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.  

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.

Why oh Wye?

Being the coach of a group of young people on their Duke Of Edinburghs Award Gold expedition taking canoes down the River Wye made me feel young again. ” How long have you been canoeing for Craig?” Was a question mid- morning. “50 years” was the answer with a proud tone to the ever expanding chest beneath the buoyancy aid.  ” You should be well tired by now! ” came the smug reply as the they paddled away creating a wake in their zig zag course. 

The reason for Outward Bound being established after the war was that it was noticed that older more established men, hardened to the ways of the world, were lasting longer than the youngsters set adrift in the freezing Atlantic. I was trying hard to summon all my white Wooley jumper naval heritage, which there was none, to give me strength to surf the wave of the speeding canoe. 

However, within a short distance my wooden singing paddle was stroking through the clear waters of the Wye on a straight course to proving that Kurt Hahn definitely made the right decision and that there was still a need for getting young people out into the wilds. 

They were doing well with coping with their newly aquired skills and were guiding their craft along the winding meanders of the river. As sand martins flew overhead catching flies and diving into the small, holes in the sandy river cliffs they were ignored by the five canoes dancing their way down the river. Not appreciating that these small birds had travelled from Africa to show us their grace and beauty and dynamic flying ability. 

The aluminium canoes were not conducive to getting close to the environment they were passing through, not the way they were being paddled anyway. As our national bird of Wales, the Red Kite gave the group the royal fly-past we crashed our way down mile after mile. I was wondering if the days toil would give the time to focus the mind and bring into play the inherent natural curiosity and nature literacy which we possess but not always switch on. 

Being in tune with the nature around us means access and exposure to multiple lengthy periods of Vitamin N, a process that will re-balance and give that essential needed well-being feeling. Walking through or paddling through as we were, is not enough to acquire Natural Equilibrium without having the knowledge and appreciation of the wonders that were everywhere around. Hearing and not listening, seeing and not looking, touching and not feeling, doing and not appreciation, are all skills that educators in Nature and the Outdoors have said since the dawn of Outdoor Education, that young people are lacking and need to be taught.

But at what stage do we do the teaching? Most organised trips into the outdoors or into nature are beginning to be the ‘first experience’ that young people get. No longer are there great adventures in the back garden or in the woods over the road, no lengthy expeditions down the lane exploring hedgerows or delights of ruined waste grounds. So how much do we put in, how far do we push without it feeling like school? Well for one, it is education, but it’s a different sized classroom. 

Today’s paddle gave me a different feeling towards our group. The day was always labelled as the longest day, 28 miles, the challenge was set. But not all challenges can be presented as a choice, life doesn’t work that way and so shouldn’t challenges. Accepting is more that a long way to achieving the outcomes of most challenges set. Maybe more skills need to be learnt or knowledge increased in order to achieve success, but there is something that most of us recognise within working in the Outdoors cannot be taught and that is, pure grit. It was this that Kurt Hahn had sought to draw out in ‘character building’ as a process at Outward Bound Schools around the world. The growth of Outdoor Education centres and many outdoor based management training programmes had also tried to emulate and train in. 

Today I witnessed some grit within our young teenagers, as the last 4 miles against a head wind after 9 hours on the water, individuals had to dig in to finish. Adversity brings out that inherent part of our survival gene and allows us to access parts of our body that would not normally work to the extent of being useful. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and certainly all had dug deep for that extra use of muscle groups that were previously unknown, the dawn of self – awareness that enables you to push on instead of giving up. 

Today’s nature table had a great variety of participants, some noticed, some highlighted and some missed because there was no one there to flick the switch on. ” loads of swans all,over the place” but not just loads, 58 in fact all within the size of half a football pitch. I’d never seen as many in one small place, so to me it was wonderful to others they were just in the way! A small lump on a log was highlighted, ” well, so what ! ” Then once explained it became a Wow! moment, one to mention impressively to others, a small terrapin about 10 cm long was sunbathing on a log. A white bird dismissed as another thing flying around, silently ghosting just above the long grass of the campsite became an excitement as it kept returning. So now they were announcing it to others and myself. It now had a name, Barn Owl.  They had heard the name but never seen one, so the delight of seeing it out in  the open had developed them into nature representatives rather than nature novices. 

Another day another mile, but the journey was getting easier as it was not just a canoe expedition, it was a self-journey, a growing of individuals that were appreciating the meaning of the word ‘Team’ and ‘ Friendship’. What it feels like to be really really tired but still have to carry on, in the wild space so no chance of saying ” I give up”, although some tried! In adversity there is something inside that flicks on that switch, that makes the head work in a different way, gives strength to muscles you didn’t even know you had! 

That’s what the Duke Of Edinburgh Award is all about and why it still means something significant to employers and to those who complete it, as they know it has taken effort, teamwork, individual perseverance and more than that participants need ‘Grit’. A quality that will provide the engine for the qualifications when the fuel for inspiration runs out. 

That’s why we did the Wye, to find out if we had that quality within us and judging by the performance, they did.


As I drove along with the windscreen wipers heavily in motion a strange ritual was being conducted on the pavement by two non- jacket wearing teenagers. A partially blonde teenager was being helped by her boyfriend to stay out of the torrential Welsh sunshine. In order to prevent the vital locks from becoming drenched and therefore unveiling her camouflage he had placed both his hands above her head. This unconventional butterfly shaped fascinator was certainly keeping me smiling as I headed to my destination. As I passed the end of school day gates, the road became clogged with traffic and waiting parents. Surely not all these children lived that far from school? They lived on a large estate only minutes from home why was there a need to protect their precious cargo from getting wet? We live in a Wales we should be used to the dampness of the environment, its in our DNA.

Earlier in the day I had signed up for going wild for 30 days in June with the a Wildlife Trust.  I suddenly realised it was day 1, the 1st of June and the summer had started – and it was raining. What was going to be my first contribution to this fantastic idea, to inspire and get people out into their natural surrounding and be re-connected with nature. 

Being out in the rain was not a problem I had been using the outdoor arena as my office for the last 30 years. But not everybody has had the same awesome feelings of being outside in the rain. Umbrellas, staring through rain spotted windows, newspapers on heads, all images that direct you to an impression and feelings towards the outdoors and rain in one direction – negative. So my first contribution was to try to change that image so hence the idea #walkintherain was pinged into my mind. 

Walking along into a new area I had need of refreshing my well- being with a dose of Green Medicine. I could smell the rain, hear the clearness of the bird song and my skin soaked up the radiating tonic of the forest canopy. With no care for navigation it gave time to appreciate the surroundings, the sparkling leaves, the many different hues of green and the softness of wet grass beneath my feet. I had plugged into nature and was recharging at no cost to the National Grid and was becoming brighter by the minute. So why was everyone else feeling down as they rushed home to switch the heating on and I was glowing outdoors? #walkintherain had made a positive charge to my awareness, over the noise of large rain drops heavily falling through the trees the multitude of bird song was being amplified celebrating the ending of the downpour. 

All of natures trophies were still on view, elderflower, bluebell and brightly coloured rhododendrons were highlighted against the green backdrop. An unknown path led me along a journey into a familiar place of contentment and serenity.  Even the noise of the major road only metres away from the park I was walking through did not discharge me from the anti-dote of the green drip that I was hooked up to in this natural hospital.


Green Medicine
So next time it rains, don’t stay putting bets on the raindrops of the kitchen window. Don’t retreat inside your hood masking all your senses apart from your inner thoughts. Don’t switch on the virtual outside world when you’re inside.  Open up the page of the Adventure Literacy manual that says ‘Rainy Days’, put on a coat and head outside and soak up the nature around you. Go and smell the rain, see the shimmering varnish of natures colour palette, taste the cleanliness of the air and remember the feeling of fulfilment of that #walkintherain.

Spread the # be part of natures revolution and encourage others to race outside when it rains next time. What do they say ‘ no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ ! What’s the worst that can happen – nature made skin waterproof – coincidence or clever planning?

One thing I did discover on my way round the park today was a natural rescue remedy for the teenage boyfriend. Mother natures way of providing appropriate sized rain protection devices.


Your contribution to The Natural Revolution

Walking along the beach for the first time for far too long a period between salt intakes had a different feel. Usually there are children in tow and even adults to consider, but this time I was surrounded by excited children, but they were not my responsibility. 

White sands or Porth Mawr in Pembrokeshire has always had a special place in my heart and the perfect place to re-invigorate and inject salt back into the system. However as I strolled across the sand and between the rocks and seaweed my Outdoor eyes and child-like character imerged and thoughts came to “Wow look at that rock pool!”.  


Reverting back to childhood I became excited about the contents of what might lurk beneath the surface and hidden under the blanket of weed. Looking around the beach there were dads doing the same, digging frantically to create a water system that would flow as the tide came in and fill the moat. Basic physics and understanding of natural environment. Balancing and moving smoothly over the barnacle mats stretched out on the rocks, beckoning to the little timid slow moving person behind. In control of the kite zooming back and fro up and down spinning and turning whilst explaining the fundamentals of wind direction and aerodynamics. Mum telling the story of how the jelly like blob turns into a dancing waving sea anemone when covered in water. 

As I watched these enthused adults introduce this new world to their children, it dawned on me how important the need for “The Nature Revolution” is to make our future generations appreciate the environment around them. Not only to find out that it has huge potential as a free wild playground but that the hidden benefits of emerseing themselves in this product would benefit their health, education and well-being. 

As I walked through the rock gardens I heard a small boy ask his dad “which one is it that pops?” A small but fundamental fact about bladder-wrack (Fucus vesiculous – the original source of Iodine) that he would not have known if he’d not experienced the audible sounds of the seashore. As I scrambled over the exposed rocks I met a sister and brother about to enter into  a small cave. Shafts of sunlight danced across the ceiling like natural glitter, inspiring feelings of pirates and dragons. After a few metres they emerged back into the sunlight smiling and accomplished after their adventure.


It made me realise that “Yes”, we do need to show our next generation where they can taste, smell and hear the exciting new world which is not “screen-time”, and that innate gene which drives our Adventure Literacy is not yet bred out, it’s just dormant. As adults we need to facilitate and open the door to explore nature and then step back once the fuse has been lit and watch the explosion into “green-time” begin to work its magic.

It’s Autumn I’m Leafing!


I have passed this place every morning on the school run for the last week and every time another idea came into my head. Luckily it was on the return trip and only once did I drive past the stop with my passenger shouting “Dad!” very loudly to bring me back to present time!

It finally got the better of me and I loaded the I-pad into the car and pulled in when the bus had gone……….. it inspired the following.

Leaf it Out! 

1.  Find a spot and mark it so that your partner or group member can find it easily. You could scrape a spot moving the leaves away or mark it with a stick – or both! Make sure the ‘finder(s)’ is not looking!

Starting Point
2.  Take two or three photo’s of the leaf-carpet in front of you. Variations of differentiation could be, getting the photographer to use 360 degrees from the spot they are standing at and to give the finder an angle to use to find the spot – ‘It’s between 90 – 180 degrees’. For early years or KS1 or special needs you could arrange the leaves into easily recognisable patterns or shapes for them to find.

IMG_0169IMG_0172_2Rearranged patterns


3.  This could be done using the canopy as a spot to find without marking it first. ‘find the spot where this photo was taken from?’ or the trunk of a tree.

The photo’s could be developed into a photo – trail, connecting all the pictures together.

Moss and lichen bring in geography and biology, prevailing wind directions and clean air, compass directions.

Canopy IMG_0174_2IMG_0175_2 Moss and Lichen

Take a selfie of yourself to add a bit of humour to the session, see if they can find the same spot? It might take a while and lots of selfies to find. I must admit even if it was correct the first time I would say ‘No’ just keep the activity going.  Making sure that the ground is not too wet if the appropriate clothing is not being worn! (it was at this point that a car stopped and asked if I was Ok! – I explained that I was an outdoor teacher- and before I could add the explanation they drove off ! for some reason that seemed to satisfy him? )


4.  Use an I-Pad and with the picture you have taken place the I-Pad down on the ground and use it to find the spot it was taken from – how do we get to reduce the size of the photograph to the same as the actual leaf litter?

When back in the classroom the photographs can be used to inspire creative writing or artwork. Try using the app ‘Phoster” and make a poster for the class. Another using voice recording and other medias is ‘Explain Everything” a great way of understanding when you have to explain to somebody else. You can play it back. It gives it real context.  If choosing a sycamore leaf carpet then seed dispersal is instantly recognisable with its ‘helicopters’ as a method.

IMG_1782 IMG_2648 Phoster app.

IMG_2649  CollageGuru app.

CollageGuru app. means you can make multiple pictures of different shapes of the leaf pictures you have taken.

5.  Using the leaves around explore the shapes, colours and structures. Using a pre-prepared cardboard handmade protractor measure the angles of the stems of the leaves, root structures, branches of the veins in the leaves – compare with any manmade items around. Record and discuss in groups. It’s amazing what will come out when comparing each leaf – length, width, angles. What criteria do we use? Use the evidence back for the content of Maths lessons – maths for a purpose.


6.  Leafman Game       Sit two people back to back. One person gets to use leaves and ground materials to create a ‘leaf man‘. Then using oracy skills describe their picture to their partner to see if they can create a copy of the ‘leaf man’ in front of them. Once they have finished, compare. Discuss or record how the communication could have improved, any problems, any ‘top tips’.  Take photos to compare and use the recording of the communication along with the photo as evidence.

With imagination, creativity and any child enthused by being in the outdoors will take this session further then you can think of.

Just don’t be frightened of doing it – go and kick some leaves around. You never know it might be you that’ s  enjoying it more than the ‘Little people’!


The Outdoors is the Natural Place To Learn.