Monday, 27 September 2010

Nature connections with children

I'm two weeks late. I guess I have an excuse for it of sorts.
So, exactly two weeks ago marked the first out of a two day "course", or should I say experience, of Connecting with Nature. This course was set up by Glasgow's Bodhi Eco Project and run by Art of Mentoring for anyone who considers themselves and educator and it's all about how we can help children connect with nature in new and more engaging ways.

It was right down my lane, and I didn't care that it was scheduled to be 8 and 9 days after my due date, especially with a 42 week + pregnancy under my belt already. So I signed up. (And yes, the first day out in the woods was enough of activity in upright position, some jumping and other unusual physical activity inclusive to send me into labour the very night, so I never made it to day 2)

I don't want to go through all the amazing activities that we tried out ourselves because that would be boring - you really have to do it to experience it, that's the whole point of the course. What I can describe is more general - and with the contact details provided, if you want to experience a similar course near you, you can just get in touch with the facilitators and I promise you'll go home full of ideas, enthusiasm and maybe even give birth the following day.

First of all I liked the idea of the target audience, educators, with it being a very wide term. So who was there? Eco schools coordinators, forest kindergarten staff, home schoolers, parents and forest school teachers. I'm sure there were others (I didn't manage to find out about everyone with a full schedule and me only being there for one day), so it was a pretty diverse group of people.

Secondly, the approach was through doing it. Trying out the activities, becoming a child yourself for the day, or at least imagining yourself as a child version of yourself if that makes sense. On the topic of sense, that was part of the approach too, experiencing nature with all senses, not just our usual overbearing visual sense. So there were blindfolded exercises, movement, listening, feeling, touching, imagining, smelling. It was about rediscovering the variety of experience and senses that we all have but that have been neglected to a great extent.

My particular high point was meeting a tree (in true tree hugging style!), blindfolded, and trying to get a sense of this tree. I then set out to find it again, this time with vision, and it was incredibly easy. What was also incredibly easy was to find out what tree I had met, because for once I'd remembered all its features. My initial guess that it was a birch was wrong, it was in fact an alder and I'm pretty sure that I will forever be able to identify an alder after that very short meeting. Any information I will now gather about this tree will be easier to remember, because my experience of the tree was not just visual.

Other forms of experiencing of nature that day were through song, through lighting a fire, through trust exercises, games that heighten listening skills. There was so much in it, I felt that I needed time to take everything in, which of course didn't happen thanks to labour setting in that night. Thankfully I've since received a handout which reminded me of all the different activities - not sure what I would have done without it!

I can really see how the activities will work with a diverse group of children, different ages, but also how they can help children develop a sense of focus that they may struggle with in indoor environments. It will give all children equal opportunity to participate, rather than favour those better able to cope with a classroom setting. They're all fun, but develop a lot of skills at the same time, to name but a few these are listening, communication, team work, respect for other people and the natural world alike, woodcraft and probably lots more.

The course draws on a range of different sources, and uses a range of tools which include storytelling, creative arts, and lots of practical nature skills.

Needless to say, it's all outdoors, as it should be.



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