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.
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.