Outdoor Learning at Home: Week Two

Hello friends, I hope you are safe and well? Thank you for getting in touch about last week’s newsletter. I really love seeing what you have been getting up to and connecting with you. Except if you have had lots of snow, in which case, I am just extremely jealous…

I don’t know about you, but as we are entering this second week of lockdown, there have been some big emotions around here (mainly from me). There has also been a lot of overwhelm (also, mainly me!)  However, in our house, getting outdoors always makes us feel better – it is guaranteed. The combination of movement and fresh air help us to move through and release the negative emotions. 

I feel very conscious not to add to other people’s overwhelm though. This newsletter is not a list of things for your family to do this week, it is just seasonal ideas for outdoor fun. Simply dip in to what might work for your family at any time. Stay safe and follow the government guidance.

You are doing an amazing job. Let’s go!

Photo: An animal print on a muddy footpath in Walmer, Kent.

Look for animal tracks 

Have you ever spotted animal tracks in the mud, sand or maybe the frost and snow? Winter is a really good time to hunt for animal tracks because it is so wet and soggy. Animal tracks can tell us which animals have been in an area. When you see an animal’s track, you know it has moved through that exact spot. 

If you can find more than one track and look at the spacing between steps, you might be able to tell whether the animal was moving speedily or slowly. If the tracks are far apart, they were probably moving quickly. Tracks close together indicate slower movement. 

You can find animal tracks anywhere in the Winter. Even in our towns and cities. Have a look for some tracks when you are out on your daily exercise, what story are they telling you?

Photo: A soft toy ladybird in a mini den made of sticks and pine needles.

Make a Mini Den 

One of our favourite Forest School activities is den building. A secret place, free from the grown ups – such excitement! Den building is a great activity for children of all ages, from physical development to problem solving skills. However, while we are in lockdown our access to places for den building, like woodlands, might be limited. Do not fear! Why not try building a mini den for your toys? Collect some sticks and leaves when you are out on a walk and create your dream den in miniature!

When den building, children are able to think creatively and put their ideas into reality. Creating dens gives children the opportunity to think outside of the box and problem solve in order to create a structure. They can also develop communication and language skills if they are working as a team to create their den, because they will need to take turns, explain their ideas and negotiate with others.

If you can’t find any sticks and leave, or are unable to go out, you could use cushions, building blocks, wooden spoons and even old t shirts instead.

Photo: A child writing on a map drawn on cardboard with a sharpie.

Go on a Listening Walk

When you go on a Listening Walk, rather than looking for things, you are trying to focus on the sounds you can hear around you. There is a lot less traffic during lockdown, so this is a great time to try a Listening Walk.

  • When you are out on a walk, stop often, and in different places. Try and be as quiet as you can. Ask your child what they can hear.
  • Notice sounds, both near and far away. Talk about how loud the sounds are. Talk about what’s making the sounds. Are they made by people or machines, or  are they natural noises like wind or birds?

Younger children might enjoy copying some of the noises they hear. See whether your child can make a sound like a seagull or a car engine. An older child could draw a Sound Map, showing where they have walked and what he has heard along the way.

A Listening Walk is a great activity for early reading skills. It is also a great way to pay attention to what’s happening right now, moment by moment. This is also known as mindfulness.

Find a Face in a Strange Place 

Sometimes you can find an imprint on a pebble or a shape in tree bark that looks like a face. You might even see a funny face on a lamp post or a car that looks like it has a face on its bonnet. 

Looking for faces in strange places can be a fun game to play when you are out for your daily walk.

If you’d like to add to this activity, why not talk about how you think the face might be feeling? You can talk about different scenarios and what face you would make in them. Recognising feelings is also an important step in developing self awareness and empathy for others. These are really healthy coping skills, especially in these very strange times.

I really hope your enjoy this week’s activities. Please let me know if you try them. You can tag me on Instagram and Facebook @holdfastbeachschool

Speak to you next week.

Stay safe, Rachel

Outdoor Learning at Home: Week One

Getting outdoors in Winter can feel tricky. It’s not easy to motivate yourself when it is warmer and drier at home. But spending time outdoors has proven benefits to both physical and mental health, it can boost your mood and boost your immune system. Both essential in this period of Lockdown.

Even though I have been working outdoors, throughout the seasons, for nearly a decade, I still feel it is much easier to get outdoors when I have something to do. I like a task and so do the children that I work with. So I am creating this weekly newsletter for you which will contain ideas for outdoor activities that will enhance your home learning and, most importantly, purposeful reasons for you and your family to get outdoors every day. These are all activities that you can do in your garden or on your daily outdoor exercise. Please just stay safe and follow all the social distancing rules.

Lets go!

Snails hibernating behind a plant pot in Rachel’s garden

Go on a hunt for hibernating snails. 

Winter is a time when many creatures go in to hibernation, a long deep sleep. They do this to conserve their energy when there isn’t much food available for them and also to protect themselves from the cold and the frost.

Did you know there could be creature hibernating in your garden? Many of our land snails hibernate in the winter. Why not go on a snail hunt in your garden or local area? 

See if you can find gangs of snails gathered in disused plant pots, in crevices in walls, holes in trees and other sheltered places. 

Snail’s bodies are mainly made of water, so they hibernate to stop their bodies from freezing. Snails make a lid out of their slime  and put it over the mouth of their shell, which can protect them for several months. They find suitable nooks and crannies in walls, under stones or deep in leaf-litter where frost won’t penetrate before sealing themselves in for a good long sleep.

If you find snails hibernating, please leave them where they are. They’ll wake up when the risk of frost has passed.

A rain jar from Hattie Garlick’s book ‘Born to be Wild’

Measure the rainfall

Here in East Kent, our winters are less white and more wet. But the rain can still be a lot of fun! 

Try making your own rain gauge and train to be a weather forecaster. You will need an old jam jar, paper, pencil, scissors and sellotape.

  • Cut a strip of paper as tall as your jam jar and use a ruler to mark centimetres on the paper.
  • Sellotape your strip of paper up the length of jam jar. You might want to cover the paper entirely with sellotape as it is going to get wet!
  • Leave your jar outside for a predetermined amount of time. You may want to try an hour or even a whole afternoon.
  • Bring your jar back in and, using your paper measuring tape, check how much water has fallen in that length of time.

Need a bit more challenge? Become a meteorologist – a weather and climate scientist. Repeat this activity for a whole week and make a bar chart showing how much rain fell every day. 

Rachel’s daughter walks on a path through some Ivy

Look for evergreens

Sometimes it can feel like winter is quite grey. But there is some bright colour out there – the evergreens! Deciduous trees shed their leaves all at once to adapt to the cold seasons. But evergreen trees and plants lose their leaves slowly through the year, which means they are green all year round, even in the winter. Hence the name – evergreen!

The World Health Organisation says that greenery in towns and cities can promote mental and physical health by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation. 

Why not go for a walk and see what evergreens you can spot in your local area. Common evergreens are Ivy, Holly and Pine. Ivy, in particular, can be found growing in most urban areas, it even grows up walls. However be careful picking Ivy and Holly, as their berries are poisonous to humans.

I am Ivy, I cling and bind, evergreen vine of the forest

My leaves gleam with a leathery sheen and have delicate tendrils that grow and cover earth or tree.

I can grow old and strong, weaving my way up trees to the sky. Sometimes I smother but rarely so; my way is to weave and climbing grow.

In winter I shelter the birds that bravely stay in this land. I am food for deer and sheep who have few greens to keep them strong.

(from The Children’s Forest by Dawn Casey, Anna Richardson & Helen d’Ascoli)

Phases of the moon from Nat Geo Kids

Keep a Moon Diary

When the days are short, it can feel like there are not enough daylight hours. But we can make the most of the longer nights by enjoying the wonders of the night’s sky. Whether we are in a town or the countryside, we are all looking at the same glowing Moon. But the Moon doesn’t emit any light itself. What we can see when we look at the Moon is the sunlight reflected off its surface. as the Moon orbits the Earth, the Sun lights up different parts of it, making it seem as if the Moon is changing shape. In fact, it’s just our view of it that’s changing…

 If darkness has fallen, see you if you can spot the Moon. Maybe you could draw or what it looks like, find out what phase it is in and keep a Moon diary (top tip – the next new moon is on 13th January).

If you are going on a walk after dark always take a responsible adult with you. You should wear warm, waterproof clothing and you might want to take a torch and ask the adult to take a fully charged mobile phone.

I really hope your enjoy this week’s activities. Please let me know if you try them. You can tag me on Instagram and Facebook @holdfastbeachschool

Speak to you next week.

Stay safe, Rachel

Tips for Adults in a Child-Supporting Role at Beach and Forest School

The Forest School philosophy is about connecting children (and adults) to their natural environment, creating opportunities to develop creativity, confidence, resilience and learning, as well as promoting ways in which children can experience risk.

Forest School is often described as a child-led process, but I think it is much more helpful to think of it as being learner-centred. We want to give opportunities for creativity and confidence building and it is shown that the optimal place for this is in child-led play. But that is not going to happen with learners that are unable to participate due to developmental reasons or learning differences. Being expected to ‘lead’ in these cases may cause complete reluctance to participate or cause anxiety.

In these cases it is particularly important to remember that Forest School is a process and the process is moving from adult-directed to child-led. By being learner-centred, we are reminded that some learners will require more adult-direction than others. As long as we are still supporting and scaffolding the development of confidence, creativity and resilience, this is still Forest School. It’s a process, and it will take some time to find the right balance for your setting. Here are some tips that may help:

1 – Ensure your learners are able to communicate in the Forest School setting.

Please feel comfortable to bring any communication tools or techniques your learners may need and to use them – be that anything from visual cards to electronic devices. Communication builds confidence and confidence is essential.

2 – Do something you enjoy

There are normally a variety of suggested activities available at a Forest School session. If you are supporting a learner who is reluctant or unsure, then find something you would like to do and lead by example. You can support activities by stimulating inputs. Remember, that in Forest School there is no right or wrong. Modelling activities is an important part of Forest School and you are going to be able to convey more enthusiasm for something that you are enjoying. Forest School is for everyone and if you are participating you might get something out of the process too.

3 – Do not worry about outcomes.

While there may be a number of suggested activities in a Forest School session, none of them are compulsory. If we are making insect homes, for example, it is not necessary for every participant to make an insect home. If a child wants to spend the whole session digging, that is fine. If a child wants to spend the whole session lining up sticks, that is fine. There are no learning outcomes of a Forest School session. If any assessment is taking place, then it is likely to be just an assessment of their well-being and their involvement (using Leuven Scales is very common).

4 – Don’t be afraid to feedback

Forest School sessions can fly by, but do not be afraid to give feedback to the Forest School Leader. Reflective practice is a critical part of the Forest School process and as an extra pair of adult eyes, you may have important observations or insights that the Forest School Leader hasn’t seen and would welcome.

I hope these tips help with participating in Forest School sessions. Please let me know if there are any others that you think of.

The Certificate in Therapeutic Skills for Outdoor Leaders

Throughout July, August and September, I have been working on gaining the Certificate in Therapeutic Skill for Outdoor Leaders from The Therapeutic Forest CIC, who run inspiring inclusive Forest School groups for children with SEN in Manchester.

This course is normally run at Manchester Metropolitan University. But due to the current pandemic, it has been moved online so I jumped at the chance at being able to gain the qualification remotely.

The four module of the course comprised of:

The Therapeutic Toolkit: Learning how to support the emotional wellbeing of children in Forest setting through improve emotional regulation, growth mindset, solution focused approaches and the promotion of resilience and motivation.

Meeting the needs of children with learning disabilities at Forest School: Using strategies to support children with specific difficulties including Down Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, SLD, SLCN and PMLD. Learning how to adapt equipment and use communication supports to meet the needs of children with different learning disabilities.

Supporting children with attachment difficulties and developmental trauma: Understanding Attachment and tailoring strategies to different attachment styles. Understand and apply the Circle of Security during Forest School Sessions. Adapting communication to best support children with attachment disorders. Supporting looked after children in the Forest using the PACE model.

Child development and developmental therapies at Forest School: How to use techniques used by Speech and Language therapists to support language development. Strategies to support the development of Social Communication Skills. Supporting the development of gross and fine motor skills.

As you can see, it is an incredibly rich and challenging course. However, going forwards I will be registered as a Therapeutic Forest Approved Practitioner and will be supported by being a member of that network. I’m really looking forward to being able to enrich my practice with these new skills.


Nature and Mental Health

Looking back, it often feels strange that something I love so much came in to my life at a time that was so dark and lonely, but I discovered Forest School when my son was a baby, when I was recovering from post-natal depression and anxiety. I quickly realised that it not only provided a place for both us to learn about the natural world. But it also provided much more, this time in nature was hugely restorative for my mental health when more conventional therapies hadn’t helped me. Forest School gave us a regular reason to spend whole mornings in nature, away from our suburban lives. When we were there I felt calmer and happier. The UK mental health charity, Mind, says that regular time in can help with mild to moderate depression and eco-therapies like social-gardening and forest bathing are now prescribed around the world. Being a naturally curious person, I’ve been intrigued as to why being in nature and developing a connection with nature helped provide me with a coping strategy.

Research about the impact on nature on our mental health is ongoing, but here’s what we know so far:

Researchers have found that there is a direct correlation between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk of depression. We don’t yet fully understand why this is, but scientists have found that there are vitamin D receptors in the areas of our brain associated with the development of depression and the best natural source of Vitamin D is UV light, outdoors from sunlight, which can be synthesised by our skin. Though we do still need to be sun-safe!

Research has also shown that bacteria in soil, known as Mycobacterium vaccae, can activate our brain cells to produce the ‘happiness’ chemical seratonin in a similar way to antidepressants. A lack of serotonin has been linked to depression and anxiety. This ‘friendly’ bacteria can get in to your bloodstream just through contact with the soil.

Being in nature can also provide you with a peaceful and undistracted place to practice mindfulness. Research from Oxford University has demonstrated that Mindfulness therapies can prevent relapses of depression and could provide an alternative to long-term antidepressant use. Practising mindfulness is not just about seated meditation, there are many ways to find a place just to be in the present. For me, and many other people, this comes more easily when I am in a more natural environment and away from the distractions of everyday life.

I found my nature place at Forest School, but if you are struggling to find a place for you to spend time in nature, here are some tips:

1 – Mindful Walking/ Mindful Mapping: Go outside and simply start walking. The key to walking mindfully is to pay attention and to notice your surroundings, rather than being lost in thought. Our minds wander naturally, this is normal, but when you get home sketch a map of your walk and add as much detail as you can. The next time you go for the same walk, try to pay even more attention and see what else you can add to your map on your return.

2 – Spot Sitting: Sit in a natural spot or just by a window with a view and see what you can see. Sit in the same spot on a regular basis and just be present. If you find your mind wandering you could try to identify species of trees, listen for different bird song, play games with the shapes in the clouds or chart the phases of the moon. Visit the same spot regularly and see how it changes through time.

3 – Plant some seeds. Either outdoors or indoors, planting seeds in soil will get you in contact with some of that friendly bacteria, Nurturing and watching plants from seed can also help us feel more connected to natural world.

Spending time in nature has been shown to help mild to moderate mental health problems and some of these techniques may help you feel more connected with the natural world. However, if you are suffering with your mental health please speak to your GP.  You are not alone. You might also find helpful:

The Samaritans –  Providing emotional support 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week –  Phone: 116 123 www.samaritans.org

PANDAS Foundations – For everyone affected by peri-natal mental health issues – Phone 0843 2898 401 www.pandasfoundation.org.uk

Action for Happiness – More resources and evidence-based ideas for actions to make us feel happier www.actionforhappiness.org

A version of this article originally appeared in the Autumn edition of Robin & Rose Nature magazine

The Cloudspotter’s Guide

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We see clouds nearly everyday, especially here in Britain. They float in the sky above us and sometimes block out the Sun. Sometimes clouds are white and puffy. Sometimes they are dark and cover the entire sky. Different kinds of clouds can mean different kinds of weather.

Meteorologists study the formation and make up of clouds to understand the weather better and if we want to better understand our amazing planet, clouds are a great place to start. I created this cloud resource for the Beach School, however, I thought it would be perfect for us all during these ‘stay at home’ times because you can cloud spot in your garden or even just out of your window.

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This guide is perfect to explore the wonders of our cloudy skies. It’s a great resource to add to your nature study. You can cloud spot almost anywhere in your garden or even just out of your window.

This 5 page PDF file includes:

– a printable cloud observation window

– a guide to 9 types of common cloud and what they mean

– ideas for games to extend the learning and mindfulness prompts.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide is available as a digital download through our Learning Resources shop

Simply print, cut out the central window and hold it up to the sky. We like to attach lollypop sticks to the bottom too, but it works very well without.

I hope you can share pictures with me on facebook and instagram (@holdfastbeachschool) of you using it and I really hope you enjoy it.

You will also be amazed what scientific terms small children manage to learn through playful nature connection.

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The Power of Playgroups

Playgroups have fallen out of favour in the UK in recent decades – they no longer appear to be seen as a valued place for early education for a number of reasons – the ‘schoolification’ of early childhood education has led to a rapid devaluation in the power of play. In the UK, the diversion of most funding for early years provision in to private childcare of has also led many to believe that ‘real learning’ only happens at private nurseries and pre-schools, when this really isn’t the case.  At Little Gulls we are proud to provide playgroups – groups for parent/carers and children to learn and be together – and here’s why:

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Learning  – Our parent and child groups are run by early years, outdoor learning and Forest School professionals. I can happily provide multiple curriculum-linked learning outcomes for every single activity at the Beach School.

And Play IS learning! Learning through play is beneficial to children as they learn invaluable skills about themselves and their environment, that often cannot be taught in a classroom. Play is a precious process of exploration and  using these during play allows children to understand the world around them,  becoming aware of their capabilities, limits and teaches perseverance. Play produces self-esteem and confidence and it is children who have these skills that have the fewest problems when starting school.

A recent meta-analysis study from the University of Southern Australia found that nature play improved children’s levels of physical activity, health-related fitness, motor skills, learning, and social and emotional development. It also showed that nature play may deliver improvements in cognitive and learning outcomes, including children’s levels of attention and concentration, punctuality, constructive play, social play, as well as imaginative and functional play.

There are some wonderful high-quality nursery settings out there providing essential childcare, but it’s important to remember that education doesn’t just happen indoors or in isolation from the family unit.

Here’s a testimonial from one of our families: ” I have huge respect and admiration for the care, thought, authenticity, expertise and knowledge your pour in to Beach School. The crafts and activities are always meaningful and fun. It’s always an inspiring and connective learning experience for the kids and the adults” – Kate

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Socialising – Socialisation at our playgroups is real socialisation. Our participants gain interact with multiple age groups and demographics, which is truly enriching. In the early years particularly, child socialisation is also not something that happens in isolation from the family group. In a playgroup setting, children learn to negotiate with others, take turns, share, and resolve conflict. In a playgroup, they can do this while still being supported by their parent or main caregiver which gives them a much-needed safety net to develop at their own pace.

Additionally, parents and carers need to an opportunity to socialise too. There’s a real opportunity for quality playgroups to provide a Site of Mutual Fulfilment. The Beach School is not just for children and we are very proud of this. A term coined by Lucy AitkenRead, a Site of Mutual Fulfilment (SMF) is a place where both the child’s and the parent’s urges and needs are met. They are places where all parties leave with a full cup – they are the vital mental health break in a day for mum or dad.

Lucy believes that enough SMF’s planned throughout each week can make the vital difference in whether we enjoy parenting, or not. Playgroups can fill this role: They provides a great space for social interaction, they allow time for parents to share their experiences, ideas and to support one another, they provides a routine that allows families to gather and interact and they fosters community spirit and assists social networks.

Here are some more words from another one of our families: “What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Beach School’? Do you think of children of all ages mixing together, reading sea stories, drinking tiny drinks they are able to make themselves, creating art works from found objects and digging on the beach? Do you think of adults chatting, sharing stories themselves, drinking hot tea and safely giving the children time to roam free? Because that’s what we did today and it was simple and perfect. Thank you Little Gulls for all that you do.” – Emily

I started Little Gulls because of the impact outdoor playgroups have had on my parenting experience and I hope to extend this to other families. Playgroups are a wonderful source of education and community.  So let’s celebrate the power of the playgroup.

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Time to breathe in: Making time for mindfulness & connection

Nature works in cycles. Every Summer has an Winter, every full moon has a new phase, every flow has an ebb. Exhale and inhale – for every breath out, we need to breathe in.

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This week I finished my course to become a Natural Mindfulness Guide (hooray! ) and I’ve been thinking deeply about how we can more time to stop and breathe in during our busy family lives. In her book ‘Happy Child, Happy Home, Lou Harvey-Zahra describes striving for this balance well – ‘breathing out’ activities are more active: outings, big, noisy play and even structured learning activities. Whereas breathing in activities give us tune to slow down, connect and re-centre.

This metaphor of activities and breath has really resonated with me, especially after completing my Natural Mindfulness course. There we talked about the importance of breath and the importance of staying in breath – physically balancing our inhales and exhales. We talk about the problems caused by physically ‘out of breath’ – poor or ineffective breathing can stop our brains from working fully, it can allow waste products and toxins to remain in our body.  We can be burning more energy than we need to, our bodies are overwhelmed by stimulation and activities. Balanced breathe is required for us to fully function and maybe we need this balance between active ‘breathing out’ activities and more restful ‘breathing in’ activities to fully function too?

As a mother, I often find it hard to find the balance between breathing out and in activities, I feel like I am always striving for more time to be present and connect – especially for my school-aged child. However, as an outdoor educator, I’m also wondering if I have placed enough value on having time to breathe in. There is a lot of expectation to pack one exciting experience after another in to a session – when really having time to reconnect and to rest is of equal value to children and their families.? Especially when spending time in nature? I’m working on ways we can improve this balance in our Beach School sessions.

How do you build time to breath in during your sessions or your busy days? How do honour the natural cycle of activity and rest? I’d love to know.

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I took my Natural Mindfulness Guide course (certified by the International Mindfulness & Meditation Alliance) with Ian Banyard, who I highly recommend working with for his knowledge and passion. Also written with love, honour and respect for Buddhist, Japanese and Yogic traditions upon which our western concept of natural mindfulness is based.

Six ways to make friends with the Wind

In our house we have a love/hate relationship with the wind – we admire the power of the wind to drive the many turbines out at sea, providing us with green electricity. We’re in awe of the power of wind to pollinate plants and disperse seeds. I am rather fond of the wind’s ability to blow away both literal and metaphorical cobwebs. I dream of sailing adventures. However, it can bring unsafe conditions on our beaches* and just plain rattles my children’s ears and bones, It can even knock my, otherwise sturdy, three year old over. But here on the coast, the wind is omnipresent –  the only way we can build a better relationship with the wind is to play with it.

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Wind comes from the Earth’s atmosphere equalising pressure – it’s the mass movement of air from a higher pressure to a lower pressure. Britain’s position on the edge of the Atlantic means we feel a lot of the prevailing winds.

Wind direction is usually expressed in terms of the direction from which it originates -for example, a northerly wind blows from the north to the south. The wind is usually measured using the Beaufort Scale and the Beaufort scale for land is a really useful starting point for judging when you need to start managing the risk, especially if you are in a woodland. On the beach we also use the Douglas Scale for measuring the wind sea state and judging whether it is safe to go on the beach.

If you are heading out in to the wind, wooly hats are essential to protect ears from those breezes. In particularly cold weather we recommend using the mantra “warm head, heart, hands and feet” as these are the parts of the body that feel the cold the most. Please layer up – it’s better to take extra layers off than to try and put more on when you are cold.

So how do we play with the wind? By involving it in our games and adventures. Here are six of our favourites:

1 – Making kites

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One of our most popular Beach School activities is making kites. We’re with Mary Poppins on this one. We usually use this tutorial from Sussex Wildlife Trust, but we’ve found, with just a slight gust of wind, that our long-term Beach Schoolers will spontaneously make kites from almost anything.

Too young to safely manage the string of a kite? Try making a Waldorf-inspired hand kite.

2 – Stage a flying competition

One of the wonderful things about the wind is that it facilitates flight. Find some very light objects – feathers would be perfect, though leaves or helicopter seeds would also work. Hold the objects above your head and shout “3-2-1-GO!” and let go of your object. The winner has the object that has flown the furthest.

3 – Try an anemometer

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Anemometers measure wind speed. They most commonly use cups or propellers which are rotated by the wind and will give you the wind speed in kilometres or miles per hour or sometimes even knots. Hand-held anemometers are a huge hit with children who love numbers, or just enjoy seeing things spin. We have this one in the Beach School kit and it’s perfect.

4 – Make your own wind chimes

Being a hippy-at-heart, I’m rather fond of hearing wind chimes tinkle away in the wind. I’ve seen tutorials for the made from old cutlery, old CDs and DVDs, though the simplest and cheapest has to be these beautiful ones made from sticks. And there will be more sticks around because of the wind. A win all round.

5 – Make a wind sock

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Windsocks are used indicate wind direction – wind direction is usually expressed in terms of the direction from which it originates. Making a wind sock is a fun craft activity – there’s a fabulous tutorial here. However, if you are feel impatient or it just too windy where you are to get your craft on, simply tie some streamer to a stick and see which way they blow. This is also a great activity to introduce compass points too.

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6 – Being the Wind

Mindfulness practice often draws on the elements of nature and can deepen connection with nature. This exercise designed for preschoolers, but also suitable for older children, introduces ways of seeing the strength and beauty of nature within themselves, and an opportunity to relax and observe their experiences. I like this nature connection exercise from Mindful Magazine. Try reading it aloud to the small people in your life.

When we go outside we can see and feel so many wonderful things. Things like trees, and the wind, and the clouds, and the sun.

In many ways we are like these beautiful parts of nature, and for this exercise we’ll be like the tree and the wind and the sun.

Our body is like a tree. It grows and it is strong.
Our breath is like the wind. It flows in and out.
And the sun is like the part of us that is warm and kind.

So let’s lower or close our eyes and sit tall like a tree. We extend our hands way out and stretch our fingers, like branches and leaves. Let’s squeeze our fingers together and then let go and feel them wiggle, like they are blowing in the wind.

And now, with the wind blowing, let’s be like the wind and take a two big, slow breaths. Breathing in . . . and breathing out, blowing out the wind. Breathing in . . .  and breathing out, blowing out the wind.

And now the sun comes out and warms the tree and the wind. As it shines on the tree, we feel our body. Can you feel fingers and feel your toes? What else can you feel—just by noticing?

And as the sun shines on the wind, we feel our body breathing. Can you feel your belly moving up and down? Can you feel the air flowing in and out of your beautiful body?

And with the sun up high in the sky, brightening and warming the whole world, you too can warm the world—with your kindness!

Think of someone who can use a little kindness—like your sister or brother, or a friend, or your teacher. And as you think of them, wish for them, “May you be happy,” imagining them smiling like the sun.

You deserve happiness too. So now wish for yourself, “May I be happy,” and smile like the sun.

And as you smile like the sun, feel your body sitting tall like a tree and feel your breath blowing like the wind.

And then gently open your eyes and look around. You are amazing!

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*This post is written shortly after Storm Ciara rattled through the United Kingdom. If you have been adversely affected by the power of the weather, you are in our thoughts X

Embracing Animal Allies: Nurturing Nature Connection in Children

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Going bird watching is a classic outdoor learning activity. An easy lesson in local species and diversity, it plays a role in citizen science, often with a bit of maths thrown in to boot. However, wild birds (apart from our ubiquitous herring gulls) can be quite an illusive bunch, especially when they’re faced with a large bunch of effervescent small humans.

I’ve recently been on a personal journey to rekindle ‘play’ throughout my practice, in the fundamental belief it is the best way (the only way?) to fully engage small humans. We know that play is the way that children learn to interact with the world around them. Connecting children to the nature is seen as the key to positive environmental values and behaviours in adulthood.

Our role as educators is bond children with the natural world while making learning more intriguing. However, most young children already feel an playful empathy with wild and domestic animals. Their first impulse with some animals is to pick them up, hold them close, take care of them, become them, play with them. So I have started to reflect on my practice through this new playful lens. Is getting children to sit quietly and count birds really engaging for them? Is it going to create that meaningful connection? Is it joyful? Is it playful? Is it even developmentally appropriate?

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My search for a more playful approach to outdoor learning led me to David Sobel. In his book ‘Children in Nature: Design Principles for Education’, Sobel believes that we risk future relationships with nature by focusing too heavily on classroom-based taxonomy of animals. He believes the goal, even through ages nine and ten, should be to foster close allegiances between children and animals. This means playing at being animals, interacting with animals, and taking care of animals.

Sobel talks about building on a child’s natural tendency to be an ‘animal ally’. He believes that children have strong feelings towards animals in the early and middle childhood and that these feelings are indicative of our evolutionary heritage, that relationships with flora and fauna are an integral part of feeling bonded to the matrix of the earth. Ultimately, we do not need to connect young children to nature, it is already intrinsic within them. We just have to ensure that we do not break that bond with a style of education that is not engaging for them.

Sobel also believes that we shouldn’t fear anthropomorphism. Projecting feelings and human characteristics onto animals can actually facilitate relationships, rather than distort them. It makes animals and people part of one larger family, with relationships and rules for sharing and taking care of each other. We can build on this in education as it is an incredible opportunity to create empathy, a feeling for other creatures that can develop into a willingness to care for other creatures.

Ultimately Sobel is calling on us to stop with the spotting, naming and counting and to inspire children on a deeper level through being and feeling, “in our environmental wars, the emphasis has been on saving species, not becoming them. If we aspire to developmentally appropriate science education, the first task is to become animals, to understand them from the inside out, before asking children to study them or save them.”

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So rather than birdwatching, for example, what could we do instead to build relationships with the natural world? We focusing on what actually appeals to children about a creature. In the case of birds – children are often mainly fascinated that birds can fly. So at Beach School, to make ourselves Animal Allies of we all built our own simple wings – build simply from cardboard and found feathers – at the end of term we had multiple seabirds taking flight around the White Cliffs.

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Becoming a bird through creative play requires the child to engage with the species with empathy and with joy. The correct names and taxonomy of birds and animals are important and will come, there is more time in life for facts and figures. But if you engage with children at their developmental level of fascination, you can spark that natural empathy through feeling just like a bird.

Other ways to incorporate becoming an animal ally include:

  • Building homes and nests – either a real life home for the creature, like a bug hotel, or something where the children can imagine being the creature, like making a giant nest.
  • Opportunities for animal role play – through props like wings or masks, or through games that that involve being the animal through movement.
  • Activities that nurture the animal, like building feeders etc.

What is key is to come from a place of playful empathy. “What gets lost when we focus on facts are the initiation experiences. the moments of transcendence when the borders between the natural world and ourselves break down….John Burroughs puts it simply when he says, ‘Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.'”

You can ignite a lifelong relationship, you can help them become an animal ally. Cognitive learning will follow, naturally.

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