Sunday, 22 June 2014

Look after yourself, look after each other and look after the place we are in.

There are many ways that I have used over the years to set ground rules with children. It always boils down to this though; 

How this is works is negotiated as we need to know it, sometimes in the middle of a game we might need to stop and work out the rules and make sure they work for everyone. This process of making group agreements rather than ground rules is an important part of developing social skills and having empathy for other people's needs.

With this comes an element of responsibility for your own self. Knowing where the boundaries are and making sure you stay with the group is important. As is the ability to notice your needs and do something about them.

This can't come at the cost of the place we are in. We should remember that we are visitors, in the home of the things that live in the woods and wilds. 

I've been making some resources to help focus on these three responsibilities and I'm interested to hear how you start these sorts of conversations with the children you work with.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wood cookies swinging in the trees make romantic braids...

Occasionally I see a craft technique and think to myself "I can't wait to take that to the woods!" So it was when I attended a textile workshop with Larry Schmidt at the North House Folk School. He specialises in traditional Scandinavian textile techniques that were brought to America by the first settlers and the have wonderful names like flettet snor, frynseflet, bregdet band and rundflet snor.

I've shared this technique with various practitioners and children over the years, most recently when I was hanging out in the woods with the fabulous Treecreepers. They have done what I have never managed to do and got some excellent photos that they allowed me to share with you. (Thank you Simon and Harry).

The technique is called a Nordic slinging braid. Also known as a romantic braid because it requires two people and good cooperation!

The first step is to hang weights off four strands of wool, string or thread. These strings need to be two different colours. Wood cookies or little branch slices are ideal for weights. Treecreepers used different symbols to help people who can't distinguish the colours as easily. This promotes thinking skills, trying to work out what things would work as opposites.

The strings need to be tied together then hung above head height. This is when I realised that the woods are ideal for this. All those convenient branches! 

Next stand facing opposite each other, each with two strings of different colours, one in each hand.

The next bit is simple; take the string in your left hand and let it swing across and swap it with the string in your partners left hand. 

Now do the same with the strings held in both of your right hands.  

Now repeat; left, right, left, right and... allow the rhythm to build, the strings to swing, from one person to the next, sometimes getting faster, or slowing down, stopping completely to untangle and laugh when things go awry. 

You will notice a braid starting to develop above your head and a pattern starting to develop in the braid. This pattern will be different depending on whether you both have the same colour strings in your left hand or opposite colour strings. You could try more than two colours when you get the hang of things. 

They are called romantic braids because you can only really do them with another person, I like the way this appeals to very physical people, and people who like to get immersed in making things, as well as people who 'don't normally like this sort of thing' but think they will have a go.  

Massive thanks to Treecreepers for the use of their pictures. Check out their facebook page for more inspiration (and probably some pictures of beetles). 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Bug book hotel

I have spent an inspiring couple of days in Scotswood Natural Community Garden. It's a stunnning place on so many levels; just two to three acres in very urban part of Newcastle, thriving with trees, flowers, birds, insects, foxes, ponds and people.

The garden is a real treat for the senses, with lots to discover. I was taken with these book bug hotels that Hive Arts made with the Garden for their Pollination Street project.  

So much so that as soon as I got home I started hunting through the bookcases and garden for suitable materials. 
The first step was to drill a few holes into a log from the firewood pile. 

I chose a few different hole sizes. This sort of habitat will be appealing to a range of small creatures like ladybirds, their larvae, lacewings and solitary bees. 

Then I chose a book with a hard back cover. This was a really tricky thing for me. I'm a real book worm and was always told that you should never do bad things to books (or paintbrushes). But I overcame my conditioning, found a book on Ecology that was very out of date and I think the author would approve of it becoming a habitat!

The last ingredient was a bundle of hollow stems from plants that had died over the winter. When I tidy up all the dead stuff in spring I keep this for fire lighting so I still had a ready supply. You could use bamboo canes instead of hollow stems. 

Using a drill I made holes in the spine of the book. Then got a stick with two pieces of long wire wrapped round it that would hold everything together. 

Materials assembled! I used quite a lot of trial and error as well as some pliers to get the wire tight enough and to make sure everything was securely held together. I started by threading two wires through a hole drilled up through the log, then took both wires round the bundle and then through the book. Pushing extra stems through the bundle helped make everything tight and I could use the left over wire wound together to make a strong hanging hook. 

With everything assembled it was ready to hang. I chose a sheltered spot in a tree out of the sun and weather. Hive Arts were inspired by Alec Finlay's 'Bee Library' at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 

 I hope they like their new home.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Walking alongside

Sitting around the fire at a recent Forest School conference a fascinating discussion developed about the nature of the pedagogy we employ. My friend Annie, of Get Out More, remembered a conversation she and I had had a few years ago. We had been discussing the amount of knowledge that we feel we should have in order to help someone else learn. She had said to me that she had noticed something that had helped her, the realisation that you only need to be one step ahead of where the learners are. We laughed when she recalled that my answer had been "One step! As much as that?"

As I reflect on this conversation later I realise that there is a deeper truth in this idea, held in the approach to learning employed in Forest School. If we look at the word 'pedagogy' it's roots hold the secret of the skill we that we try and master, the "science and art of teaching"; 
In Ancient Greek and Roman culture the pedagogue was the adult, often a trusted slave, whose role it was to walk with the child in the street, carrying their bags and modelling how to behave in a range of situations. He or she was not the teacher who directed the acquisition of subject knowledge. The pedagogue was literally the person who walked alongside the child to the place where they learned. Maybe one step ahead, if as much as that.  

My husband and our long legged dog love to go striding out across the moors near our home. Both covering ground at great speed and exhilarating in the wild weather. I go with them sometimes but it requires careful negotiation. I have a tendency to get distracted; an abandoned egg shell from a moorland nest, a wildflower blooming in the moss, concentric circles of vivid lichens. Then, when I look up they are gone. Little specks away up the hill, (always uphill) and I have to really motivate myself to catch up. I arrive, out of breath as they wait patiently, ready to move on again.

When we try and keep pace with each other, it is much easier to get into the flow of walking. I have to walk a little faster and push myself. He has to pause and take notice of little things. The dog runs in circles around us both. But we are walking together, maybe one of us is one step ahead, if as much as that. 

This is the ideal that I try and strive for in my own practise and in the sharing of my knowledge. I try to walk alongside the children. Delighting in the observations they choose to share with me, encouraging them to push themselves a little. Rather than rushing ahead, leaving them to struggle on their own, expecting them to keep up.

The more I think about this the more I appreciate the woods as a place of playful learning. Where we can create the time and space so children and adults can learn alongside each other. That learning and developing ideas with people does not mean that we are making it up as we go along, that we are lazy or unprepared but rather we use our skills and expertise to stay with the learners. Maybe one step ahead. If as much as that. 

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