Mental Health Awareness Week – Connect with Nature

Mental Health Awareness Week – Connect with Nature

Well-being: The Self, Other, our Mental Health and Nature, By Marina Robb

Growing up is never easy! Often what we long for as adults, is really an indicator of what we need most in our lives.

Mental Health Awareness Week

As practitioners who work with children and young people, we are more effective when we have the ability to know our unmet needs which provides a greater capacity to generate love and care for ourselves. It is from this place that we can care for another child or person.

When we were young, most of us didn’t get what we needed all the time (the human condition) and even more important, we didn’t know how to get it. How to reach out for help, and continue to do this, when the ‘other’, the adult rejects us in some form or another. We naturally learn to compensate, and it is by reclaiming our vulnerability – a very misunderstood term, that we can find our way to well-being and to support the well-being of others.

At the heart of being human, is the essential need of human relationship – the other. Our psychological development through the stages of life – from birth to elderhood, grows this sense of self. Our lives grow in the wider context of the natural world too. We are nature, and ‘our nature’ is fundamental to health and learning.

Nature-centric wheels
Much of our nature-based practice is underpinned by what I call, Nature-centric wheels. The Nature-centric Wheel below shows the stages of life from 0 – 80, linking these to both times of the day and a compass direction. At its simplest level – the East (Spring) direction is sunrise, the beginning of the day and life (the baby), the north direction is elderhood, the night-time or winter of our lives!

 

The prevalence of ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) echoes the widespread reality of childhood trauma-related experience. Years of nature-based practice has also shown me how the natural world, as ‘other’ silently reflects back to us, offering metaphors and sensory experience that support our growth and development. In many ways for many of us lucky enough to have played and enjoyed nature as a child or adult, the role of nature as an unconditional friend represents an unscarred relationship.

“In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” (Alice Walker)feelings, thoughts, beliefs

There is a link between our ability to understand our own behaviours, those of others, our knowledge and ease with different mental states (feelings, thoughts, beliefs) and the ability to respond to infant’s emotions and feelings.

 

 

How do we as practitioners develop our ability to respond authentically to children, to maintain a healthy distance from our reactions to be genuinely available to listen, non-verbally as well, to the ‘other’ person in our care? To consider how we empower, despite our positional power? Meeting our needs, awareness of power dynamics, our triggers, what supports our and others self-regulation is part of creating a safe and resilient environment for our children.

Fortunately practice in nature supports self-regulation – all the bottom up (body-based) strategies. Our autonomic nervous system is soothed, our threat system is reduced, and we are all more able to have fulfilling relationships with each other – all increasing our ‘attainment’ potential. Nature really is the great co-regulator.

Our relationship with the living world does help our mental health. Our direct sensations within our bodies, our interoceptive sense, are positively affected by external natural experiences.

Health and Learning are deeply intertwined. When we enjoy learning, have healthy bodies and lifestyles – which include playing and learning in the outdoors, we become socially confident and connected people, who feel valued for their contributions – power is shared.

The intrinsic motivation, autonomy, sovereignty we encourage through child-centred/self-directed approaches, also help us to trust others and learn to meet our needs. Many of us know how it felt to be in school and not enjoy the experience. When people are asked what most stopped them in a subject from continuing, they often point to a time when they were shamed by an adult. According to Brene Brown (2017), your real sense of worthiness relates to the core 4 sense qualities below.

Take a moment to consider your own sense of self and if you feel you are worthy of love and belonging?

Can you:

  • Tell the story of who you are, with the courage to be imperfect (sense of courage)
  • Are you kind to yourself first, before others (sense of compassion)
  • Are you authentic, willing to let go of who you think you should be, to be who you are (sense of connection)
  • Are you willing to say things, like I love you, or help, to be imperfect, to be seen (sense of vulnerability)

We learn through the actions of others, often that we are not fundamentally okay. We are punished (or rewarded) for our expressions and we learn that our range of feelings and behaviours are not acceptable. We hide who we are. Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as though from the wealthiest 20% (Morrison Gutman et al 2015); Children and young people with a learning disability are three times more likely than average to have a mental health problem (Lavis et al 2019) (see Mental Health inequalities in Numbers, Centre for Mental Health 2020).

In my experience of working with teenagers for over 15 years, referred from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health service (CAMHS) to our long-term nature programme, I almost always discover young people who are incredibly emotionally aware, yet have not found a way yet to belong.

How can we best support children and young people now and into the future? At Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, we are pioneering a ‘Nature-based practice gateway Training’ – starting in October 2021. A four-day training (supported with webinars and a manual) that equips practitioners from all backgrounds to take their practice into the outdoors. This is an invitation to radically reimagine our relationship between nature, education and human mental health whilst offering a practical course in how to do this that is accessible, relevant and of its time!

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact, Marina Robb (Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC and The Outdoor Teacher Ltd).


The Outdoor Teacher

Circle of Life Rediscovery

The Essential Guide to Forest School & Nature PedagogyMarina Robb (PGCE; MsC, MA) is Founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC and The Outdoor Teacher Ltd, organisations that aim to transform education and health through nature. She is a leading author, green practitioner and educator in the outdoor sector, an international trainer in the design and delivery of nature-based experiences and an advocate for the integration of environmental, education and health and well-being services.

The Essential Guide to Forest School & Nature PedagogyMarina is Author of ‘Learning with Nature’ & Upcoming New Book written with Jon Cree: ‘The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy’ published by Routledge Winter May 21.

Forest School in Ramadan

Forest School in Ramadan

By Nadine Marroushi – Forest School Training Student

This month is a holy month for Muslims around the world. This week we are celebrating Forest School in Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is based around the lunar cycle and this year it begins on Monday 12th April and will end on 11th May.

It was on a yoga trek on the Nepalese side of the Himalayas a few years ago when I really stopped to take notice of how beautiful our Earth is. The sight of red rhododendrons set against majestic, ice-capped mountains really struck me. At the time, I had been working as a journalist in Egypt where there was a lot of violence. I remember thinking how privileged I was to experience something more peaceful and in harmony with nature. I think those were my first real steps to where I am today.

After journalism I turned to human rights campaigning and then I became a mother – another of life’s turning points. It was through my first child, my daughter, that I learned about forest school and the thought struck me: this is what I want to do. So, I am now training to be a Forest School Leader with Circle of Life Rediscovery and hope that one day I will run my own forest school programme.

“On Earth are signs for those whose faith is certain. And, also, in yourselves. Will you not then see?” The Quran, 51:20-21

Forest School in RamadanAs Forest School Leaders, our role is to help our learners develop a relationship with the natural world, so that they and we can reap many benefits: a more peaceful mental state, an appreciation for the trees, plants, birds, insects, animals, and a natural setting where we can play.

 

So, what does this month of Ramadan offer for our Forest School practice? Most people know Ramadan as the month in which Muslims around the world fast from Dawn till Dusk. But it is also the month in which the Quran is believed to have been revealed, in which Muslims are encouraged to pray more, read more of the Quran, reflect on its meanings, and be more charitable. It begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted, and ends after the full cycle of the moon and a new crescent is sighted again.

Mandala
When we’re out in nature, one way I think we can connect Ramadan with our Forest School practice is to use the symbolism of the mandala. It is made with natural objects, such as sticks, leaves, fallen petals to form the circle and two sticks in the middle for the compass.

 

During my Forest School training, my teacher Marina Robb gave us a beautiful talk around the mandala. She talked about how the sun rises from the East and this being a symbol for birth, for the early years in our life, for the Spring season. When we reach towards the South, the sun is at its highest point in the day, we move towards the Summer time, and this can also symbolise our teenage years and our twenties when our energies and emotions are high, when our brains become fully developed.

And then we move towards the Autumn, towards the sun setting, the West. This being the part of our lives when we, like the leaves, develop into new shades. And, finally, the sun sets and we reach South, the latter part of our lives, our Elderhood, a phase that in traditional communities is respected not put away.

Marina Robb, Circle of Life Rediscovery Director

 

“We are hugely impacted by nature,” says Marina Robb. “Everyone is on this natural cyclical journey. When you meet people, ask: where are they on this journey.”

 

The mandala is relevant too, I think, to the daily life of a Muslim. It could be used to explain the monthly cycle of the moon. It could also be used in relation to the five daily prayers, which is tied to the movement of the sun. Fajr, the Dawn prayer, begins with the red horizon in the sky before the sun rises from the East. At the North point, just after the sun passes its peak, it is time for the Dhuhr prayer, when shadow lengths are also at their shortest in the day. Then Asr, the afternoon prayer, when shadow lengths double. This is followed by Maghrib, the sunset prayer. And Ishaa, the night prayer.

“The sun and the moon travel with precision”. (The Quran, 55:5)

This year instead of paper we are using sticks to make our Ramadan lanterns, or fanous Ramadan in Arabic. All over the Muslim world, and particularly in Egypt where the tradition is said to originate, colourful lanterns decorate homes and shop fronts during this month.

Square lashing technique

 

To make our lanterns, I used the square lashing technique to make a cuboid structure.

Then, we used natural paint to dye calico. For yellow, we used turmeric and water. For pink, beetroot juice and for purple blueberry juice.

 

Natural paint to dye calico Collecting flowers and leaves and printed them on calico

We then collected flowers and leaves and printed them on calico. Our yellow patch turned out well, because the flora was freshly picked and immediately printed onto the calico with a wooden mallet we made in my forest school training. My daughter and I decided to paint some of the leaves gold and print them on to the purple calico patch because it is such a dark colour. With the pink side, our printing didn’t go as well, because the flora wasn’t freshly picked and so the natural moisture you need for the printing had dried out. Lesson learned.

Forest School in Ramadan Forest School in Ramadan Our Lanterns

I then tied the calico onto the lantern with the twine I used for square lashing. At night, we use an LED tea light candle to light it up.

Ramadan Kareem in Arabic, or Generous Ramadan.

 


Forest School Training in East Sussex

Marina Robb - Endorsed TrainerThe next course with Circle of Life Rediscovery takes place in June 2021. Approved by the Forest School Association and Awarded by the Open College Network West Midlands, this Level 3 Certificate provides the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to prepare learners to work as a Forest School Leader.

You can find out all the details and dates of the training on the website.

 


Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Going Full Circle – Earth Day

Going Full Circle – Earth Day 2021
By Lisa Gylsen, Director

Thinking about Earth Day has made me reflect on certain times in my life when I just felt alive. I’m sure you know what I mean. One of those times for me was when myself and three others from the UK travelled to Canada for the Rediscovery International Leadership and Outdoor Training in 2003. It was a month long adventure training with a community comprising all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. We learned from indigenous leaders who inspired that wild knowing in all of us to come to the fore. Marina Robb was also one of our UK contingent and we quickly bonded with shared interests and friendship.

The first two weeks of the training took place at Pearson College, one of the United World Colleges. The mission of the UWC movement is to “make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” Although this was not what the training was specifically about it certainly was a theme and the essence of this seeped from the venue into us.

Earth DayWe had numerous workshops and time to interact with people doing this type of work. It was inspiring. The second part of the training was in the mountains north of
Calgary where we stayed in tepees as well as out in the open, learned indigenous skills, and had a number of sweat lodges, all of which imbedded this learning by actually experiencing it in nature.

The original remit of Rediscovery in Canada was to reconnect disaffected indigenous youth to their culture. This caught on and grew not only across Canada but across the world. Rediscovery International now seeks to empower youth of all ages to discover the world within themselves, the world between cultures and the natural world.

Circle of Life RediscoveryReturning to the UK we all participated in a couple of pilot camps in North Wales. The experience and feedback was great. Marina, upon returning home to Sussex, pondered how she could incorporate this new inspiration into a programme to make a difference in her area.

Her expertise and passion was in environmental education so she set up programmes to fill gaps in the curriculum as well as out days for youth to disconnect them from the world wide web and reconnect them with the whole wide world through nature.

I felt extremely honoured to be invited to be a Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery. I still feel lucky and inspired to maintain that directorship despite my move to Mauritius. I am currently raising my two internationally adopted girls in this multi-cultural country where nature abounds from beaches to mountains in close proximity. I often draw upon my Rediscovery experience as well as games and skills from Marina’s books in our home-schooling lifestyle.

Circle of Life Rediscovery has steadily grown and developed over the past 17 years in both its offerings as well as the myriad and tremendous number of people it has benefited. It has truly gone full circle and as such it’s philosophy is now “Transforming education, health, and family through nature.”

CAMHS, Youth and Family Woodland DaysFrom its original focus on education and youth, it has added people with disabilities and their families, disaffected communities, and now are getting significant benefits with their expertise in running programmes for mental health in nature. With a close relationship with the NHS there is increasing proof for the benefits and the opportunities to make a difference are extremely exciting.

On top of all this Marina has found time to develop The Outdoor Teacher to supplement but not replace training in nature for other practitioners.

 

The Outdoor Teacher is an excellent tool, accessible wherever you are. Numerous trainings, train the trainer, online training, highly subscribed webinars offered by highly experienced and passionate individuals make the offerings and support this company provide exceptional.

I am even more excited now than in the beginning to be a part of Circle of Life
Rediscovery and to see its impact continue to grow and inspire.

A Poem for Earth Day

 

A Poem for Earth Day

The Lost Words Blessing

 

Enter the wild with care my love,
And speak the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you travel far from heather, crag and river
May you like the little fisher, set the stream alight with glitter
May you enter now as otter without falter into water

Look to the sky with care my love
And speak the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you journey on past dying stars exploding
Like the gilded one in flight, leave your little gifts of light
And in the dead of night my darling, find the gleaming eye of starling
Like the little aviator, sing your heart to all dark matter

Walk through the world with care, my love
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home.

 


Forest School Activities Online TrainingCircle of Life Rediscovery

 

Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

International Day Of Forests

On Spring Equinox weekend, we celebrate International Day of Forests!

International Day Of Forests
Traditionally this is a day to remember the balance of light and dark and the movement out of winter into Spring. After the year we have all experienced, there is hope and the promise of new life in the forest.

 

On International Day of Forests today, I am walking in the community woodland I co-chair in East Sussex (Laughton Greenwood), I enjoy the signs of spring – primroses, larch tree flowers, tree buds of the wild service trees, goat willow and silver birch on the verge of opening, and the blue bells leaves emerging from under the blanket of the autumn and winter leaves. Glad we made it. I have a friend who once reminded me that I may only see this sight for 30 more times (if I make it to 80 years old).

Away days in East SussexIn this unusual year, I am acutely aware that where I put my attention is extremely valuable. I know that I don’t want to miss the simple yet irreplaceable beauty of the forests, the sunsets, the flowers and the priceless non-human artistry around us.

 

“Natural treasures, in roots, wood and leaves, for beauty, for use, the air that we breathe. Imagine: a wood begins with one small seed. We’re stronger together – people and trees.” Harriet Fraser, 2017

We need to be able to spend time in places with trees, to experience first hand the direct benefits of ‘being’ in these restorative spaces. It’s necessary to take time away from our screens and our thinking minds, and allow space for a realisation or a new perspective.

Forest Bathing in East Sussex

A popular new idea in this part of the world is Forest Bathing, soaking up the health benefits of the forest, widely researched in Japan and beyond.

As a nature practitioner of over 30 years the ‘therapeutic activities’ we introduce during all our work – be that in Away Days, Forest School Training, our CPD’s all combine this wonderful mix of personal development and experiential nature connection drawing on ‘invitations’ that are creative, sensory, focus our attention, are mindful, playful and feel good.

 

Trees really are extraordinary! Apart from their gifts of medicines, timber, climbing and homes to insects, birds and mammals – they have this unusual ability to regrow when cut down. Our ancestors learned to work with the trees to both increase the diversity of the forests and woods, applying a woodland management technique of coppicing and pollarding. These regenerative techniques support human and non-human life. Our forests need both celebrating and protecting. The Japanese have an ancient technique of producing wood for 700 years without cutting down trees – the daisugi technique from the 14th century.

Here the technique allows for the caretaking of future generations of both plants and humans. What is exciting for me is that we do have the ability and opportunity to work with nature. We can learn to mimic it’s majesty, intelligence, diversity and create a regenerative path to recovery and well-being for all.

Marina Robb, Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery and The Outdoor Teacher

Forest School Activities Online TrainingCircle of Life Rediscovery

Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

National Tree Week 2020

Circle of Life Rediscovery

For many years I have held the question, ‘What motivates people to care about the natural world and value nature.’ Yet, as we know so well, access to nature is not available to all, and that the bright screens of the 21st Century enclose us ever more to the indoors.


However, by training practitioners from education and health to be competent and confident to embed nature-based practice in their workplace, we can create a sustainable and realistic way forward.

My favourite childhood memory was a tree just in front of my house. I was small enough to sit hidden under its branches and watch the world pass me undiscovered for hours. It was a place of safety and curiosity with its soft boughs skirting all around me. I am pretty sure it was this tree that provided a place for me to learn to self-regulate, to feel what I was feeling, without judgement or cognitive understanding. It was here that I dug to Australia (a common childhood pastime apparently!) and imagined the vastness of the Earth. I suppose the seed of this organisation has grown out of a ‘below the brain’, body-based appreciation of nature, and in particular trees.

This week here in the UK, we celebrate National Tree Week and I have no doubt that our woodland culture roots infuses my own and our wider collective memory.

It is somewhat contradictory then, that I have embarked on creating a series of online video-based resources.


Four years ago, I was invited to deliver Forest School-type Training in various cities in China. During the first few days, I couldn’t see the sky due to pollution and I was a little overwhelmed by the cities’ population – some 30 million, one of the smaller cities.


In contrast to my sensory experiences, my hosts and the people were wonderfully kind, enthusiastic and wanted to provide access to nature to the children in their care in urban and other spaces.

As a former primary school teacher, I could see that, like here in the UK, there is this tension and often a misunderstanding of what we mean by learning outdoors or the Forest School approach and where it can happen. Classic questions like, do you need a forest to teach Forest School, and if not, why are you calling it Forest School? Teachers worry that they may not be doing, ‘real outdoor learning’ or what is ‘real Forest School’.


Outdoor learning is the learning that happens, the skill is how we observe and perhaps choose or not, to link this back to the curriculum or to well-being.



In short, I realised that one keyway to share learning and expertise for practitioners is to use high quality professional visual-based trainings. This is cheaper for the practitioner or school/nursery, builds on the expertise of the practitioner’s direct experience of working with their ‘clients’, and can happen at their own pace in their own time. I am a huge advocate of direct trainings too, yet undoubtedly, a resource that can be returned to again and again is really helpful.

Learning with Nature Book

As an author of a how-to book (Learning with Nature), I know how valuable a well written book with good photos can be for a practitioner or parent.

However, bringing that alive through video and footage of how to do an activity, does show in ‘real time’ the details that a book can struggle to convey.


The ultimate goal here is to facilitate practitioners to increase access, well-being and learning for the groups they work with – including parents/carers and their children.

Forest School Activities Online Training

Enter, ‘The Outdoor Teacher’: it is designed as a comprehensive training portal for outdoor activities and pedagogy (with new resources added over the seasons), based on my 30 years of experience as a nature practitioner, trainer and working with school-age children and specialist groups.

A common myth is that you have to do a Forest School Training to take children out of doors. Those of us who have been teaching outdoors for many years, know that is not the case – though you do need to be competent, have risk assessments in place and have the appropriate insurance.

The Outdoor Teacher


With this platform I wanted to provide educators, carers and mental health professionals with accessible, practical support to deliver their work in nature, and my fellow outdoor practitioners with the tools to develop broader teaching and personal development skills in their practice.


My intention is simple, to bring these skills to a much wider audience. My hope is that schools and the health services – two of our largest systems expand nature-centred training to their staff so that they can bring nature into their practice making it part of an everyday education and health choice. 

“You will find this resource is absolutely packed with ‘activities’ and details that enable yourself and your own learners to explore the natural world in a safe and yet challenging way.” Jon Cree, Director Forest School Association.

The 8 modules cover the following topics:

  • Fire and Pedagogy
  • Ropes and knots
  • Cooking on a fire
  • Shelters and Play
  • Using Tools
  • Natural Crafts and Play
  • Wild Plants and Foraging
  • Nature Awareness Games

In each module, there are many of the ‘practical aspects’ of leading and facilitating experiences and connection to the natural world and each other which are communicated through a number of short films that take you through small achievable steps. There is a clear commentary of why we do what we do. Many of the films show me working with groups of children and young people demonstrating the ‘reality’ of working with the activities.

These are then backed up with downloadable resources such as risk benefit assessments and descriptions of the activities.

The Outdoor Teacher


We are delighted to have Early Childhood Outdoor as an affiliate. This scheme allows like-minded organisations to share profit and support all our endeavours to bring the outdoors to as many people as possible.



Marina Robb, Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery and The Outdoor Teacher

Forest School Activities Online Training
Circle of Life Rediscovery