Outdoor Learning – A Win Win Situation

Most of us know that spending hours and hours in front of screens, bombarded by emails and message notifications causes us stress.  Humans are not surprisingly more stressed that we have ever been.  It’s subtle and eats away at our well-being.  Our world with all it’s current technological achievements has at the same time adopted dopamine-filled technology to hook us in to screen life.

IMG_4084It’s necessary to know and articulate what we are trying to achieve as educators.  In business the mission statement drives the business and it’s value’s forward.  Many of us educators have a good sense of what represents and motivates us to educate, and what is ‘good education’ but this is not always represented in the requirements at school/government level.

So we do the best we can.

Neuroscience is moving so fast, that what we now understand so much more about the brain, the hormones and how we learn.  Current research corroborates the importance of both play and the outdoors as vital for a child’s development and well-being.  A by product of this is that they also learn much better when they ‘play’ and indeed are outdoors using their bodies and in the midst of the greater living world.

This is true for adults as much as young people.  There are hundreds of top business leaders who are immersing themselves in nature for restoration of their stressful lives.   The outdoors represents to me ‘free medicine’, as well as every living thing that provides life for humans – which is clearly no small thing.

trackingim1My expertise is in working with people outdoors – and for 30 years more specifically working with young people of all ages and backgrounds outdoors.  I have an interest in what motivates people to care about the natural world, to have a greater sense of nature connectedness and to live healthy and satisfying lives.  Bringing nature into our everyday life is a really good idea! We know that our cortisol levels (the stress hormone) reduces once we stay more than 15 minutes in a green space.   This also means that we step out of our predisposition to fight, freeze and flight and into higher order thinking, where we can start to be creative, think out of the box, communicate more easily with others, get in touch with how we really feel, all the while building our knowledge and understanding  through experience with nature.

Within the field of education  there are many theoretical positions that underpin our approaches to education in the UK.   We continue to draw on centuries of theories of learning that include the  authorities like Piaget, Vygotsky, Montessori, Steiner, Guy Claxton, Howard Gardner, to name a few. Essentially these experts value exploration and repetition as a way to learn, see the medium of the outdoors as valuable because it is so diverse and provides multiple sensory experience, and theorists acknowledge the importance of the role of the ‘teacher’ or ‘practitioner’ and how effective they are at communicating.  As brain science develops we understand that we loose what we don’t use, so it’s vital we are exposed to multisensory experiences so that healthy wiring can happen from day 1. Brains are wired,  strengthened and ‘grown’ by multiple experiences that include movement as a basic requirement as well as the critical role of care-giving to provide secure attachment for well-being.

20150407_141132Fortunately we have a win-win situation with ‘outdoor learning’.  The content of what we teach in schools can be delivered outdoors – so we teach all the subjects in nature.  This content is still decided by the teacher and the curriculum but it is taught in the outdoors.

A very large project, Natural Connections (2012 – 2016) was concluded this year.  After 4 years of working with 125 schools (primary, secondary, and special) in the South West of England – 40,000 pupils, 2,500 teachers and 2,500 teaching assistants they discovered that indeed outdoor learning has multiple benefits across any school. The Final Report of this project can be found here.

The evidence shows that giving children the opportunity to discover, learn about and experience the natural world is hugely important – it can help create a sense of belonging rooted in their local environment, enhancing their health, well-being and educational outcomes.  For example, greater amounts of natural space in or around living or learning environments is associated with higher levels of physical activity, better emotional, behavioural and cognitive outcomes and with children developing a greater sense of connectedness to nature.”

We need to also consider that in the UK (and worldwide) we have a huge rise in childhood obesity, mental health issues and a lack of a sense of community.  We are in need of a  vision for of a future where  where we don’t harm nature.  According to the Monitor of Engagement with Natural Environment Survey, in an average month in 2013 – 14 only 8% of all children in England (aged 5 – 16) visited natural environments with their schools.  During home time, exploring and playing outdoors has decreased by 90% over the past 20 years.  Fundamentally children (and adults) can’t protect what they don’t know and love.

DSC01155 - CopyInitiatives like Outside Classroom Day on 18th May helps us to remember to get outdoors. If you are a teacher why not join our Outdoor Learning Day?  These days help us recognise the value of getting outdoors. There are lots of official promotional materials to make it easy to get outside.  Tim Gill, an expert on the benefits of risk and play for children has produced a useful guide which you can find here.

Another useful guide is Michael Follett’s practical guide to help support playtime learning outdoors:

Learning with Nature

Learning with Nature

Finally, our very own book ‘Learning with Nature‘ is filled with nature-based ideas that connect young people of all ages, and their families to nature – it is the ‘Bible for Forest School practitioners’.

Our team at Circle of Life Rediscovery provide diverse nature experiences  for young people, schools and the wider world.  We offer trainings to develop these areas within your setting and offer year-round CPD’s for teachers linking the outdoors with the curriculum.

Have fun outdoors,

Marina.

Marina Robb, Director and Founder of Circle of Life Rediscovery

www.circleofliferediscovery.com | 01273 814226 | info@circleofliferediscovery.com

The Woodland Project wins grant from The Peoples Projects!

Hope for the future – The Woodland Project wins grant from The Peoples Projects!

The Woodland Project in East Sussex offers days out in the woodlands for children and young people with physical and learning disabilities, their families and siblings.

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The project was one of five projects in the Meridian East region shortlisted by The Peoples Projects to be in the running to win a grant of up to £50,000 and it was announced on Thursday 6th April that The Woodland Project had been successful in winning the funds!

Marina Robb, Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery said “We are overjoyed to have been successful in winning this future-changing grant of £49,934, and we would like to thank everyone who voted for us and believed in the value of the work we are doing here, to help support these young people and families.

woodlandp (2)Our aim at Circle of Life Rediscovery is to help families to get outside; to get them involved and learning new skills in the woodlands. And with this incredible opportunity The Peoples Projects has given us, we want to invite others to become involved and continue to support The Woodland Project. The project is funded solely through donations and external funding so even with this amazing grant we have received, the need for support doesn’t stop. You could show your support by volunteering, fundraising or giving a donation – any support is welcomed and would help us to create a sustainable future for The Woodland Project.”

The Peoples Projects is a partnership between the National Lottery, Big Lottery Fund and ITV. To read more about Circle of Life Rediscovery, The Woodland Project, or to find out how you can support go their website or email info@circleofliferediscovery.com.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and voted!

Jon Cree – Mill Woods, A Place for Play and Deep Learning

Late winter 2017 around the time of imbolc, as we emerged into the lengthening days, I was privileged to facilitate two training days on Story and Play Structures in East Sussex under the loving care of Mill Woods and their weekly citizens – “Circle of Life Rediscovery”.

blogMy initial reticence of working with fairly large groups soon evaporated into the soil, with the rain, when I got to the site (I know that sounds a contradiction but illustrates well the circles in time we all experience through the seasons). I was greeted by the smiles and warmth of Marina, Mark, the fire and luxurious composting loo…oh and the clay, chestnuts, oaks, spruces, pines, willows, birches, great tits, green woodpeckers to name a few other citizens – of course.

This atmosphere made for opportunities to explore the magic and meaning in story and story-making as well as a purposeful place for trying out our hand-tool skills and engage the body in playful exploits that resulted in ladder climbing, rope swinging, strap line wobbling and the makings of a tree-house!

Storying

story3I never tire of witnessing people digging into their imaginative domains and creating from this many wordplay narratives around natural world discoveries that then move on to story.   Armed with the elements of tension, hero journeys, tragedies, helpers and victories story is realised.  The power of the imagination is truly infinite and seeing educators realise their potential to story a place and their own lives always enriches.  By giving permission to play with words, lie and offer some simple frameworks, our own storyteller can be realised…..but the thing, for me, that really provides stimulation is a safe place for experimentation and ‘play’, free of judgment, IS the natural world, and if a fire is present then all the better.  On that damp day in January our spirits were lifted by giants conjuring up rabbits and elfish boats and deep stirrings in the labyrinthine earth bound passages for the dark side to preside in….for moments we were spellbound then lifted by lighthearted fantastical creations!

Play Structures

20170227_100307A month later I approached the Play Structures day with an “irish being”, full of the Irish passion and  blarney…giving me confidence to try the truckers hitch song to start the session – check it out on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUHgGK-tImY.

Once again that playful permission gave me confidence to try something new and although the song didn’t quite work out how I wanted….it seemed to provide permission for folks to play.   With saws, axes, knives and ropes we made A frame ladders that turned into climbing frames…..all in a safe but experimental way (don’t worry all the tool procedures were in place and no limbs were lost!).

blog2We made rope swings and bounced on rope courses thanks to the tensioning truckers knot, and learned the rudimentaries of tree house construction minimising any harm to the tree through the use of tree clamps.  Finishing the day by testing one of our many senses – that sense of balance that is always enhanced by the willingness to play.

If training isn’t about ‘playing’, mentally and physically, with ideas and constructs then I don’t know what it is about!

 

 

By Jon Cree, Acting Treasurer, National and International Representation, The Forest School Association http://www.forestschoolassociation.org/ 

Find out about future CPD courses and similar training with Circle of Life Rediscovery by visiting their website.

www.circleofliferediscovery.com | info@circleofliferediscovery | 01273 814226

The language of the birds

A way to live life more fully. 

16031613356_90c9128db9_mDo you feel fully alive and awake to all the joy and beauty that surrounds you every day?

Do you wake up and say “wow” what a gift to have another day here upon this beautiful earth? Do you feel the full life of all the beings around you?

Do you understand your place in that?

Do you see that life in the children?

How would it feel to live this way every day…?

What if there was a way to help expand our senses to levels of awareness in the world that allow for deep understanding, empathy, creativity and full connection.

Well… there is 

It’s happening all around us all the time and is a part of the symbiotic relationship humans have had since the beginning of time with the natural world that we are a part of.

greenfinch-818185_960_720The Birds offer us a great gift to be able to lift us out of our minds and thoughts and place us deeply into the senses, the place of real understanding and connectivity.

Through the birds we can tap into the flow of the landscape and the beings that are moving across it. Our place. We can start to access a four dimensional picture, using all the senses, of the place that we inhabit and the flow of life that is there. Being fully alive and in the moment of now.

Why is this important? 

If the life of a human being is to experience as fully as possible the gift and joy of being truly alive in ourselves and learn the great wisdom of other forms of life then surely we need to switch on and pay attention.

Imagine a world where the next generation of children are fully awake and delighting in and learning from the experience of life itself. That they are connected deeply to themselves, others and the natural world.

Is that a world worth building? 

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They would be caretakers of this earth, holding it gently for their own children to come.

Come to our CPD day, ‘The Language of the Birds‘, on 4th May and learn about and experience one of the most powerful core routines to help create deep nature connection in yourself and be able to pass this ancestral gift to our children.

 

 

What will we do? 

During this one day CPD we will look at

  • Switching on the senses to as deep a level as possible and explore processes to keep them on.
  • We will, through theory backed up with direct experience, start to pick out the voices of the birds and what they can tell us.
  • We will start to feel the flow of how the land is when all is peaceful and how different it is when a predator is moving across that landscape.
  • We will identify the birds that offer the most learning possibilities and why.
  • We will understand how birds move, why and what this means.
  • We will explore the interconnectedness of all life and how that can enrich our everyday lives.
  • We will understand how bird language can keep us safe.
  • We will also throughout the day show ways to pass this on to people you work with, be that children or adults.
  • This day will be a full mix of didactic information which is then fully experienced in its real form through practical exercises.

Come and join us for this magical day and switch on to the beauty of life. Please see our website for details, or to book online, click here.

This CPD day will be run by Alex Travers.

www.circleofliferediscovery.com

Tel: 01273 814226

 

The Woodland Project needs your help!

Please VOTE for The Woodland Project.

Dear Friends,

We have been waiting for a few months, keeping quiet about something really important to me, our organisation and the families and young people we work with.

voteWe have the incredible opportunity over the next two weeks to secure funding for a year with your help!  We have been shortlisted as one of 5 finalists for the ITV People’s Project  –  this is up to you, the public, to VOTE.   There are so many worthy projects but I want to tell you why we think want you to make a little effort and VOTE FOR THE WOODLAND PROJECT.

About 3 years ago, Tracey Johnson from the Family Intensive Support Service Disability Team visited us in the woods working with families and young people who have mental health issues.  She took a risk and thought that perhaps the families that accessed her service could come out too – with the right support.  And she was right!

Marina

I have spent the last few years being part of a project that blows me away every time.  I can laugh like crazy, feel very moved, appreciate the calm haven that nature offers us all during one family day!  As a parent myself, I am continually heartened by the relationships, love and resilience I witness between the parents and siblings towards their brother or sister – despite the often continual stress and difficulty that this special relationship fosters.  In every day life, the parents are taken to their utmost edge – and mostly find a way back to be the best they can be for their family.   They are ordinary people living with extraordinary situations – where they rarely sleep, are met with fear and judgement in everyday lives, some children are violent and verbally difficult, others make distressing noises.   They cling on their parents for security when they are awake, and the truth is that there children are unlikely to ever be independent or reach many milestones.  I know I would struggle.

woodlandp (2)Yet what they tell us is that this project is fantastic – they can come together as a family and everyone gets something good out of it.  They can lie in a hammock together, they can meet another parent or sibling who gets it – they can have hope that people do manage as their child becomes a teenager.  They can rest a while in nature.  We all create a space that is welcoming and accepting.  And we push the boundaries and try all sorts of things that would be unthinkable inside – sawing, getting messy, making fire, exploring the space in a non-breakable place. Parents talk about the many firsts – that their child has never created an item at school!

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We all have many lives and different experiences.  I want to us all to be a more compassionate society, count our blessings and enjoy the company of people from all walks of life!  This project needs YOUR VOTE to help it continue.  Please take a moment to share the link with your friends and family and watch the VIDEO – and share it!

Voting is now open and closes at noon on Monday 3 April. You can vote once per region and will need an email address to vote online. To support The Woodland Project, please visit the website here and then follow the instructions. You will receive an email to confirm your email address and your vote. If you do not confirm this, your vote will not count! Please check your junk email if you don’t receive it straight away.

Here’s why you need to vote for The Woodland Project!

Thank you all for the support #TheWoodlandProject

Offering support to children with learning disabilities, their families and young people!

Woodland Tales

The Woodland Wanderer Returns…

The woodland wanderer has returned with a brand new blog post.

The last time I wrote for Circle of Life Rediscovery was way back in 2014. Fast forward into 2017 and I am back for more blogging, capturing the involvement and adventures between CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and CLR. Oh, but there’s a twist. When I was last blogging for CLR I was a CAMHS participant on the woodland days, whereas now I’m a Peer Mentor for CAMHS. Meaning, that instead of directly participating, I am now supporting children and young people to take part in the activities involved on the woodland days – because let’s face it, it can sometimes feel a little daunting going out of one’s comfort zone.

wwFebruary last month was the first CAMHS and CLR woodland day of 2017 and the weather was on our side! It was a little grey and hazy but most importantly dry and mild- although wellie boots were still needed! The day was filled with an array of activities from making dream catchers using branches from Willow trees, to going completely above and beyond and baking gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and mini pizzas in a frying pan! I didn’t think it was possible to even bake in the woods, let alone make chocolate chip cookies that tasted like the real deal, if not better.

 

There’s something really down to earth and relaxing about cooking on a campfire in the woodland.

ww2Sitting by the fire, watching whatever it is that you’re cooking sizzle away. No timers to tell you when your food is ready to be devoured, no weighing scales to precisely measure ingredients to bake with, it all comes down to intuition. Not only that, but it’s the young people themselves whom have built their own fires. I think there’s something really special and inclusive about that. It’s getting together, being amongst others who share a deep understanding of mental health and being in an environment that is so unspoilt and forgiving to whatever you may be feeling that day.

There is that saying ‘Sharing is Caring’ which I really think rings true on our woodland days. My perspective has slightly changed since undertaking the role as a Peer mentor, as I’m able to view things from a different viewpoint, as opposed to when I was a CAMHS participant myself. I’m really seeing the way in which young people participate together and provide each other with a helping hand, if one sees another struggling. Helping each other out to achieve the same goal is all about teamwork – it’s brilliant to see first-hand.

ww3It’s the activities that young people participated in during the day, which really brought out this sense of teamwork and working together collectively. Activities including putting up a hammock, helping to build a bird box as well as supporting each other on a practical level when making a dream catcher, which sometimes felt as though it was a little too fiddly to complete. But all the young people worked together and achieved what it was that they came out to do. Of course that is subjective for everyone. Some participants come and experience the woods for the first time, step out their comfort zone and take in whatever the wooded atmosphere has to offer up them. Whereas other participants just need space to sit and just be present for that moment in time, away from the pressures of the outside world.

ww4As I mentioned before, the woodland radiates a presence of understanding. It’s okay if one is having a bad day, but if so, the woodland will equally lift your spirits too.

Participation and teamwork really is the essence behind a CAMHS and CLR woodland day!

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After all the hard work and energy spent from building bird boxes and dream catchers, it was time to reconvene together by the fire and share the magnificent gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. As a Peer Mentor I led this activity, which can feel a little daunting at first but I felt it ran really effectively and so I was equally ecstatic with the outcome (and taste!) of this activity.

ww8The result was best described as a hybrid between a warm cookie and a scone- delightful! I don’t think this will be the last of the woodland baking adventures that you’ll be seeing here…

For now and until the next woodland adventure occurs, I shall sign off here and leave you with the ever growing truth that Spring is on its beautiful way and is only right around the corner!

Em x

World Book Day!

World Book Day is a great opportunity to revisit your favourite book, share it with friends and find out about new and inspiring books to read.

In this vein, we think you should Drop Everything And Read ‘Learning with Nature’ by Marina Robb, Victoria Mew and Anna Richardson.

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Learning with Nature is a must-have resource for families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children and wishing to engage with nature and the outdoors. The book is full of fun activities and games to get your children outdoors, to explore, have fun, make things and learn about nature.

 

Spring Activity Ideas:

Spring is such a great time of year to get outside – days are lighter for longer, the air is warmer, flowers are appearing, fresh greens shoots are emerging and colours are bright and vibrant. It feels as though the world is coming alive after its long winter sleep.

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One of our favourite activities from the book for spring is to focus on insects and in particular beetles.

 

 

 

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You could start by playing ‘Beetle tag’ – an everybody’s it game of tag, where you must become a beetle and lie on the ground with your limbs in the air if you get tagged. Great for a bit of silliness and a good runaround!

Following on from this, and sticking to the topic of beetles is the activity Painted Beetles. An opportunity to get creative, collect natural resources and learn about these fascinating creatures.

 

Each activity in the book comes with a ‘How to’ section, Resources, Variations, Top tips and Invisible learning so you can adapt, extend and explore to suit your learners and the learning environment.

91d26f8381bdbe878e2647ce1880c22c_largeAs well as seasonal activities the book also contains a wealth of games, naturalist activities and information and activities around survival skills including – Wild Food, Shelters, Fire and Water.

To order your copy today, visit our website.

See reviews here from Chris Packham, John Muir Award, Tim Gill, Learning through Landscapes and more!

“This book offers a chance to the youth of today and the nature of tomorrow. It has a wealth of structured, tried and tested projects, ideas and games all designed to allow children to breathe fresh air and engage personally with a real world where their minds and bodies can develop and bloom, burst into life and inspire them to love life.” Chris Packham.

Happy Reading!

http://www.circleofliferediscovery.com

info@circleofliferediscovery.com

Tel: 01273 814226

Fire Quest – Stories from the Fire

Fire Quest – Stories from the Fire

In September 2016 we embarked on a weekend of Sacred Fire & Fire Quest with both adults and young people coming together to undergo a Rite of Passage. As a culture we have all but lost our traditional ways to mark transitions and to support us to move to another stage of life and relationship to the natural world.

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In 2017 we look forward to welcoming Salvatore Gencarelle from the Helpers Mentoring Society to share teachings and offer immersions through the ‘Living Fire Course’ – a four part training throughout the year commencing May 2017 (exact dates TBC). This offers an opportunity to adults to undergo a Rite, then support young people to do this in Part 3. For more information about this click here.

 

DANIEL FORD, from the University of Hull joined us in September to record his impressions and to begin to share the experience to others beyond the forest.

“We are forest people, and our stories and social networks are forest born”.
(Sara Maitland, Gossip from the Forest, 2012, p. 9)

“I prefer being in the forest than in school and I believe the more important lessons can be found there”.
(Teenage Fire Quest Participant 2016)

Stories from the Fire

It is dawn. Raven calls ring out through the wood, stark over the distant sound of traffic. The calls are not being made by birds but rather by a small group of people who, having tended a community fire throughout the night, are now making the agreed signal of return for those out beyond the encampment. Before long men, women and children emerge from the trees and gather together in a large circle. Some take seats, whilst others move closer to the fire. The man who has held vigil at the fire throughout the night, the acknowledged teacher and leader, sits on the far side of the circle silently welcoming those who are returning. When quiet descends on the gathering he asks for those present to sing the song or tell the story that has made it itself known throughout the night. Individuals are called upon to tell their stories, to share their visions and sing their songs from the solitary quests that began at dusk and that have now ended with first light. Those that have worked with these Fire Quest participants as guides gently encourage the members of their groups to share their experiences of being out in the wood, alone with their own fire.

InipiThe first group speak a little about their unexpected experience of time throughout the night. They talk of how they spent their time in preparation for their quests, how they tackled time passing in the wood through the night, and of how they collectively believed that dawn was breaking only to realise that it was the unexpected brightness of the full moon rising. There are murmurs and nods of affirmation from the others seated in the circle acknowledging shared experiences.

Attention moves to the next group. A teenage boy, standing in the outer circle, speaks out. He makes a statement that he feels sums up his quest, “that you don’t really miss something until it’s gone, but if you look hard enough you can bring it back”. He recounts how he slipped in and out of a pattern of sleep and attentiveness throughout the night accidentally allowing his own fire to die out in the process. Despite almost being overwhelmed by darkness he tells how he was able to re-kindle his fire from just an ember. An adult at the far side of the circle celebrates both his mistakes and his determination by offering a personal insight “that we can give things away, all of us, without tending to ourselves”.

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Returning to the sharing of stories around the circle a teenage girl is called on to speak of her experience. She begins by recounting the personal question that she took into the forest with her. “How can the dark be a friend, how can it be kin, and how can I not be afraid”. She speaks matter-of-factly about how her time spent in selecting and preparing her space for the night helped to settle her anxiety and make the experience literally grounded and friendly.

As the sharing at the fireside continues a boy is invited to share the song that he ‘received’ whilst he was out in the wood throughout the night. His voice is fragile at first and the group, perhaps through solidarity of experience, begin to sing with him. The song is a simple, repeated refrain giving shape to the boy’s experience.

I’ll be climbing in the treetops,
I’ll be hiding in the bracken,
I’ll be running with the wolves,
and I will find you.

He tells the assembled group that the focus of his thinking through the night was a question about how he could learn the land and that the song was his answer. The guide of the group explains that there were also many questions from the young participants “around school and college with the question – what shall I do?” being a common theme.

A teenage girl, seated cross-legged by the community fire, continues with this thread on behalf of the next group. She speaks of how her fire bundle flared as she left the community fire at dusk on her way back alone to her chosen site and how it burnt out completely. She recounts how she retraced her steps along the path and found an ember. In the darkness she carried the ember back through the wood to her fire site and was able to bring the fire back to life. The girl continues to speak of insight gained through the process of tending fire and tending herself throughout the night. She says that she feels now “that growing in knowing is not an intellectual activity, that it is active and located in action”. To clarify her point she talks about working with her personal questions. She says that she recognised that she “had the need, the knowledge, the awareness that she had questions that needed answering but not sure about what they are or were… this led to the realisation that it is action itself that leads to knowing, and that this in turn leads to questions arising”. The teacher smiles on the opposite side of the circle.

The teacher continues by addressing the group as a community in relation to the girls sharing. He speaks of a teacher from his own wisdom tradition. “Black Elk, was an Indian elder and he had essential things to say about processing what happens out there, he spoke beautifully about this and although I not want to paraphrase – his message was this: ‘a vision without action is just a dream’”.

As the last group are invited to share their experiences attention turns to a teenage boy who decided not to venture out into the wood and instead remained behind with the teachers and guides, tending the fire throughout the night on behalf of the community, creating a link with all those out in the darkness.

Greenland sunset 4The sharing and harvesting of stories and experiences in the circle reaches its conclusion. The teacher finally turns to a woman who had joined the morning circle late and who was clearly upset and had been crying. The woman had been a key part of the ceremonies of the weekend and held an opening gratitude ceremony where all participants shared a little of their thanks for the coming experience and for life itself. She is asked if she will share her story of the night. Holding back her tears she begins.

It was a glorious night, with the strong light of a full moon and a sweet breeze. It passed slowly. I dozed occasionally, my fire dozing with me but rising back up every time I tended to it. I watched the fires of the young ones around me, rising and falling similarly to mine. I tracked the length of the night with the moon as it passed over us and with the change in traffic noise. We were near a main road and as the night wore on, the sound of traffic dropped until we were finally in total silence. In the depth of the night I heard a tawny owl call out a few times and the sound of a fox barking. The moonlight was so bright that I found myself listening out for a chorus of birdsong to confirm the approach of morning. We had been given strict instructions that our fires needed to be fully extinguished before we left them and tending the fire down to cold was an important element of the whole. I sat there, spreading the coals around with a stick and watching the embers sparkling up at me. I heard a crow call. I heard a great tit. And then I heard the traffic start up again, and the sound of traffic increasing. There was no further birdsong… The commuters were already on their way towards London and I knew that morning was upon us. And that’s when I began to drop into a well of grief. I sat there. Where were the rest of the birds? What were we facing as humanity? Going to work day in day out, by car, coming home by car, windows and doors closed to the elements, the wildlife leaving us… What have we done to the Earth? Stirring the last of the hot coals, listening to the traffic, pondering and feeling, I could not leave my site – I did not want to return. I just sat there in my well of sorrow.

At my most grief-stricken I heard the sound of movement in the branches above me. A few leaves fluttered down and then acorns started landing around me. As I looked up I saw a squirrel on one of the branches, looking down and scolding me in a way that only squirrels can. I had to laugh at myself. If nature communicates with us through signs and symbols, the different metaphors that emerge from a flying acorn brings us much information. Who knows what will happen in the future after all. Those young ones out there all night, tending to their own fires, igniting their passion and their personal fire – what acorns were being planted in them that night? How the Earth is now is how they know it to be. They have never seen a murmuration of starlings, chased butterflies or tripped over hedgehogs nightly. I realised that my grief was for how it was when I was a child and how it used to be. The weight of age.

Many, many people around us today are committed to doing what they can to change the world. We are planting acorns, both arboreal and metaphoric. With the energy and the optimism of youth – well maybe there is still hope for the future of my grandchildren and the future generations of all living things. I’ll keep praying that is so.

After this final story, the sharing of which leaves those listening in deep reflection, the group is invited to pay its respects to the site itself and encouraged to leave the woodland in better condition than they found it. The preparation to leave is unhurried and leisurely, with participants returning to their individual sites, raking over coals, covering fire pits with disturbed earth, and scattering leaves with the aim of leaving no trace of human activity. Once this had been satisfactorily completed people begin to clear away their belongings, leaving the wood without apparent sentimentality or the need to effuse to one another about the power of what has been shared.

The Fire Quest itself had been led by a man who openly drew on the traditional wisdom of his own culture, and of his own teachers and elders. This cultural aspect of the Fire Quest suggested that “the role of indigenous cultures” was to “ensure that each community member develops into a healthy and happy human being”. Promoted as a “rite of passage, which was historically used as a means to mark and support the transition from childhood into young adulthood” this development would be brought about through “processes to facilitate the transitions between the stages. Individuals were enabled to unfold and blossom into their own personalities and gifts, with responsibility, aliveness and incredible joy”.

Although the processes of this Fire Quest had now been completed, the unfolding and blossoming of the young participants was perhaps only just beginning.

Daniel Ford is a doctoral research student and the recipient of a Freedom to Learn scholarship from the Faculty of Education at the University of Hull. He is currently working on an inquiry into what happens when young people have wild experiences within and alongside their formal education.

Correspondence: d.ford@2015.hull.ac.uk

For details on The Living Fire course with Sal Gencarelle, commencing in May 2017, please see the Circle of Life Rediscovery website.

Forest School Training in Ireland!

Circle of Life Training in association with Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC offers a Level 3 Forest School Programme Leadership. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Earth Force Education to bring our ground breaking Forest School Leadership training to Ireland.

Who is the training designed for?

This Level 3 Training is designed for professionals already working with young people who wish to establish and deliver a Forest School/Environmental Education programme. It is appropriate for those over the age of 21 years with relevant qualifications including teachers, youth workers, playworkers, rangers, ecologists or teaching assistants with experience of working with young people  (at least 2 years).

What do people think about our training? See below for feedback and how to get involved!

What have you enjoyed most about this training?

Forest School Training Ireland
“How all the participants were bought together through activities, games and music and how I have noticed nature at a different level.”

“I have loved the games, songs, new ideas and learning from new people.”

“There was an excellent combination of outdoor and classroom lessons.”

 

“It was great having 3 leaders all with different experience and ideas to share.”

“Passion for the outdoors is infectious!”

Forest School Training Ireland

“The course was delivered in such a lovely way, I would love to be a child in your forest school! I have learnt more about nature and to be free of the ties and expectations of everyday life.”

“I have learnt so many practical skills as well as how to do a risk assessment!”

“I loved everything about this training, from the skills learned, enthusiasm of the trainers and have learnt so much about nature. Thank you for an amazing 5 days with a lovely team.”

“I loved using the tools, I was nervous at first but was made to feel at ease straight away.”

Forest School Training Ireland

“I enjoyed the sit spots and quite moments. The knife work was fun and challenging. You made me feel very safe and included.”

“I loved the welcoming atmosphere, the wealth of knowledge and the hands on activities.”

“I loved making crafts from natural materials found in the woods.”

How has the training personally impacted you?

“The passion of the course leaders has really inspired me.”

“The inspiring leaders have had a positive impact on me and how I work.”

Forest School Training Ireland

“I feel invigorated! I have now started to think about my own practices and bring my ideas to life.”

“I have met so many enthusiastic people on the training, I am now excited for what I can do in the future.”

“It has made me realise the importance of child led activities and has made me want to become a forest school leader.”

” I loved being in the fresh air and have felt healthier all round.”

“I had time to reflect, which I found very moving.”

Forest School Training Ireland

“The child led approach has been fascinating, I learnt to give everything a go.”

“It has been an inspiring and emotional experience (in a good way!)”

“I feel my stress levels have been reduced and you have made me re-evaluate my life. Plus, I have laughed so much! This has been the best week of my life.”

Forest School Training Ireland

 

“You have brought me out of myself and have reminded me what is important.”

This training is booked through our partner provider Earth Force Education further information can be found here.

Please contact Ciara Hinksman or call 086 3199 515 for more information about this training in Ireland.


Forest School Training in the UK

If you are looking for a course in the UK, Circle of Life Rediscovery offers a Level 3 course, commencing March 2017! Full details can be found here. The training dates are:

Part one: March 6th – 9th 2017
Part two: April 24th – 26th 2017
Part three: May 15th – 16th 2017

The training will combine key principles of Forest School with best practice from Environment and Nature Education, child development, the world of play (wild, free and therapeutic play) delivered by our professional team who have many years experience.

Please call 01273 814226 or send an email for more information.

The Web of Life

I remember many years ago reading ‘Trees are actually alive”. For me it led to a shift in awareness. I knew that trees are biologically alive, but this felt different. I still feel wonder and awe knowing that some trees suck up hundreds of gallons of water per day, transforming sunlight into sugars, and that they can regrow limbs! I couldn’t imagine a world without trees.

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It is incredible that trees are hooked up by their roots to other trees through a network of mycelium! This cooperative web of plants and trees support the fungi with food and in exchange, the fungi provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. The trees, soil and sun are all interacting with each other.

 

The older, ‘hub’ trees, the elders of our land connect to hundreds of other trees. Working together the whole system is resilient.

Trees are alive

I don’t understand why we often dismiss how much the non-human world is alive. Our ancestral traditions are often written off as ‘primitive’ or ‘spiritual’ yet these people deeply felt the intrinsic ‘aliveness’ of the plant and animal kingdoms – from the trees to the stones.

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Long-standing earth-based cultures have this awareness and understanding and are experts in their fields. They are the great botanists, ecologists, zoologists, woodland/land managers.  It is only a matter of time before we have the scientific language that effectively describes this aliveness. Like us, the trees need air, water, earth and sun; they have particular characters, communication and intelligence and provide medicines. Birch trees for example have a bark that peels. It has particular medicine for psoriasis.

 

It is important to me that the experience of life and the natural world is not only understood in instrumental and mechanical ways. There are as many ways of knowing as there are trees! I love the smell of the forest, the colours of all the leaves, the shapes and textures, the peace, the creative thoughts that occur, the many sounds that are home to so many other creatures.

Access barriers

The big barrier is and always has been access to land. The new Tree Charter which is borne out of the Charter of the Forest from the 13th Century is a stark reminder of the importance of access to land.  Whoever owns land has immense power and determines the stewardship of their land.  We are all subject to the authority of whoever owns the land and much of the land continues to be held by big estates and top income earners. They manage their situation for a particular end and this always includes biological diversity. Though it must be said, they too have been guardians of our heritage and increasingly landowners are interesting in supporting ‘rewilding’. Thankfully we do have our public right of way. I support community woodlands, and am part of one in Sussex. It is a modern way of communities accessing land, (see Plunkett Foundation).

The present day situation

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We are more acutely aware than ever, that the things that benefit the people are inextricably linked to the things that benefit the non-human world. We are currently living in a vastly diminished natural environment compared even to a few hundred years ago – but we don’t feel this because we live relatively in the present, concerning ourselves with our present needs, favouring our own children, and not the future generations. Our brains scan and remember what we experience, so as our access to nature is reduced, so too is our awareness that nature exists – it is a form of cultural blindness.

To avoid this ‘blindness’ we have to expose ourselves to the trees and lap up the well-being that comes from this.

I would love to see more children playing outdoors, meeting the non-human world every day, creating brain patterns – the invisible mycelium of reciprocal relationships. I am very grateful for the tree under which I could hide and retreat in my childhood and am now very grateful to the woodlands in which I spend so much time!

Blog by Marina Robb (PGCE; Msc; MA), as part of the #TreeCharter. Marina is the Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery & Author of Learning with Nature.

Circle of Life Rediscovery provides nature based experiences and programmes that are educational, fun and often life-changing! These include funded projects with our partners that directly support health and well-being for vulnerable members of our society, days for schools or family days in the woodlands and bespoke residential camps and Forest Schools. You can gain a qualification in leading your own Forest School programme or improve your knowledge and skills with our adult training CPD days.

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Have you got a memory of being out and about in the trees and woods as a child? What do you feel are the threats that trees and woods in the UK face? Add your voice to the Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

 

 

http://www.circleofliferediscovery.com/

Tel: 01273 814226