Saturday, 12 September 2015

Nature Study

I have always tried to incorporate more time outdoors into our lives - at some times more successfully than at others. When my older boys were small, I used to say - and I still believe - "Small boys should be exercised outdoors daily!" and getting out of the house felt necessary for our wellbeing. There seems to have been a lot of publicity in the last few years around children's disconnect with the natural world, and a focus on trying to get them out into the wild.

My boys generally enjoy being out of doors, and spend a great deal of time playing in our garden. My second son used to walk in the countryside with his grandma, and from her he learnt a great many of the names of our native trees and wildflowers. My own knowledge of these things remains somewhat patchy, and I would really like us to develop our ability to identify different trees, birds and flowers. So I am very thankful this year for a new resource, "Exploring Nature with Children" by Lynn Seddon.

Lynn has laid out a focus for nature walks each week through the seasons of the year, and I love this idea of picking up the rhythms of the natural world and becoming more aware and attuned to seasonal changes. She has incorporated ideas for books linking to each week's theme, and to related art and poetry - as well as giving extra ideas for extending the topic throughout the week. The book, which is available to download at a very reasonable cost, has inspired me to get out and get on with the nature walks I have long wanted and intended to do.

This week we enjoyed a familiar walk around our local park, but were amazed how many 'treasures' we had spotted before we'd even gone 10m from the car park. Many berries and seeds were picked and pocketed by my interested troupe of the three younger boys - aged 12, 9 and 3 - and brought home to adorn our nature table. We managed to identify several of our finds using a selection of field guides, and also The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, which I have so enjoyed discovering - and which has inspired my own intention to keep a nature journal, though I am more of a photographer than an artist. The author, Edith Holden, lived in our area, and so the places to which she cycles and walks are familiar names to me. I love the simplicity of her observations and note-takings, her beautiful handwriting and lovely paintings.

Followjng our walk, issued with notebooks, pencils and watercolours, the boys drew and painted some of their finds. To my astonishment, my third son was so inspired, he wrote some lines of his own poetry - completely unprompted by me. What a delight!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Boys and Risk

Bear Grylls hits back at critics after leaving son on rocks for sea rescue.
"The survival expert argues children need to take "more risks" after being criticised for leaving son alone on rock out at sea for training rescue mission."

Bear Grylls has also come up with a manifesto for children, saying "computer games should be banned, troubled teenagers compelled to climb mountains and mandatory community service brought in for all."

Bear Grylls' Manifesto for Children
1) Get fit
2) Outdoor classes for all
3) Ban computer games
4) Climb mountains
5) Take risks
6) Community service

What do you think? Recently, the boys and I have enjoyed watching a TV documentary entitled, "Earth's Natural Wonders" which tells the stories of people surviving and thriving in some of the most dramatic and spectacular environments on earth. One of the things I have noted and mused about as we have watched is the way in which the men in these communities go out into the wilds and risk their lives to provide for their families. They go together, and the young men are initiated into manhood by joining the adventure and by being trusted and enabled to take risks by their elders. Though they are afraid, they face their fear and go forwards, spurred on, supported and encouraged by the men around them. When failure comes, they are downcast, but they try again. And when they succeed and their elders pat them on the back, affirming and cheering them on, their smiles are as wide as their faces, and their self-esteem and confidence is surely boosted too.

Our boys need not face tigers, crocodiles or killer bees in their journey towards manhood, but I find myself agreeing with Bear Grylls' assertion that "when we try to strip our kids' world of risk we do them a gross disservice. We teach them nothing about handling life. All children have a right to adventure... these moments allow children to get excited about the possibilities the world has to offer. They teach independence, initiative, self-reliance and resourcefulness: skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives."