Outdoor Classroom Day – The Power of the Outdoors

Outdoor Classroom Day Blog by Jon Cree

Communing with another – a ceremonial transformation. Encounters with a nettle.

Outdoor Classroom Day Blog, by Jon CreeThis week I experienced a palpable shift in one of the teachers on a workshop I was facilitating – let’s call her Jane (real name left out for anonymity). The workshop entitled “lost words”, is based on the book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, that seems to have swept up the country’s schools in its magic. It involves facilitating teacher’s sensory observation of non human beings then representing these encounters through various sketching and poetry techniques to rediscover the meaning of the name for said ‘being’.

What I witnessed in this teacher was more than something to do with rediscovering the meaning of adder, otter, kingfisher and willow – it was a shift where the inner and outer worlds met.

At the start of the day there was a distinct reluctance, indeed possibly belligerence, to ‘open up’ the heart to the possibilities of what might come if you just ‘be’ with other ‘more the human’ beings. There seemed to be resistance to allowing the inner and outer worlds collide…”what I can’t take my pen and paper to my sit spot?” was a retort.

On returning from said sit spot a shift had already happened and the shackles of culture started to slip away. Rules of poetry were there to be broken, and with the aid of the words ringing on the Guernsey winds of the likes of poets such as David Whyte, Ted Hughes and Mary Oliver you could see said teacher’s shoulders dropping and a sparkle and smile spreading across her face…Jane was definitely letting down her guard. After some working with senses and words, sketching exercises that emphasised a playful sensory integration of subject and paper, in her case this was flint and paper (I always feel rocks have so much to tell us), there started to be a melding of natural world awareness and expression.

The Power of the Outdoors - Outdoor Classroom Day Blog

Then came the big occasion of the day – 90 minutes of sitting with one being, in her case a nettle. Jane approached her subject as advised in a mindful slow yet playful way, observing from all angles and finding just the right spot and body distance to give both beings respect yet intimacy. I watched and witnessed a rushing at this point to distil the essence of nettle in sketch and rubbing, and then something extraordinary happened in this seemingly ordinary space.

 

Her words started to flow – she had exclaimed at the start of the day that she hated poetry (she is a leader in literacy in her school!) and there was a moment where she sat in ceremony celebrating this resilient yet vulnerable ‘being’ – she literally performed her own small ceremony for said nettle. It was as if Jane had entered her own mytho-poetic world where the inner and outer had collided…her soul and psyche had entered the nettle kingdom.

I know this sounds somewhat far fetched for to get to this stage can sometimes take years and many vision quests, but I was certain in just 5 and a half hours she had entered into a ceremonial conversation with the world…the words were flowing. It was a beautiful moment to witness she was participating fully in the world from which we all come from – not the technological but the natural. I couldn’t but help myself from going over to sit beside Jane and she willingly showed me her sketchbook, made that morning, and the words that just kept coming…she had entered into a deep caring relationship with the nettle.

The Power of the OutdoorsSome may say that this was nothing other than the keen observation and spending time with another being that provoked the words, i.e time for ‘contact’. But I am certain this was down to an opening of heart and the imaginal whispers of the nettle that created an almost sacred space in which Jane could, in her own soft way, make this a ceremonial instance to cement said ‘connection’ rather than ‘contact’.

My words may seem grandiose and exaggerated but I am certain, indeed we know from cultures of the past and present, that ceremony deepens relationship.

I came away feeling that we need to allow our learners more time with the non human and celebrate the ensuing relationship in some form of respectful way with a mixture of ‘gravitas’ and ‘levitas’.

Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors – 3 day course with Jon Cree.
Optional Level 3 Accreditation available.

This course is aimed at any educator who feels they want to engage and work with students in the outdoors who may be reluctant learners (of any age).

This course will delve into:

  • What challenges us as leaders in the outdoors
  • Theory on challenging behaviour
  • Up-to-date neural research; triggers and causes for challenging behaviour
  • Ways of dealing with ‘real life’ scenarios in the outdoors
  • De-escalation
  • How to transfer outdoor strategies into an indoor and other settings – including looking at the validity of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reviewing your own policies

Date: 17th, 18th & 19th June 2019 at Mill Woods, near Laughton, East Sussex OR 20th, 21st & 22nd November 2019 at Parkwood Campsite, Poynings, East Sussex.
Lead Facilitator: Jon Cree
Cost: £325 for the 3 day course, £55 for the Accreditation (optional). This Level 3 West Midlands Open College Network Accredited Course.
Time: 09.00 – 17.00.
Booking: Please book online here for the June course or online here for the November course.
More information: please visit the website.


Transforming education, health and family through nature

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.

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Challenging Behaviour – A balanced brain means a pro social mind

Challenging Behaviour – how does the outdoors promote a balanced brain? This was a question put to me on a play structures course last weekend. I had been talking about challenging behaviour and the way ‘movement and making’ can help people of all ages regulate behaviour. So to the question. First what do I mean by balanced brain?

Join Jon Cree for Challenging Behaviour this June or NovemberI was working with a youngster this autumn, Jordan, who, providing he was succeeding with a task, was engaged and controlled…he had a penchant for sawing and took great pleasure in making clean cuts. However as soon as it got hard or he made a hash of sawing he would throw the saw down, stomp and withdraw shouting all his way to the gate of our forest school site.

This became a common occurrence. He would become, very quickly, dysregulated and have difficulty controlling his emotions and behaviours. He also developed the vocabulary and a basic understanding of psychology to try and wind up both his peers and teachers with some choice words!

He displayed a lack of balance. This type of behaviour could be indicative of a sensory processing disorder, ADHD, history of trauma or something else, he was seen as a ‘handful’ in school, where he was always in reactive state, whereas at forest school was more often ‘on task’.

What was happening in his brain at these outbursts was an imbalance of both brain chemicals and lower and higher order thinking. The more reflective brain was being dominated by the reactive brain. Neurologist Jak Panksepp would say the mid-brain pathways are not working in harmony, in this case a lack of control over his frustration saw him reacting with the ‘fast’ or ‘no I can’t do this’ brain….I was sure it wasn’t necessarily indicative of other conditions.

What was needed was time and practise at getting into the pre frontal cortex to recognise the emotions that threw Jordan out of balance and to think about self regulation. Jordan was 12 and at this age the pre frontal cortex…the higher order brain that thinks about feelings and helps regulate behaviour by bringing the brain into balance, is going through a developmental phase.

It is fine to feel frustration, in fact its good and healthy. It is how we respond to the emotion that’s important, not letting it call all the shots. In the moment what helps is ‘calming’ and an approach from us, the adult practitioners, who have a developed pre frontal cortex, that is non threatening, clear, calm, empathetic and soothing to help Jordan re-balance. What happens when his frustration kicks in is either Jordan’s hyper-arousal and he stomps in rage, or some people enter hypo-arousal where the freeze response kicks in and a rigid non-flexible adaptive behaviour is displayed.

What is happening when these two states are witnessed is the autonomic nervous system activating to release certain chemicals such as cortisol or adrenaline and neurotransmitters like noreprophine, opioids etc, that can lead to brain imbalance.

Find our more about Jon Cree and his Challenging Behaviour 3 day course

How does Forest School help bring the brain into balance? Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson in their book ‘The Yes Brain Child’ propose through 7 daily ‘activities’ optimal brain matter is developed to create a healthy mind.

These include; sleep, physical time, focus time, down time, reflective time, connective time, play time.

While all these exist simultaneously at forest school (excepting sleep, unless you drop off in a hammock!) what the outdoors offers in abundance is physical and play time. One of the key mid brain systems Panksepp calls the PLAY system.

It has been shown that regular integrated play helps to stimulate both lower order thinking and higher order brain development, enabling a more integrated brain to develop. When in extended play mode, it could be through a hunting game or ‘playing with’ saws to see what happens when different techniques and materials are experimented with, then all kinds of higher order thinking and behaviours can develop.

These can include handling disappointment, sustaining attention, making sense of the world, overcoming fears of disappointment, tolerating frustration or coping with feelings of helplessness. Chemicals released through play can include serotonin, oxytocin, noreprophine all of which can counteract too many of the hyper and hypo-arousal chemicals.

Explore Challenging Behaviour in the outdoors with Jon Cree

 

The moving and physical activity at forest school beit running, dragging, swinging, climbing or sawing and chipping also helps both dissipate the reactive chemicals and stimulate resilient balanced brains.

 

When this is a regular programme eventually the combination of an empathic approach, plenty of integrated play, physical activity, daydreaming, a soothing green place and reflective time can see more balance and more pro social behaviour.

In the end Jordan will keep hold of the saw, regulate his behaviour and brain, discovering, through trying out how to make the most of technique and materials, the pleasure from ‘making’.

By Jon Cree

Jon Cree
Jon will be in East Sussex in June and November this year with Circle of Life Rediscovery delivering the 3 day course:  Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors.

 

Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors.

This course is aimed at any educator who feels they want to engage and work with students in the outdoors who may be reluctant learners (of any age).

This course will delve into:

  • What challenges us as leaders in the outdoors
  • Theory on challenging behaviour
  • Up-to-date neural research; triggers and causes for challenging behaviour
  • Ways of dealing with ‘real life’ scenarios in the outdoors
  • De-escalation
  • How to transfer outdoor strategies into an indoor and other settings – including looking at the validity of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reviewing your own policies

Date: 17th, 18th & 19th June OR 20th, 21st & 22nd November 2019
Lead Facilitator: Jon Cree
Where: Mill Woods, East Sussex
Cost: £325 for the 3 day course, £55 for the Accreditation (optional). This Level 3 West Midlands Open College Network Accredited Course.
Time: 09.00 – 17.00.
Booking: Please book online here for the June course or online here for the November course.
More info: Please visit the website here for full details.


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

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.

 

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

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, Jon Cree joined us in the woods to facilitate two training days on Story and Play Structures:

Story Telling with Jon Cree“My 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).

Greeted by the smiles and warmth of Marina and Mark, the fire, 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

Join our courses with Jon Cree in 2018!I 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

Play Structures with Jon Cree in 2018A 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.

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!).

Join our Play Structures course with Jon Cree in 2018We 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.

The day ended by testing the 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!

I will be back in 2018 – find out when here.”

 

By Jon Cree, Acting Treasurer, National and International Representation, The Forest School Association

2018 Dates

Story Telling with Jon Cree – 25th January 2018

Play & The Ludic Cycle with Jon Cree – 26th January 2018

Play Structures with Jon Cree – 26th & 27th February 2018

Please visit the website for full details.

Circle of Life Rediscovery