in substance but was onomatopoeia in its true sense.

Dictionary Term.

1. the formation of a word, as ‘cuckoo’ or ‘boom’, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.

2. the use of such imitative words.

From the Greek  ‘onoma’ name + ‘poiein’ to make.

  
It uses adjectives to its extreme to describe how it is coming into your world at that moment in time. Like it was natures music sounding over the air-waves wrapping you in a descriptive blanket. 

‘Pitter-patter of rain drops’. ‘Listen to that rain.’ ‘Hammering it down’ all describing not precipitation in natures form, but a sound that portrays a feeling. We are all different in the way use our NLP ( neuro linguistic programming) and the journey it takes you on. Some hear the rain and have a downward journey, others are taken back to warm moments and times of a journey with friends- the sound of rain on the canvas with a great view out over valley below.

  

Discovering literacy outdoors is so much more than writing. It’s your expedition into words and their meanings, feelings, shapes and structure. Start your literary journey by going outside first, and not by writing but listening and feeling, the language of the outdoors will come alive.