‘Nature journaling’ ; a channel to reconnecting with Vitamin N ..

We had a wonderful walk this morning, Stan, Gwen and I. Through the lanes and across the fields, walking from our doorstep into a haven of nature. Cow parsley lined the hedgerows and Birdsong filled the air , it was the loudest noise we could hear and quite an orchestra. Surely it was ‘song’ that I have heard many times before but not quite so clearly and not as loud as I am hearing it now, in this time of lockdown. .

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Stan and Gwen

Definitely blackbird tunes, and maybe blue-tit? I wasn’t sure and it’s made me want to learn the different birdsong so I can recognise them. Just like I recognise a voice that I hear coming up the street, or in someone’s garden , I hear it and I know who it is and that makes me feel connected to that person. I need to feel the same about knowing my birds and their unique song as they communicate their breakfast news to one another . This is a great example of ‘Vitamin N’ (Louv, 2011).

What is causing this effect? Why is my thinking stimulated so intensely on this subject? I’ve always needed nature around me so why now? I’m researching the effects of Covid-19 on people’s relationship to nature and now I feel the need to ‘nature journal’ and work through these transitions for myself.

These experiences it seems are part of being connected to nature – listening, but really hearing ,…it’s different. Russell et al (2013) determined ‘4 channels of human interactions with ecosystems’ to be ‘knowing, perceiving, interacting and living within’. My recent experiences fall within ‘perceiving’ , that is having a visual perspective of nature , seeing it and noticing it ; as well as ‘interacting’, that is to be having a direct experience with nature  , often multi sensory ,e.g. hearing the birdsong. These are ‘somethings’ that I do daily in and around nature, so these repetitive, pervasive experiences are  part of ‘living within’ a natural ecosystem and together the inter-relatedness of these ‘channels’ fine tunes me to my surroundings, connecting me to nature, giving me a sense of place ,…. as a part of it and not different to it. This ‘interaction’ is more noticeable at this current time of Covid-19 than I have noticed before. As a lover of nature, I always thought I noticed and interacted with it , but now there is a different feeling , a sense of reverence and ‘equality’. We are the same. We are important. We need to be cared for. We are no different, nature and I.

Human needs are perhaps no better known and defined than by Maslow (1943) and they have been foundational in exploring many aspects of human well being.  These taxonomies have been expanded by many and Russell et al (2013) offer 10 constituents of well being that attempt to synthesise  human well being and nature. These are:

1. Physical health
2. Mental health
3. Spirituality
4. Certainty and sense of control and security
5. Learning/capability
6. Inspiration/fulfillment of imagination

7. Sense of place
8. Identity/autonomy
9. Connectedness/belonging
10. Subjective (overall) well-being

So how do my experiences fit with this framework ?

In my noticing and interacting with nature on a daily basis I certainly experience positive effects on physical, mental and spiritual health. My stress level is reduced, my heart rate slows, my mindset is ‘grateful’ and I accept the fragility of the planet and human well being as  concepts that are inter-dependent. One needs the other, being as one (Kumar, 2017). Humans are nature.

Sense of control could be negative in these times, sense of safety is jeopardised by Covid- 19 and so uncertainty pervades being part of a safe place, yet ironically when ‘in’ nature, a calmness can override the current climate.

Following time spent within nature, perceiving and interacting with it , creativity is certainly ignited. My thoughts are stimulated to developing areas of research on this topic to enhance my own learning, even to journal the thoughts about it – meta-cognition, and I am inspired by the ways nature changes my views, even to the ways I accessorize my home and my shed! 🌾🐝🌈

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Journaling in my Shed; my quiet place

My ‘sense of place’ is heightened if I interact with nature;  it seems we become ‘attached’  and this emotional connection  lures us into caring for that ‘ place’, what lives there and why we need to protect it. This may not be as strong, if ‘nature’ is just thought about (knowing ) or just seen from a distance  (perceived), but once  there is direct engagement it is felt strongly and can link to our identity and purpose , who we are and what underpins our values. Being in my local natural environment gives me a sense of place and belonging and a responsibility to care for it . Sense of place and identity can be attuned sometimes to working for organisations or being part of voluntary groups that care for the environment and steward the planet,  or perhaps simply nurturing your garden or plants on a balcony. Your sense of place, calm and purpose. How we connect can be different for everyone, I just think its important that we do.

Many researchers (Louv, 2008; Kudryavtsev et al, 2011)  believe that engaging children in various outdoor experiences will facilitate relationships and develop a sense of place, in turn developing attachment to local environments and their communities. So this would seem a fairly critical point in time to be endorsing this approach and encouraging children to get outdoors and interacting with nature so that their well being is sustainable.

So, subjectively, my overall well being is enhanced by my daily interaction with nature, I’m inspired to think bigger and more positively, with ‘can do’ attitudes. I am gently guided by an inner calm to be more patient and tolerant of the foibles of life and I notice more, …. and I humbly respect that I am a small part of nature itself.

What a blessing to live where I do and to have access to the outdoors, I have a deep gratefulness to the depths of my being for that, because I know my relationship with Nature affects my well being and in turn my relationships with people and with God.

 

References :

Kudryavtsev, A., Stedman, R.C. and Krasny M.E. (2011). Sense of place in environmental education. Environmental Education Research,  18 pp. 229–50

Louv R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychology Review, 50, pp. 370–96

Russell, R., Guerry, A., Balvanera, P., Gould, R., Basurto, X ., Chan, K.M.A., Klain, S., Levine, J. And Tam, J. (2013). The Annual Review of Environment and Resources . 38, pp473- 502. Available online at : http://environ.annualreviews.org. Doi: 10.1146/annurev-environ-012312-110838 (accessed 30th May 2020).

Time to notice Each other & what nature has to offer us in these strange times ….

6821C3AD-080B-4291-8F58-52079571964AWhat a strange time it’s been these last few weeks. The essence of daily life feels like it will be forever changed. A great sadness is felt by the loss of so many precious human lives to Covid -19. How we appreciate our amazing NHS as they fight this for the human race. 

It’s made me think about what it is to be human and what I need to prioritise and focus on during these times.  I have been lucky in many ways and have continued to work from home, teaching and supporting many of my students @USW and crumbs, they have been amazing. Whilst challenged to change they ways they learn and access information as well as communicate with their tutors, they have ploughed on and transitioned very well. I am very proud of how they have done that in order to complete pieces of work, submit assessments on time and indeed support each other. This adaptability  and perseverance is such a significant marker for some students and perhaps has shone a light for some who just thought ‘they couldn’t do it’. 

The human spirit is quite an incredible thing and so very closely connected to nature and the natural cycles of how things ‘roll’ on this planet earth. It’s just that over many years we seem to have become disconnected, and  lost reverential, respectful and spiritual relationships with ‘nature’, a lack of humility even? Have we come to believe that we are separate from  nature ? Perhaps even above it ?

As Satish Kumar (2015) says, we think nature is out there , rivers, woodlands, forests, wildlife: and we humans are here, enclosed in homes, palaces, cars,..technology leading the way. But we are nature, the word nature means birth. Whatever is born will die , this is nature. This is being human, we are nature too. Being one with nature is where we need to be at. If we harm nature we harm ourselves.. if we care for it, respect it and know it’s intrinsic value it becomes a ‘deep ecology’ (Arne Naess, cited in Kumar,2015). The challenge then is to find the Humility to reconnect with it and understand it’s crucial place in our soul, so we can reap the power of ‘being’ part of something bigger, where we can make our contribution and capture the essence of life, precious and fragile, but in all its fullness. 

So, in lockdown I have noticed the beauty of some amazing things in nature, the Colors of buds which can be very different to the actual flower, colours that really do only appear in nature and the fragility of a seedling that will turn into a great harvest. People are kind, their hearts are big, …that determination, resilience and courage are around us in abundance and that people want good for others. In adversity it seems this is our default, when modern life does not overrun us. 

So let’s take a moment to notice, to connect with something that although small, is mighty in its design and be humble enough to think, ….’you and me … we are the same , living on the planet and needing each other ..❤️🌈 All will be well.’

 

Stay safe ,… feed your soul

Reference.

Kumar, S. (2015) Soil, Soul and Society: a new trinity for our time . East Sussex: Leaping hare press.

It’s good to share ideas …

Early Years Wales : ‘Smalltalk’ article in Spring Issue (March Publication, 2020)

It has been a real treat to see how our collaborative student project on The Lost Words has been so well received and the interest and support that has been shown by many organisations across Wales. Recently Early Years Wales (EYW) published an article in ‘Smalltalk’ on the students collaborative work, which is shared with EY practitioners across Wales. It explains how The Lost Words teaching toolkit came into being and the stimulus that prompted the students to create and develop it, in order to support holistic delivery of the curriculum. Seeing it in print in an national magazine made me feel so very proud of what the students have achieved.

See full article here spring 2020 smalltalk

The outdoors really does afford our children great opportunity for development in so many ways, thorugh physical as well as social and emotional aspects of development and not least of all to learn to care for nature – because if we don’t encourage our children to reconnect with nature and to understand its significance in our lives , then who will ?

In times like this where COVID19 seems to be in charge, and reducing us to something very small on our planet, its perhaps a good time to reflect on those other small things that we take for granted everyday , …birdsong in the garden, the spring flowers just opening up with their dazzling colours and amazing details and the appearance of our beautiful butterflies. These are the sorts of things that we have become disconnected from in our busy lives, but which can bring such pleasure to simply ‘look up’ and notice them.

We might even be inspired to look them up to find out their name so we can identify them . Knowing what things are called can reconnect us , help us to be more thoughtful of that living thing and to care for its place in the world, helping it to be sustainable.

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The outdoors really does afford our children great opportunity for development, both physically and in social and emotional ways, but not least of all, to learn to care for nature – because if we don’t encourage our children to take notice and to care , then who will ?

If you are looking to glean some inspiration or simple ideas to do at home with your family at this very challenging time , then please feel free to download the toolkit and take from it any ideas you might like …… nothing like making ‘Dandelion Goop Cupcakes’ when the sun is out …. there is a lot of learning to be had in that fun activity – check it out here ……Toolkit of thematic plans and lesson ideas

The Lost Words teaching toolkit.. sharing thoughts

Still a new resource but already lots of encouraging feedback from practitioners. Interest has been high and comments have been positive. We are delighted that the resource is now available on the Outdoor learning wales website:  outdoorlearningwales.org/resources as well as on the resources pages of The Hwb.

I am looking forward to sharing the story of this collaborative student project and it’s  creation and the feedback received so far at the EYW network event , March 2020. There is a ‘twist in the tale’ , that involved the inclusion of digital technology as part of my own outdoor pedagogy to encourage collaborative learning, learners construction of knowledge and it’s contribution to wider knowledge and practice.

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My  recent practices and reflective case studies have revealed  a paradigm shift in my approach and understanding of how digital tools can enhance my students, and children’s outdoor learning opportunities and interests in the environment around them. There is still work to do….. but it’s really interesting and supports a more holistic and blended approach to teaching these areas traditionally viewed as separate entities…. all experiences to consider as we enter a new era of curriculum in Wales , that appears to draw upon thematic and holistic pedagogies .. 🐛

The Lost Words translated into Welsh

Geiriau Diflanedig

Thrilled to have recieved this wonderful Welsh version of The Lost Words, published by graffeg

We are working closely with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who are kindly supporting us to translate The Lost Words Teaching Toolkit into Welsh. This is wonderful news so that it can support our Welsh Medium schools in using ‘Geiriau Diflanedig’ in thier topic / themed teaching. Once this is available we will get the message out and work with our partners to ensure that practitoners are supportted, inspired and encouraged to keep taking children outside and affording them the opportunity to learn to love nature and all things in it…. Diolch pawb!

NRW

A teaching toolkit to support ‘The Lost Words: A Spell Book’ (Macfarlane& Morris, 2017) by Early Years Students of The University of South Wales

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Click below and access the free toolkit for supporting Early Years Outdoor Learning Practice in Wales.
Toolkit of thematic plans and lesson ideas 

A Teaching toolkit that has been developed by year 2 undergraduate Early Years students at the University of South Wales (USW) is now available as a resource to support the wonderful ideas predicated on ‘The Lost Words’ book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.

Students have worked hard to collate and develop their ideas for teaching children in the outdoors, based on a thematic approach which support areas of learning within the current Foundation Phase in Wales. Additionally the holistic nature of the resource fits well with the proposed changes to the curriculum in a Curriculum for Wales.

We have been very honoured to have gained permissions to use a selection of the images from ‘The Lost Words’ to support the toolkit and they make a wonderful connection with the book. The students intentions of the toolkit are to encourage practitioners to inspire children to reconnect with nature, get outside into our natural environment and begin to learn to care for it,  becoming stewards of our beautiful planet before its too late and nature as we know it is lost !

Please click on the link to access the teaching toolkit , we hope that it can offer some inspiring ideas that can be carried out in your setting with your early years children and that their passion for nature and all that it  brings to enrich our lives can be embraced through these learning opportunities.

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Successful Futures ;Outdoor Learning Wales conference 2019. The Lost Words project & the DCF

A very exciting day at Tredegar House with OLW and Natural Resources Wales (NRW)  presenting our work from ‘The Lost Words’ project developed by our year 2 Early Years student and demonstrating how Outdoor pedagogy can be applied creatively using digital technology to enhance learning.   Practitioners were responsive and eager to hear about the developments and were keen to take ideas on board – looking at how Outdoor learning and the DCF can be used in synergy to teach the new AoLE’s eg Science and Technology. It doesn’t need to be either or …

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My own practice has been based in a traditional outdoor pedagogy and only in the last two years have I overcome the fear of integrating digital technology to try and enhance teaching and learning in my Outdoor practice. It’s been a journey and still remains to be so, but there was a moment yesterday where the veil was lifted and I saw confident Outdoor practitioners take an iPad outside into nature and following the tasks that facilitated the session,  it actually demonstrated how a screen has the possilbity of reconnecting children to their natural environment ….. I could never have agreed with that before, but I saw a screen offering opportunities for creativity not consumption.  Whilst we know that screen time has detrimental effects on people in many ways ( endless research, Louv, 2009 ; Sigman, 2017) 😅 it can also be beneficial if used in a way that offers children the opportunity to become investigators, researchers, artists, writers, inventors  and scientists.

Colleagues seeemd  interested and hungry to access some support in order to use The Lost Words Toolkit which is currently being developed , hopefully to be made available by the end of the summer. The thematic approach was welcomed and practitioners could see that it would work well with the new Successful Futures curriculum in Wales.

They then used the iPad to research their living landscape, took  a photo of nature, eg a simple dandelion. So what ? everyone can take a photo… but what happens to the photo ? What do the children do with it ? How can this extend learning and connection to the outdoors? So they needed to  explain why they took that photo, and then explored the context of that flower, insect, habitat  ; they became creative illustrators adding words, pictures and recording  their voices, all of which they did using just the camera ! Not an app in sight!

Some of the comments :

“ this would be great for my reluctant writers” , …… “ I will use this with my EAL children”,………. “ recording the stages of making dandelion goop cupcakes meets so many outcomes and the DCF is all over it ,.. computational thinking at its most real..” 

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The synergy of these two pedagogies became very apparent and even these experienced Outdoor lovers were encouraged at how it could instil enquiry in children and connect them to what lives in their local landscapes so that they become the future stewards of our beautiful planet. 

Much to be gained , learned and developed, …… a productive day , another step in learning. 😊🐛🐞🐝🙏.

Working on the presentation for the conference…promoting the students wonderful work

Creating Successful Futures Through Outdoor Learning Conference – 23.05.2019 –  Tredegar House, Newport hosted by Newport, Monmouthshire and Torfaen Outdoor Learning Wales Network groups.

Contact:  education@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk to book

Pulling together ideas and the Early Years students plans  based on the wonderful ‘Lost Words’ book (Macfarlane & Morris , 2017) . I feel very privileged to work with undergraduate students who are passionate about children learning about nature and learning  in nature. To see their ideas developing into reality and to hear how they are putting them into practice makes me feel so assured that our children are safe in their hands and their ❤️! 🐛🍁🐞🦉🐿🐝

I will be talking about the Lost Words project they have been working on at the Creating Successful Futures Through Outdoor Learning Conference – 2019 and how their ideas can support a holistic delivery of the Early  Years curriculum in Wales. My colleague Mat Pullen will talk about integrating ICT and extending the learning within outdoor activities using digital technology, blending the two pedagogies so we don’t need to feel pressurised into choosing ‘either / or’ as creative practitioners. …. we can do both!

Looking forward to working with colleagues from natural resources wales and Gwent wildlife trust .  👍🏻🐞🐛😊

 

The Lost Words project

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Students at USW have produced and presented their ideas, activities and thoughts in the form of thematic plans and lesson plans based on ‘The Lost Words’ ( Mcfarlane & Morris 2017). Having introduced this wonderful book to the students as part of their ‘Children Learning through Landscapes’ module on their Early Years degree, they were amazed that such beautiful words such as ‘otter’ , ‘dandelion’, ‘magpie’  and ‘willow’ were being removed from children’s dictionaries and thus not being used in day to day language. 

 

‘How can Magpie not be in the dictionary?’ asked one of my students… ‘it’s ridiculous, they are always in the garden, making a noise. If the word doesn’t exist in the dictionary, how can children look the name up to spell it ? if they don’t know the name of it , how can they be interested in it or care about it ? ……rebeca 1

This comment lingered in my mind for days and it was a concept that I had been teaching the students to encourage them to develop their own identification skills on native plants, trees and mammals and birds. Knowing the names of living things helps us to be interested in them, we want to know more about them and hopefully this will make us want to care for them in our natural environment. 

 

‘The Lost Words’ project was borne,  and students  researched and reflected on a selection of the words and presented their thoughts and ideas by producing thematic teaching plans and lesson plans for use in the Early years, using the words that had captured their imaginations or had a special meaning to them….some students engaged the children in their settings to help select the words, which meant they were already interested !

 

 

What a feast of creativity and inspiration we now have!! …They have produced a wonderful compilation of  ideas and viable activities, which are easy to follow and can be carried out by any early years practitioner who is keen to offer rich vocabulary to children, who understands the importance of why children need to connect with nature; and why these words are so critical in developing children’s understanding of the natural world  so they can care for it. 

 

We are currently looking to develop this incredible collection of materials ( a treasure trove of of knowledge) so that is can be shared with practitioners who would welcome ideas of using ‘The Lost Words’ as a stimulus in their teaching ….. watch this space … there is more to come ….       

 

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The big bug hotel build at USW

Year 2 worked like little workbees this afternoon to build a 5* luxury bed and breakfast for the bugs of Newport city . They really enjoyed the activity, building it from pallets and recycled materials ,e.g.  plant pots , milk cartons, sticks, toilet rolls, leaves, straw, to name a few.

There are many links that can be made to EY learning and social skill development was something that was identified in using it as a project task with the children , where everyone has a job .

Getting children to connect with the very basics of nature , the beginnings of the  food chain and learning to care for living things is the start of handing on the stewardship of the planet.

Children will monitor the bug hotel and learn to identify the different bugs that live there …a great starting point. Mangnifiers at the ready! ….big bug hunters are ready to get to work .

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The build begins – pallets in place
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Layering it up and using recycled materials for stuffing

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Busy at work….
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Cutting tops and bottoms off bottles and stuffing it with straw .. cosy
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‘Bug & Breakfast ‘ in Newport City @GWT