What are the consequences of a child removed from nature?

At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Is our connection to nature disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?

This documentary follows six teenagers who, like the average American child, spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality.

What are we missing when we are behind screens? How does this impact our childrens well being, our society and the very future of our planet?

Through the voices of children and leading experts like Richard Louv, Juliet Schor, Bill McKibben, Gary Small and David Suzuki, PLAY AGAIN introduces new perspectives and encourages action for a sustainable future.

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Our after school activities!

Here is a presentation of what we have been doing in our after school clubs over the last few months. We hope you enjoy some of the activities that we have been doing! We certainly have!

after school club presentation

The magical world of fairies, elves and pixies…

When a boy in one of my older workshops brought an idea to me of making a fairy Pavillion I was a little sceptical inside…. I love magic and I knew he did too however part of me wondered what the other children  would make of the idea of building a home for fairies. Most of the boys in my group are more keen on bows and arrows and catapults.

I  tried the idea of fairy tributes with my younger group (P1-P3). I sat them down and told them a story about the fairies who looked after the forest and helped things grow.I created a fairy tribute circle which we all sat around.

I asked the children how we could thank the fairies and immediately all hands went up. The children were prepared! They were ready to build houses for them to live in….

They were all going to join in to make bridges across the trees to make tree walkways for the fairies. This was a big project requiring team effort by all.

This enthusiasm gave me confidence to make the fairy Pavillion with my older group.

A friend who works for another conservation organisation  came to visit  my workshop.

As I feared immediately all the children said they didn’t believe in fairies but as soon as we started building, they became totally absorbed. They collected flowers, they discussed decoration. They even discussed toilet facilities for the fairies and whether they should dig a hole! It was a fantastic  learning experience for me.

They may be my older group…..but whatever your age, you are never too old to believe in fairies…..

Meadow planting pride!

I would like to share with you some pictures of my children planting meadow plants in their own school grounds. Normally we go out to a nearby park for our workshops activities but this time I thought we would do something to brighten up the school.

 

The outdoor area is predominantely tarmac with only a few plant boxes and no real garden space. Most of the boxes are unused. I thought I would get my nature club planting a meadow to encourage wildlife into the school and involve the other children at the school in nature and outdoor activities.

 



During the planting the weather was wet and cold yet the children, all aged between  5 and 7 years of age worked brilliantly as a team and even helped weed the box before planting. They helped each other dig a hole big enough for each individual plant and decided where they would go, carefully patting the soil down around the plants.

The children became concerned about what would happen to the meadow when the other children came back to school and did not know about the plants. One question from a child was ‘ how are we going to stop the plants getting damaged when the other children come back?’ 

After discussing this for a bit the children decided that they, as ‘nature club’ would take charge of the meadow box as a group to ensure the plants were healthy and also put signs up in the box such as flags telling the other children in the school what it was, why it was there and how to look after it. One boy even decided he was going home to make  a flag to stick in the box that evening! Now that is pride!

What are your thoughts on making schools greener -what are your own ideas? How can after school nature clubs have an effect on in school practice? Any thoughts you have would be very welcome!

Many thanks for reading my blog!

 

When is ‘cold’ too cold?

This blog entry is inspied by Juliet Robertson at Creative Star Learning Company. At what point does it become too cold to take the children outside?

Working with children in Edinburgh, I have discovered that people assume that if the tempeature is low then outdoor worshops will be cancelled. If this was the case I may as well give up now and start teaching indoors. Scotland is not exactly known for its hot sunny days! As a result my immediate response to this question is NEVER! Here are my reasons why.

In teaching outdoor play, bush craft or forest skills, learning about how to deal with outdoor conditions is about learning to take calculated risks. Outdoor play involves ‘dangerous’ play areas, navigating potential hazards and learning to use basic tools. The cold is another potential risk and hazard for the children to come across and learn how to manage. Having worked with adults in the past, I am aware of the numbers of people without any idea of how to dress for cold conditions. This is something that can be learnt from a very young age and something that, if taught would save a lot of lives when people get older and become more adventurous.

When taking children out on a cold day I ask them the following questions:
1) Can you describe the weather to me today?
2) How could we make sure that we stay warm in the weather today?
3) What clothes could we wear to make sure that we stay warm today?

By asking the childen about their own choices of clothing to suit the weather, they then take ownership of their clothing choices and the responsibility that goes with it. This is a huge learning step and so far I have not had a child in my groups unwilling to go out in the cold or be unprepared.  It is also a lesson that stays with the child and one that the children remember for future workshops and indeed in outdoor play in the school playground.

On a side note, there have been a couple of times I have not taken my children outside. This was due to torrential flooding and howling gales. As my work is primarily in forest environments the health and safety of the children has to be taken into account. Falling branches and trees are a real hazard so whilst cold is ok, hurricanes and extreme weather are not. Common sense does have to prevail here.

Overall if children are suitably dressed for the conditions and are taught about the weather it can become an integral part of outdoor play and become part of the fun! The key is to ensure that at all times outdoor play is a positive and fun experience for all involved!

Is free play ‘teaching’ ?

Conversations with friends, after I have taken my workshops often go along the lines of ‘ If children are allowed to explore on their own, how do you teach them?’ Another  common question is ‘what is the learning intention behind your outdoor workshops?’ and  what do you tell your children that they should be learning from your workshops?’

The only response I can give is that the children learn for themselves. I am there to help them discover. I cannot tell them what they should be learning. Indeed a lot of the time I do not know myself as my sessions are geared to exploration in itself. An explorer sets out to discover something new, not with an end goal of what it is that they are going to find. That is how I look at my teaching.

This is a difficult concept for most adults to get to grips with as it contradicts the standard teaching model. However by letting children discover for themselves, questions emerge that you would never imagine. Last workshop we were excavating in the park and we found volcanic rock, critters that no one was able to identify and a whole range of colours and shapes. All of this was found by the children with very little input from me. The whole group was totally engaged for the entire session.

The key I have found to teaching is to question lots but to answer less…..

Outside Learning-it is a two way process!

Starting my recent workshops I was inundated with requests from the children ‘can we build dens?’ As an outdoor educator I have done a reasonable amount of outdoor activities, den building however I have to confess is not a speciality of mine! Not to disappoint however I said ‘absolutely’ and set about researching how and where to build a den so I could teach them how as I have since found out I was going about things the wrong way!

Pondering this dilemma over the half term holidays I had a flash of inspiration! If I can’t build a den then why not find a man who can? I contacted a friend of mine and asked if her five-year old son would like to come and practice den building with me and ‘show me’ how it was done. Wow did I learn a lot! Let the children show you rather than you show them. We ended up with a fantastic den made with branches pushed up against a tree, string added for decoration and to help make us ‘invisible’ to dog walkers. I could never have built a shelter anything close to the one we built that day.

A week later, I tried the activity in one of my workshops with 10 children. I took them to an area of trees, presented them with string, and a tarpaulin and told them to build something. Using team work the older children delegated to the younger children and the younger children delegated to me and soon we had a waterproof shelter that we could all sit under and have a picnic.

What did I learn: Children are the best teachers you could possibly have. You learn more by observing and standing back and letting the children come up with their own creations. The end result of this? Children having huge pride in their work and sense of group ownership of their own creation. Priceless!