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

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!

https://www.circleofliferediscovery.com

info@circleofliferediscovery.com

Tel: 01273 814226

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.

 

 

https://www.circleofliferediscovery.com/

Tel: 01273 814226

The Great Outdoors

One great book and five great reasons to teach core curriculum subjects Outside the Classroom.

Learning with Nature is aimed at inspiring and supporting adults to get outdoors with young people aged 3 to 16 years old.

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Chris Packham


“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, March 2014.

 

“For the first time I am meeting teachers who have themselves never played or enjoyed the outdoors during their childhood. They don’t know what to ‘do’, and place a low value on the outdoors as a learning environment. We know young people today are spending hours on video games, and that their roaming radius has reduced by about 70% since the 1950s with the consequent rise in levels of obesity, mental health issues and isolation.” Marina Robb, Author and Founder Circle of Life Rediscovery.

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Learning with Nature


Why is this book important?

This book makes it possible for parents and teachers to get outdoors. It aims to capture the imagination of families and contribute to reversing the current ‘indoor’ trend. It provides a valuable resource for educators to deepen and expand what they already offer.

SPECIAL OFFER AVAILABLE NOW – £12.00 + POSTAGE. CLICK HERE TO ORDER.

1. THE ‘WOW’ MOMENT

Natural environments can transform individual and school performance. Nature can provide a fantastic Wow! moment for your lesson, to bookend your key learning outcomes, and to support them. Children have an innate fascination about nature. It may be soaking in an atmospheric place in your local park or nature reserve as a stimulus for creative writing, or estimating measurements or volumes of areas, spaces, trees or ponds as a basis for maths. The outdoors facilitates strong emotional memories and aids learning. Play outdoors can be physical, explorative, constructive, imaginative and creative.

SAM_1515There are many adventurous activities to be had in the outdoors that do not necessarily conform to normal activities such as climbing trees and playing outdoor games. Evidence shows that learning in natural environments can transform individual and school performance by increasing the standards of teaching and learning, allowing innovation, creativity and excellence in curriculum delivery, as well as increasing motivation and attainment.

For example, The Natural Connections Demonstration Project was set up as one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK. The Project approach and design is informed by the latest insight research of teachers needs, evidence of barriers and benefits of learning in natural environments and best practice models for engaging volunteers.

Wherever your outdoor classroom is, find resources to help bring the lesson to life: https://www.countrysideclassroom.org.uk/

  • Case Study: Developing children’s learning through work in the natural environment from Preesall Fleetwood’s Charity Church of England Primary School.

“The initiative started as a way of engaging a small group of boys who were underachieving and were not keen to be at school. These boys showed an interest in the natural environment and we capitalised on this by providing practical learning sessions working outdoors in the school grounds and woods. The results were fabulous. They continued to work in the school grounds during their lunch periods and they had a reason to come to school. Their attitudes improved, which carried over into their school work and their achievement at level 4 was better than expected. The ‘forest school’ and wider environmental work are now integral parts of this school’s work.” 
John Belshire, Headteacher.

  • The good practice in detail.

Inspectors identified the ‘forest school’ as an outstanding feature of environmental education at the school. All the children are involved in activities in the outdoors and in the woodland, but it is the youngest and oldest children who spend most time there. Children are allowed to climb trees and build fires. They listen to the heartbeat of trees (sap rising), and identify bird songs. They make and use tools ranging from potato peelers to knives, axes and mallets. They make environmental art, maintain the grounds and plant trees. There is a thriving ‘bug hotel’ and older children are involved in more complex tasks such as hedge-laying and pond maintenance.

While it’s clear that pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the environment improves, Julia Crompton, the school’s ‘forest school’ teacher, identifies the real benefits of this outdoor learning as:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Improved social skills
  • The development of language and communication skills
  • Improved physical motor skills
  • Improved motivation and concentration.

trackingim1“We focused on the natural environment provided by the school grounds as a learning opportunity and a way to enrich children’s experiences. The grounds were originally established about 15 years ago but had not been actively used by the children. They were used for science lessons and the greenhouse was used for growing some plants but we found opportunities to do much more. It has been made easy by the enthusiasm and the expertise of staff and is now a regular part of this school’s work.”
John Belshire, Headteacher.

Children enjoy taking risks, but the school recognises that safety is paramount. Skills are learnt carefully and safety equipment is always used. By its nature, practical work is not a mass participation activity. Children work in groups of around six at a time to ensure that they have a quality learning activity which is safe. Once the children have been taught to use tools, they will expand the quality of their ideas and plans because the range of what they perceive to be possible has expanded.

Case Study: The Chicken Project – Beechwood Primary School

“The chickens have slowed us down, they make us stop and stare’. Staff report that the children are quieter and calmer around the chickens and the whole school benefits because the aviary is right in the centre of the school.

Learning Objectives
We were looking for ideas to motivate the children to write, through cross curricular contexts and to inspire the teachers to revisit the planning and incorporate child-centred, compelling learning experiences. We were also hoping to engage the parents through homework and in school activities.

Pupil Learning Outcomes
Increased empathy and awareness of other living creatures. Awe and wonder of nature as the chickens hatch from eggs. Imagine the children writing from the perspective of the chick hatching form the egg…incredible! Confidence building, you can email a company to ask for fundraising money or telephone the manager of the local Coop to fund our coop! And many, many more!

What lessons have teachers / the school learned from the project / activity?
Ofsted like Learning in the natural environment! Our recent Ofsted report for which we received a ‘good’ included this statement: ‘Pupils are keen to undertake responsibilities such as looking after the school chickens.’ Staff discovered that children engage better with their learning when they are immersed in and have a personal connection with the theme. Money is no object, fund raising large sums of money is possible. With enough enthusiasm you can achieve anything!

2. ADDRESS DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES

We are programmed to interact with our environment in useful ways. Being outside provides opportunities to address different learning styles, in particularly kinesthetic learners can excel as they use their bodies differently to learn. Getting all children off their seats is a great way to stretch their capacities to learn in different ways. All the senses are stimulated, the colours, textures, shapes, smells, sounds awaken our awareness and develop our skills to navigate their surroundings.

Physical Development has become one of three key areas in the Early Years Foundation Stage guidance and this is a golden opportunity for introducing Outdoor Learning. The things children do in their bodies and the way they are physically in their everyday life massively affect the way they develop, the things they can learn and how they feel about themselves.

The developing human animal is biologically programmed to get what it needs. We are programmed to interact with our environment in useful ways. Thus a low brick wall invites us to walk along it; a tree (or a chair, or an adult’s body) suggests we climb or hang off it; a large open space tells us to run. These aren’t decisions, they’re instincts, imperatives – because we must run and climb and spin and roll to grow the body systems we need for all that life asks of us in future. These instincts come before any complex intellectual or social skills. They underpin them – and our bodies know it. In the rough and tumble, run, spin, tip and roll of movement play we grow the foundations for our health, our wellbeing and our capacity to learn things.

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Children’s bodies matter to their learning

Proprioception (sense of body) provides feedback of where one part of our body is in relation to the others and how we feel in our bodies.

We are compelled to get this sense in place before we can concentrate on anything else. (Think of the day you break a tooth, and how your tongue is compelled to feel it out over and over until you have a new sense of your body, without that bit of tooth.) Developing our vestibular system (the thing that monitors our relationship with gravity and the ground beneath us), must come before any more complicated physical or mental skills we might acquire in PE lesson or in the classroom. It provides a sense of, and security in, our relationship with the world around – being in balance or equilibrium. Spinning is an excellent vestibular workout. As it happens, it also helps prepare the eyes for reading.

“We humans are, first and foremost, physical creatures. Our body is our first home. Movement is our first language. Children need support to notice, speak and work with their first language first. But our early years framework simply doesn’t reflect this. The Early Learning goals made by people who don’t move freely, for people who do (i.e. small children). When we support children to move spontaneously and freely, the learning they do far exceeds the lowest common denominators of ‘balance and coordination’ and ‘fine and gross motor’ skills, but our education culture skips over anything to do with embodied learning and we never make up the lost ground.”

If you’re not convinced, try this exercise
Put a pen in the hand you don’t write with, and write a sentence. Notice how it feels to do this, how unfamiliar and odd; how difficult it is to make your hand do what you want it to. Now write the same sentence with the hand you usually use. The feelings will be very different – full of comfort and ease; above all – familiarity.

For writing to work well, we need this familiarity. We need to be able to fall into the physical pattern without thinking about it; for our body to feel ‘right’ as we carry out the task so that we don’t have to think about it. This ‘rightness’ is provided by our proprioceptive sense, the sense of where one body part is in relation to another. (And practice of course.) This sense also controls our sense of how much force we need to hold the pencil between our fingers and pushing the pen over the paper.

Writing practice is important. But as important is the movement play that builds a felt sense of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder and back.

This is one example of the importance of senses and the development of our well-being. For more information about the above please go to: https://www.jabadao.org/?blog=

A different set of learning goals for Physical Development for babies and children:

Display a strong inner drive to explore themselves, each other and the world around through physical interactions, movement play of their own devising and physical engagement with the environment.


Are on the move for the majority of their day – moving in lots of different ways (with gusto and abandonment; care and precision; outer and inner focus; on their own, in relationship to internal and external factors, on the floor, in small and large spaces, indoors and out).


Show pleasure in being physical and know what to do to feel good in their bodies.


Show growing understanding of how to take care of themselves and other people as they actively engage in physical exploration and play.


Know how to find and use resources to extend their movement play; and how to involve adults and peers in developing their physical play.


Can make the world work for them, manipulating objects and negotiating the environment with purpose and focus, in the ways they intend; they are able to persist through physical challenges and show the determination to acquire new skills and abilities.


Show a growing ability to balance highly physical activity with rest and quieter activity.


Show a developing security and confidence in their physicality through:

  •  A growing sense of their own body (proprioception).
  • Increasing security in their relationship to gravity (vestibular sense).
  • Ease with touch and being touched (tactile sense).
  • Recognition of pain, heat, cold and hunger and appropriate responses.
  • A growing awareness of the feeling of the inside of their body (interoception) and appropriate responses.
  • A steadily developing stability and motor control in their chosen physical actions.

Take pleasure in sharing a range of discoveries made through physical play – in movement, in vocal and verbal responses, in visual representations.


Value movement play as an important part of their day and show high levels of wellbeing as they engage in it.


Use information gained through the languages of the body – sensation, feeling, movement, instinct and image – to work out how the world works, in communicating their experience, in problem solving and in becoming confident, happy, full-bodied people.


3. GET GREAT SMSC IDEAS….ANIMAL RIGHTS?

Address Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education requirements by observing and discussing other beings: the animals and plants around us have the right to a home and habitat that suit them, but what do we do when humans need homes and transport? The opportunities to hone children’s awareness of moral dilemmas around the natural world in the city are ample. Consider how reliant humans are on tools and resources, whilst the non-human world interacts without additional resources such as clothes, fire, etc.

Thinking skills with mind and body
We need to prepare children to be flexible and adaptable members of the workforce by virtue of their abilities to think laterally, creatively and sustainably. Our culture prizes intellectual skills over physical instincts. And so we constantly try and override the inbuilt instinct to be a body in the name of ‘ordered learning environments’ and acquisition of intellectual skills. We seek to tame the body, contain it, use it like a sort of vehicle to carry us quietly to the more important things in our lives. And in so doing, we miss the obvious. Our future responsibility according to Sara Knight (2013) is to children who will be dealing with environmental and climate change. To teach, ‘science and geography about individual’s place in the globalised society. In the English National Curriculum Consultation Document Feb 2013 there is nothing mentioned about how we as individuals and society as a whole interact with these processes, such as resource depletion, and the impacts on the natural world upon which we depend for all our lifestyles not about climate change, and how we can influence and care for these key processes’.

One of the biggest issues we face today is this sense of being un-rooted; disconnected from natural world. It’s a huge problem that we face now across the whole of society. It’s to do with that deep relationship, it’s to do with what sociologists describe as a ‘profound sense of alienation’ between the majority of human beings and the natural world that sustains us and makes life possible for us.

“This has been creeping up on us for many decades. Now, does this really matter? You might say that there are many more important things to be attending to. Why would we bother about this when we have so many front of mind topical, hard issues to do with society today. For me, this is a really difficult issue, because unless we get to some of these deeper concerns, much of what we do around the specific campaigning issues will not be rooted in the current reality of where we are today. Will not be grounded in that reality.” Jonathan Porritt 2013, Outdoor Learning Conference in Sussex.

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We have to take a wide approach to give us a sense of deeper insights into those whole complicated relationships inside the wider system. To begin, you can discuss ‘Ecosystem Services’ as a way of recalibrating and re-understanding people communities and place.

 

What do some of these ecosystems mean? There is a growing school of economists who seek to put a value on each of these ecosystem services. What is the value to human kind of the free work done on our behalf? Like all those insects, birds, bees, bats… all those creatures that just as part of their life carry on, carry on this pollination work for us. Try and tot up the X billions of pounds which we would have to find to pay for man made, human-made pollination services to replace the natural pollination.

There are first steps in schools to build a visceral relationship to the world around them. How many species of flora and fauna do you know about in your school grounds? The name is the least important bit, what are the colours, shapes, patterns, the medicines, the smells, where does it like to grow and live, what is the relationship between that plant and the insects and mammals. Start small.

4. CREATE GOOD RELATIONSHIPS

Change the relationships in a conflict-ridden class by taking them to do different activities outdoors, such as learn to light fire or build a den. They will need to cooperate differently, make decisions, use different skills and engage in a stress-reducing environment, all of which can deflect tension built up in classroom conflicts. The outside environment is a great leveler, where children can be valued and find different strengths and roles within a group. Discipline and attention are increased, alongside the performance and ability of children.

Relationships between children can be challenged and deflected by exposing a group to tasks that stretch and stimulate them in different ways. Being outdoors can exercise children’s powers of observation, patience, alertness, courage and physical coordination, which are skills which in the familiar classroom are not so easy to exercise. If you go to a local outdoor area, a park with wild parts, a nature-reserve or even a cemetery, here are some activities which could work:

Make a colour bracelet. This works well in autumn when there are lots of beautiful dead leaves around. Give each child a strip of paper with double-sided sticky tape covering one side. It should be long enough to wrap around their wrist, like a bracelet or a cuff. They should stick on pieces of natural material of a similar colour as possible, once they take off the cover of the sticky tape. This will make them observe intensely the foliage around them. You can give a prize for the one with the closest colours, or to the most beautiful one. This activity works with almost any age group.

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Patience is enormously enhanced by wildlife observation. Download bug identification sheets, great ones are available from Holland Park ecology centre here: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/PDF/Minbeasts%20pack.pdf tell the children they are to find a certain number of creatures on their sheet, and give them a good amount of time to do it.

This activity is best done on a nature reserve or with specialist support if you aren’t confident with either the species or the tools needed to find them. On a small scale, however, it can be done very simply with magnifying glasses.

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A bird-count.
Make children sit in small groups in wild areas for a period of time that will challenge their patience, and ask them to observe as many birds as possible. Spring is a good time to do this.

 

Give them brownie points if they see birds eating, or roosting or communicating: behaviours which will prove that they were patiently and quietly observed for a time by the children.

In an area with various trees, get the children into small groups, and tell each of them to make friends with a tree. They should notice its size, its texture, its bark, its smell and how the ground around its roots is. Then, one child is blindfolded and the others should turn them around and support them to re-find their friendly tree, based on their tactile and perceptual memories.

A game where children are asked to move around a wild area unobserved is incredibly exciting for children, and encourages stealth, silence, focus, concentration and care in the environment. There are lots of such games that could be adapted, but one could be the retrieving of secret items or messages to complete a story, or moving around a quiet obstacle course without alerting the opposite team.

Making a wormery can be a challenge for those who don’t like creepy crawlies. Give a prize to people who are able to pick up worms and move them around. Jumping on a piece of land to encourage the worms to come up, then put them in a wormery to observe how they make tunnels and can quickly mix soil and create compost. There is lots of advice online about how to create a wormery. The great advantage of worms is that they eat any organic matter, and they can easily be released into the school grounds if caring for them becomes too onerous, or in the holidays.

Exposure to nature calms us, lowers our heart rate and lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, in the blood, making us less likely to create conflict or lose our tempers. This is entirely relevant to children as well as to adults.

The outdoors is also a great place for teachers to observe children in new surroundings, and gain possibly new insights into their development and how they handle challenge and conflict, which can be useful in supporting individual children with difficulties in future, or gaining learning on how to manage a difficult class when back in conventional surroundings. A useful web-page on handling conflict with young children can be found here: https://www.communityplaythings.co. uk/learning-library/articles/childrenand-conflict-in-the-classroom

Berlin’s playgrounds: how to reduce urban violence through play An interesting case study is that of West Berlin’s playgrounds in the 1980s. West Berlin had long been almost surrounded with Soviet-occupied land, leaving little space for Berliners to enjoy nature. At the same time, the incidence of child and adolescent violence in Berlin’s schools was unacceptable. The education authorities undertook a very wise 20-year programme of transforming the city’s school playgrounds to make them more variant, more rich in nature and employing inspiring strategies to present choice, space, intimacy, creativity and inspiration to the spaces. They are profiled in a series of documents by Learning through landscapes, who have worked with Scottish schools to learn from Berlin and try to implement the same strategies in other conflict-ridden areas. The documents can be downloaded here: https://www.ltl.org.uk/spaces/casestudy.php?cs=31

5. BECOME AN OFSTED ‘OUTSTANDING’

Ofsted highly prizes teaching methods that include creativity and originality and engage pupils’ imaginations. Using the outside creatively could contribute to earning imaginative teachers ‘outstanding’ status at their next inspection, leading to higher status in their school and possible career enhancement.

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In particular, taking learning outside and following some of the activities above can combat the dreaded ‘teacher domination’, in which the teacher falls back on ‘talk and chalk’ methodology for teaching.

 

We know that sometimes direct spoken delivery of information is necessary, but the outdoor environment is one that directly contrasts the traditional arena of the blackboard-focused teaching style, and is thus likely to impress an inspector who sees teachers doing it. If you are in danger of overloading your daily curriculum delivery with teacher-talk, starting to become confident with the outdoors as a great arena for group work, independent work, creative child-centred collaborative work is a fantastic way to develop your classroom range towards Outstanding status.

Ofsted clarified, in a recent document, that they do not judge teachers’ performance on small snippets of observation, but want to collate an overall impression drawn from pupils’ work, talking to pupils and assessing their attitude to learning, observing behavior and teachers’ style with their class, as well as their evidence of practical preparation, book-marking, classroom displays and collaboration with support staff. All these can be supported by taking learning outside, in the following ways, in particular with regard to the animated and engaged way children who have enjoyed outdoor learning consistently will speak in way about it to any adult questioner, giving a great impression of their attitude to learning.

Marina Robb
Marina Robb

Founder & Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery
www.circleofliferediscovery.com | 01273 814226 | info@circleofliferediscovery.com

We provide nature based experiences and programmes that are educational, fun and often life-changing. We run funded projects with our partners that directly support health and well-being for vulnerable members of our society.

 

We offer 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; improve your knowledge and skills with our adult training CPD days.

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Learning with Nature

In our time of fast-paced, exam-pressured, high-tech culture, where does learning with nature have a place?

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When adults are asked to recall a time in their youth when they were happiest, invariably they refer to times spent outdoors and with friends. Our clever screen world keeps us busy and on the go, but does not help us to communicate, feel loved, gain the satisfaction of the quiet mind, and relax. Time with others in nature does exactly that — and much, much more!

Engaging and Thriving
We need an education that includes learning and understanding how the world is much more than human-centered, and that instills in us a sense of belonging and curiosity about life. When subject learning takes place outside, it becomes embodied and has greater meaning. Our work aims to bring the subjects outside while building meaningful relationships with the natural world. For example, a tree becomes a living being with its own characteristics and often with healing properties. The class “builds a tree” using all the parts: the bark, xylem, cambium, sapwood, heartwood, roots, and leaves. Real experiences build empathy, a hallmark of a healthy human.

In language arts classes, sensory description supports a good piece of creative writing and generally helps the reader to be “in” the piece. If we ask students to describe what things smell and sound like, their attention is drawn to notice the smells of soil, how rough some tree bark may feel, or the sound of the wind through branches. One consequence of this sensory focus is improved, descriptive writing full of imagination — with an added bonus of high marks on writing assignments!

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Young children thrive outdoors. They develop their sense of balance by moving, not by sitting down, and exploring the world around them. We all need encouragement to take risks, building up our resilience and confidence — the skills that will equip us all our life.

We live in a time where disconnection is rife. It is common for 14-year-olds to not know that a book is made from a tree or that the fuel for their school bus comes from the earth long before it comes from the petrol station.

We have taken hundreds of young people out into nature for a one-time afternoon session, overnight or weeklong camping trips, and regular on going woodland programs. We have worked with young people from a wide diversity of backgrounds. The satisfaction of seeing them transform from indoor kids afraid of nature, recoiling at the yuck factor and the thought of getting dirty, to brave young adventurers diving into bushes to hide from the “eagle eyes” that will be looking for them in “3, 2, 1…” makes it all worth the effort.

Outdoor Learning
There are hundreds of activities that we could suggest, but here are a couple of the simplest, most accessible, and effective.

Try a scavenger hunt in an outdoor area. In small groups or in pairs, children must seek different objects that you have written on their list, such as:

A feather
An acorn
Something that’s been eaten
Something that smells
A seed
Something that’s rough
Something that’s heavy
Something yellow
An animal hair

Depending on your age group, it can be fun to add objects that engage the imagination even more, such as something that could be a gnome’s hat. Once many objects have been gathered, you could use them in many ways depending on your aims and objectives. You could talk about classification and group the objects according to whether they belong to the animal, mineral, or plant kingdoms. You might keep some of the more robust items in a bag and have a child feel inside, pick one up, and describe what he or she can feel while the others guess, thus developing vocabulary and understanding of adjectives.

20150523_142734Before launching into any biology around botany, plant life, and transpiration, it can be a fun challenge to try doing leaf puzzles with your class. This is just like a jigsaw puzzle. We start by choosing a leaf that is at least as long as an adult’s palm and tearing it into four or more pieces (depending on age and ability of your students). Give each child a single torn leaf and break the class into pairs. Partners trade leaves and try to put the puzzle back together again. Children often soon notice how the veins can help them in rearranging their leaves and detecting differences in the upper and lower sides. Just be mindful not to include any leaves that could be toxic. Common examples that work well include hazel, lime, oak, and dandelion.

In the end, we hope that our children will be healthy and happy, and that they’ll have a good future. It’s unusual to hear people ask whether nature has a place in education. How can it not? The most important question of our time is how we can look after the natural world, because we need so much from it to sustain us. The future belongs to a generation who figures out how to do this.

Marina Robb and Victoria Mew. Authors of ‘Learning with Nature’.

Whose Tracks? Answers here!

Did you have fun with the kids guessing who made the tracks on our recent activity sheet?

Click here to view our answer sheet!

Keep your eye on our emails to download the next FREE activity sheet – coming soon just in time for the Easter break. Packed with quizzes, games and guess the egg!kids-walk-wood-parent

Need Easter holiday ideas? Why not come along to our family day on 7th April. Fun in the woods for the entire family including games, activities and crafts. Take some time out and connect with nature, inspire your children and most importantly – have fun!

 

Holiday, Family Activities and Camps

Keep your family entertained this Easter by attending our holiday and family days! We offer bespoke days in the Sussex countryside aimed at getting your children outdoors to learn new skills, make things, meet new people and have fun whilst enjoying the great outdoors. Please note spaces are limited so please get in touch to secure your place! Don’t forget we also offer family camps and summer camps for children during the school holidays – early booking essential.

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*New* – Family Camp 28th-30th May

Enjoy the woods and relax with your family during May half-term. Nature based games and activities for all the family including tracking, crafts and fire lighting. Find out more.

Early booking essential – limited spaces. View our photo gallery to see how much fun you can have in the woods!

Complimentary Download – Whose Tracks?

Looking for ideas to entertain the children during the holidays? Click here to download our FREE seasonal activity sheet. Answers will be posted on our Blog shortly!

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Book Review by Graham Watson, John Muir Award Cumbria Manager

Learning with Nature.

20140617=learning-with-nature=front-cover=low-res-1000x1000Beautifully presented as a ‘how-to’ guide to inspire children, Learning with Nature is aimed at families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children. The blurb tells me the activities are suitable for ages 3 to 16 and will help develop practical skills, awareness and respect for the natural world. An initial flick through reveals great images and a layout of activities that is easy to follow.

The introduction gives context in the form of an intriguing diagram showing an ‘extinction of experience’ revealed by the decline in roaming radius from home of 8 year olds from the 1920s (6 miles) to 2007 (700 yards), followed by the benefits of increased time in nature. There’s also advice on how to make the most of the book through the art of questioning to nurture curiosity, and a section on Looking after Nature which sets out the interplay between nature and people to allow both to flourish. I was thinking hard before I got to the activities!

leafThe activities are set out in 4 themes: games, naturalist, seasonal and survival skills. There’s a large range and each activity has clear advice on resources needed (often none, which I like), number of people, age, duration and how to do it. A note on variations and links to similar or complimentary activities is helpful. A side box titled Invisible Learning gives an idea of what we might expect when using the activity, advice I found either reinforced my own ideas or alerted me to new possibilities.

If the book lacks anything it’s the benefits of using the outdoors from a formal education perspective. However I think those working in this context will easily recognise ways of using these activities in their work.

10246355_10152042900188803_739863649045105486_nThis book is much more than a collection of great activities. It has an aim we can all buy into to forge “a heartfelt relationship [with nature] that will renew and inform our culture, creating love and respect for the natural world.” This is an excellent book for parents, teachers and youth leaders alike looking to inspire young people with nature. Get a copy and head outdoors!

Learning with Nature is now available at the special offer price of £14.99 (+ postage) via the Circle of Life Rediscovery website.


Graham Watson is the John Muir Award Cumbria Manager with the Lake District National Park. “Connect, enjoy and care for wild places.”

Graham can be contacted at cumbria@johnmuiraward.org 

The John Muir Award encourages people to connect with, enjoy and care for wild places. It’s the main educational initiative of the John Muir Trust the leading wild land conservation charity in the UK, which works to protect wild land and wild places.

Find out the difference the John Muir Award makes and why they need your support.

Farming & Countryside Education Book Review

cropped-cropped-cropped-img_549512.jpgLearning with Nature is fittingly described as “A how-to guide to
inspiring children through outdoor games and activities”. Featuring
a foreword from Chris Packham, the book is packed with dozens of
activities and games as well as survival skills and a brief note on
looking after nature.

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The activities, some of which are split by season, are varied and
suitable for families of all sizes. We especially enjoyed the Walnut
Boats activity and the Swallow Migration activity, which involves
children simulating the epic journey swallows make with their own
home-made birds.

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The games section of the book is perfect for youth groups or schools,
as the majority of games require 4 or more children to play and many
are suitable for groups of 8 or larger.

Learning with Nature is an excellent resource for youth groups or
schools looking for some inspiring ideas for outdoor pursuits. In
terms of activities, the book is great for families, though some of
the games will require your children’s friends to come along!

Circle of Life Rediscovery are pleased to be offering trainings throughout 2015 that will inspire you to be outside! Visit our Nature-based Workshops.

Thanks FACE: www.face-online.org.uk to visit their website