I love my World is for anyone with an interest in bushcraft, camping and the great outdoors who wants ideas on how to connect with nature at a deep and practical level.
It’s for forest school leaders, outdoor educators and play rangers who have done some training but want more activity ideas. It’s for parents and carers who want things to do with their children when out in the garden or in the woods, but are not sure where to start. It’s also for teachers who want to take their class outdoors, into the school grounds and beyond, but are not sure what activities to do and how to link the activities to the National Curriculum.
Most importantly, this course is for Nature, in the hope that through doing some of the activities we humans will feel a bit more love and respect for the world around us.
I wrote this course originally as a self published book in 2009. I am very pleased to have transferred it online where I can see the pictures in colour as I had always intended, but could not afford when I first published it. I hope you find this format very useful as you can now have it in your mobile phone!
One day, beside a rushing stream in the Welsh mountains, I was talking to an elder I had met on the trail about stories. I told him I was interested in finding stories, from all over the world, which would help humans living at this brief moment in the earth’s story to remember we are all part of the same community, the same web of life that includes the rock, the plant and the animal kingdoms. We had only a few minutes together before our paths went in different directions. As a droplet of sparkling water splashed onto a mossy pillow beside the trail, he told me this very simple story:
There was a time when the creator sent a great race of rainbow people to live on this earth. They were a tribe of human creator spirits, people of many different skin colours – some were shades of green, some of brown… After a time these people became hungry and cold because then the land was barren. Nothing grew, called out or flew. There was no shelter, no food. The tribe gathered in a big heap to keep warm. Then one of them said, ‘I know! Lets all change into different forms, so we can nurture and feed each other’.
So it was that the people became the different plants and animals. Plants that climbed, sprawled and rooted, animals that crept, jumped and flew. Some of the people lay down and became the hills and mountains. Some of the people who remained as humans shed tears of grief over the changes in their relatives, and where their tears fell, lakes and rivers formed. The tribe truly did nurture, shelter and feed each other. Since that day the walking people live each moment knowing that the plants, animals and rocks are all related and when the rainbows come they are reminded of all the races without whom they could not live and they remember what a wonderful place it is we live on; this planet we call Earth.
As He and I went our separate ways I couldn’t help but feel my own sadness that we industrialized humans with TVs, central heating, shoes, tractors and cars have forgotten that the plants and animals are our relatives. They all share the same make up of nutrients from the soil, water and sunlight. Everything that lives on this earth is a result of the interaction of the sun’s energy with the elements of the earth. We are all interconnected systems of energy flow. We are life on earth and it’s about time we all felt some kinship with the planet again.
This book is about many things. First, it is about inspiring us all to go and play outside in natural surroundings - in some woods perhaps. If not in the woods then near some woods, in a park or maybe in a tiny copse at the end of your street and if not there then in the tiniest of back gardens! What if you don’t have a garden to play in? There are moors, coasts, rivers and hedgerows throughout this green and pleasant land waiting to be enriched with the sound of people at play.
Second, these pages are brimming with pictures from all kinds of habitats to remind us of the wonders of natural design and to help you see how the activities and crafts work.
Tansy Flowers - Fibonacci up close and personal
I aim to take you, your friends and students on a journey to feel the wholeness of community, in a planetary sense. I share a few little day trips and excursions along the way; first into yourself, to understand that we are all one on this planet. The basic survival skills that follow are there to help you feel at home and self-reliant. From then on the path widens and we visit the craftsman, the scribe, the artist and the map maker, the hunter and the caretaker, the healer and the bard before tying the threads of the journey together and revisiting the community we came from fresh, ‘re-wilded’ and full of the joy of Nature.
I hope you will find this book a comfortable blend of philosophy, information and instruction, which will give a background understanding and context to the activities thus bringing a depth to the experience of these for both the leader and the participants. The activities, games and crafts are a mixture of bushcraft, environmental art, nature awareness and story-making that help us directly experience the world we live in. They are suggestions inspiration for you to find ways that suit your style of playing, mentoring or teaching. The whole book is a course in its own right: you can follow it step by step. You can also simply pick out an activity suited for the moment.
Throughout this book I do my best to philosophically and practically prepare you to deliver the activities so it is now up to you to try the activities out, put them to the test and refine them as you see fit. At all times you remain responsible for the way in which you deliver the activities, voice your opinions and manage your groups.
A family outing to Shapwick Nature Reserve, Somerset.
About the activities
The activities are laid out in a ‘ready, get set, go’ format, with an occasional follow on section ‘useful things to know’. When writing the book I felt it best to start at the basics and so you may feel a bit ‘spoon fed’ at times. The ‘Ready’ section is to introduce the activity, to explain some of the reasons why to do it and prepare you mentally to lead the activity. ‘Get set’ helps you get physically prepared. ‘Go’ details how I lead the session. You can then lead it in your own way. The section ‘Useful things to know’ (for the activity leader), offers relevant tips, facts and sometimes extension and activity ideas, to complement and run-on from the session.
I love my World is about listening. Listening to the world around us, to the subtle language of sound, to the language of the birds, the song of the grain in the piece of wood you are carving, to the telltale silencing of the crickets as someone creeps through the grass. It’s about listening to our hearts, and to the call of the wild.
This book is also about telling stories. The activities remind people we are part of nature. I share them with you for the greater good of all. The land bristles with its own stories for the careful listener to hear and understand. There are many stories yet to be told, perhaps some of them inspired by activities in this book? Such stories breathe life into the spirit of the land. May we embrace the playful, joyous movement of spring, and the expectant, poised stillness in winter and feel a part of the on-going story-cycle of the land.
A day out around Dartmoor, firemaking with the Womens adventure group
I hope that this book goes some way to helping you feel kinship with all our relations and experiencing the awesomeness and beauty of the natural world of which we are a part, in a playful, practical and timeless way. I hope that you may come to see this book as a tool which when used in conjunction with other teaching ideas, becomes part of your Education for Sustainability toolkit (if you have one or even want one, that is!).
Teaching with the flow
Everything in nature flows in cycles and spirals. Everything has its own time, place and direction, including a learning journey. Great teachings come from years of experience, often the accumulated experience of all the teachers going way back to our Ancestors. Equally, many great moments of understanding and wonder are crafted by inspired teachers who in the moment combine content with context. Teaching effectively outdoors requires a mixture of forward planning, being prepared, going with the flow, and being spontaneous.
One of the guidelines by which I try to live is “work with Nature, not against.” When it comes to teaching I try to read the nature of the group I am working with so I can teach effectively. I have noticed that each group has its own feeling or ‘field’ and within it is a mixture of needs from the individual students. ‘Reading’ the group and fine planning has sometimes to be done on the hoof, occasionally the best-laid plans have to change. There are many challenges and huge rewards from working with children and Nature, even on a wet summer camp when it seems like it is never going to stop raining!
Learn to play, play to learn
Over the years my teaching has been influenced by several teaching tools, technologies, principles and people that I would like to share with you now, before you set off on the journey of reading he rest of this book. I like to think of it as ‘tipping out the tool bag’ to share with you some of my favourite implements, gizmos and gadgets – the key ideas and attitudes that help me facilitate a “learn to play, play to learn” experience.
Just playing in the grass!
The tool bag itself is made of a very special fabric woven from strong yarns of intention to create self-esteem, self-empowerment and flecked with respect and love for all life forms.
Let’s look at the tools within the bag. You may already be familiar with the concept of ‘flow learning’ put forward by Joseph Cornell in his renowned book Sharing the Joy of Nature With Children. The basic idea is that any learning experience works best if the students have their enthusiasm awakened, before their attention is focussed. They then have some kind of direct experience with Nature, which is followed by the opportunity to share that experience with others.
Three of my favourite tools all come from the Wilderness Awareness School in America.
The first is the Flow Learning Cycle (a development of ‘flow learning’), which begins with the assumption that ‘kids don’t start the day ready for focussed learning’. The Flow Learning Cycle moves through eight ‘directions’, marked out in the form of a compass. The first direction (and also the last) is the North East, symbolising the opening and closing of the teaching. Next is East - inspiration, Southeast - activation, South - focussing, South west - having a break, West - gathering, Northwest - sharing, North -reflection and integration, before returning to the close in the Northeast once more. This teaching cycle is an educational technology, as are the concepts of Mentoring and Coyote Teaching, which are the second and third tools respectively. In the introduction to his new ‘multi-tool of a book’, Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature - the founder of the W.A.S. Jon Young, describes this way of education as:
“At its very best, Coyote Teaching helps the individuals realise their full potential to the benefit of their community. It consists of a powerful set of tools for coaxing out of individuals what nature has provided and stored away. The mentoring draws people to the edge of their knowledge and experience and guides them into new territory.”
Observing that people have different learning styles has been very useful and exciting as I came upon different models of the various ways people learn. Fleming (Fleming, N.D. and Mills, C. (1992), Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection, To Improve the Academy, Vol. 11, 1992.) said some people learn either visually, through listening or through being more hands on. There are also, according to Kolb (Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (1984), Convergers, Divergers, Assimilators and Accommodators. However, finding out that there are about 71 different models of learning styles was more than confusing, and eventually somewhat disappointing as studies showed that there was little evidence to back up the ideas that people fit into neat little boxes labelled with different learning styles! So, what have I learnt from this? One size does not fit all! If at first I don’t succeed, I try another way to get the point across, and remember that people learn in their own way, in their own time.
In my tool bag I also have some metaphorical WD40 and universal glue. Both are things people have said to me.
The first quote, the WD40, comes from a time when I was feeling disheartened as an environmental educator and wondering whether anything I was teaching was going in. The person next to me said,
“Being a teacher is like being a rose. You drop petals on the ground, and occasionally someone will pick one up and treasure it.”
The glue that fixes anything came from a time when I was finishing my degree in Environmental Science, feeling woefully inadequate to the task of being able to do anything positive for the prophesised impending environmental crisis. I went to see a wise elder, Fritjof Capra, giving a lecture at Schumacher College, Devon. After the lecture I was filled with a longing to at least do something, but what? I knew not! So I went and asked him. He said simply,
“Be an example.”
And that was that. This book is an example of what I do outdoors; “learning to play, playing to learn.” For the greater good of all, I hope...and what I do often goes down well with the review panel:
Survival shelter building and squirrel den building can be alot of fun
Why play outdoors?
Mother Nature is the greatest teacher and carer for our offspring and play is the way children learn best. One of our jobs as parents, family members, teachers, forest school leaders and play-workers is to facilitate interaction between our children and Nature so our children feel at home on the Earth. It is essential for our children to have quality time amongst Nature for their mental, physical and spiritual development. Children have a deep green affinity to nature: they are internally wired up to learn and play with their environment.
As a race we humans have spent the vast majority of our time on this planet relating directly, on an everyday living level, with the patterns of natural systems. Our own internal systems and structures are naturally influenced by the glorious and beautiful chaos of Nature. Straight lines, flat surfaces and uniform blocks of colour are human created phenomena and make play spaces that do not encompass the learning requirements of the human whole body, mind and spirit. We need to let our children play out and not only the young children… there are a lot of teenagers, adults and grandparents that need playtime too!
Who says Grandma’s footsteps is only played by youngsters? – It’s serious sneaking practice!
There are many books on the market about the intellectual side to the argument that children need be allowed out to play, for their sake, our sake and the planets’. Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, has spurred a National Dialogue in the United States among educators, health professionals, parents, developers and conservationists. This influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders and depression.
Wonder...what is that?
In Coyote’s Guide, Jon Young calls and inspires us (as parents, uncles and aunties, mentors and teachers) to take action and facilitate interaction with the natural world. To help us all become more ‘ecoliterate’. How? By getting out there, playing games, doing activities and perhaps most importantly, sitting still and watching, listening, being, smelling, waiting - re-connecting with nature.
So where can we let our kids go out to play? There are a lot of people on this planet. In 2009 for the first time in human history more people will live in urban, rather than rural settings. In England every scrap of land is now owned and fenced: for the last 500 years the powerful, the wealthy and the literate have steadily enclosed our ancestral wild places until all we have to romp around on are a few National Parks, footpaths and commons, most of which are subject to various conditions of use and are under great demand from walkers, mountain-bikers, landscape painters and so on. It seems that we, like real life wilderness bushcrafters have to ‘do the best we can with what we’ve got!’ It is also worth knowing that in my experience many land-owners, if given the respect of simply asking nicely and explaining why and taking all your rubbish with you when you leave, will kindly grant access to land hitherto deemed ‘private’ and ‘out of bounds’.
Our local wild or wild-ish spaces, like scrubby patches along a footpath, ‘waste ground’, derelict buildings and even the less kempt parts of a playground are just as important as our National Parks; they offer a chance for children to get closer to Nature. Our children and wild places should be protected from the growing culture of fear. They should be saved from being wrapped up in cotton wool, health and safety, fence to fence tarmac and rubber surfacing and delivered from money hungry land agents; not sold out to ‘development’ because our children and Nature need to be able to grow up properly.
Simply taking young people into nature, whether it is a tiny city park or a National Park, will open their doors of perception. Most young children need little help or encouragement to get involved in play of some kind. For children not used to playing in the great outdoors it’s not always easy to engage, but it doesn’t usually take long to get the most city hardened boys setting up throwing-stick ranges, ‘hedge surfing’ and even digging their own pitfall traps to catch rabbits!
Nature does the teaching and we adults are the classroom assistants! Often all you need to do as the adult is be there for your children so that they feel safe to play freely; to take a few risks and explore a bit more in the knowledge that you are just a call for help away. During free and imaginative play children create their own chances to do so many things; from manipulating small objects to increasing their agility, from estimating sizes to creating special places, from working through stress to simply nodding off in a hammock.
When playing out sometimes the more primitive and mythological archetypes can be seen in a child’s play. ‘There may be dragons and wizards in these parts you know, why, that might even be a...’ When we enhance the magic in play, there are wonderful opportunities for sprinkling a little fairy dust (metaphorical and real), doing a little purposeful pixie magic and looking for trolls. Playing in natural places instils a sense of wonder, stimulates inventiveness, ingenuity, problem solving and resourcefulness; playing out can increase physical agility, stamina and a general hardiness. Nimble fingers lead to nimble minds. The inherent creativity and diversity of Nature infuses children’s bodies, minds and spirits with a spell from the sensuous world.
On a final note, a recent study - ‘Play, Naturally’ (by Stuart Lester and Martin Maudsley of Playwork Partnerships), comparing playing out in Nature with playing out in man made environments has shown that playing out in Nature during the early years develops caring attitudes and behaviour towards people and planet later on in life. Can we afford not to facilitate outdoor play in natural places for our children and all our relations?
I love my world
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