Category Archives: Outdoor learning

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. 

Tipi Ceremony – Values

In the beginning, the idea of the Tipi was the USP (unique selling point) of my new business Outdoor Coaching UK. It is has now developed into a very versatile piece of equipment which enables the introduction of a variety of Outdoor Learning and life skills.

The first outing was to Maesglas Primary School in Newport to use Outdoor Learning as a vehicle to help engage pupils that had poor attendance (70%average) back into school. It was also to look at the values of who and where they were in relation with family and school. 

 
I had been speaking via Facebook to a friend (funny how this new world of social media creates friends who you have never met,  but have a relationship with)  who teaches in Northern Canada and has become immersed through marriage and occupation as a headteacher into the Cree First Nation people. Bruce was able to point me in the right direction to obtain more information regarding the Cree Tipi ceremony.
  The more I read about the philosophy and the ceremony the more I became immersed in it too.  These values and the way in which the Tipi was constructed resonated personally and formed the basis for the project with Maesglas.

Values are so important, as I had learnt as part of completing an International Diploma in NLP which I had undertaken a few years earlier. They under pin your very being and if upheld, then, like the Tipi create a framework and enable you to tie in all the other parts of your life on. 

The project was structured and aimed to try and have the biggest footfall possible. This meant that 3  two hour sessions per day were used so that year 4, 5 & 6 classes could be targeted during the day. Maesglas Primary is an inner city school with 33 different languages and an old dated building to accommodate this world wide population. However, the school has a fantastic feeling as soon as you go through the door, created by the welcoming staff. The head and deputy are well aware of the benefits of Outdoor Learning, hence the birth of the project. The school year 5 also attend an outdoor residential each year, but is only if they can afford to do it and unfortunately numbers are falling each year.The senior management grasped the opportunity for this unique learning to come to the school and then working together we created a programme outline and a plan was hatched for the start of the winter term. 

The first session involved an activity to understand the pole values and how they fitted into the Cree society, this was also done in the practical way of erecting the Tipi. This turned out to be a fantastic STEM activity.

  
The pupils were interested in how it all fitted together and there was an exploration and interpretation of what today’s values meant to them personally and in relation to their family and school life.

The building of the tipi is used as a great visual to see and feel how values are tied into their life. It required a great deal of teamwork and fun building the frame moving 25 foot poles into place and wrapping the canvas around the Tipi. 

Photographs placed on Facebook always resulted in feedback from Canada, Bruce giving his usual constructive criticism, which ‘was’ really helpful. 

  The second week as the children arrived at school the Tipi was already standing in the school grounds which was’cool’and it was cool at 7 am in the winter darkness, but it also created an amazing atmosphere. 

This second session each pupil had invited someone from home to visit and join their experience. The session began with them explaining to their adults using a metre tall model of the Tipi of how they had proudly built the structure and then what the pole values were. In a quick activity they shared with their elders their values and discussed the differences, as they had to choose one and place it on a ribbon for the top of each pole. 

Two things that caused much discussion was that in any First Nation language there was no word for ‘teenager’, they went from Youth to Adulthood. Also there was no need to have a pole value of ‘trust’ because if all the other values were in place and supporting each other – it worked! Today’s society worked a lot around trust and mentions it all the time, the adults and the pupils worked together on a few trust activities and bonding games.

  
At the end of the activity each adult was given a small piece of ribbon to tie to something significant like a key ring or pen. This was intended to anchor them back to the session and the values they had experienced. The challenge was to keep a value which was most important to them highlighted for 30 days.

It was fantastic to feel the learning and the engagement with their adults in the activities around the Tipi. ” That’s the fist time I’ve trusted you”   ” This so simple an idea and no effort needed to play, only ten minutes of time”. Some of the more meaningful comments heard.

  
The final session in the third week each participant invited another special person from within the school. Some invited siblings, relatives, classmates and best friends.

More values work, team activities and this week a fire pit and marshmallows as a treat. The using of a flint and steel was greeted with much joy when igniting cotton wool. 

A follow up programme over the next 3 weeks repeated the activities and learning, although differentiated, with year 3 who also had poor attendance and this was also a huge success.

The end of the project will come in the New Year with some follow up work sent into the classes, from which some data will be obtained to use to evaluate and substantiate the PDG money to prove that it has been well spent. Although, per head it has only come to £2 more than the price of  a Big Mac meal and the programme has engaged over 300 pupils and over 60 adults from home. 

It’s a shame that you can’t submit smiling faces and the sound of joyful engagement to tick that educational box. All we can do is hope that the creativity and effort put in by all the school staff to engage these  groups using the Tipi project will pay dividends in the long term.