Awesome Childhood Experiences
Earlier this year I attended an event with speakers discussing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) – the public health implications of early adversity on later development. At that talk childhood campaigner Sue Palmer said something that struck a chord with me. She used a phrase Awesome Childhood Experiences. I loved the play on words, but it also described to me what I, and my community, have been working towards for the last 7 years – a different childhood experience for children and families in our area. The Children’s Wood project began with the intention of making childhood (and adulthood) a more nurturing, tolerant and meaningful experience for people locally. To do this, we have facilitated regular outdoor community activities on our local wild space – The Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow – and we now have a strong community feeling around the land.
You might wonder why we need an alternative, what’s wrong with the way we bring up children? Childhood is thought to be a time when children feel loved, supported, nurtured and are free of stress. However, sadly, this is not how many children feel growing up. For many children it’s a toxic, stressful or unsafe experience. Mental and physical health issues are impacting upon children as young as 5 . Because of this, there is a growing movement of people campaigning for a more nurturing, and developmentally appropriate, childhood. I think the Children’s Wood demonstrates two important ingredients which are missing from the lives of many children, but which can play an important role: community and nature.
Community has played a central role in the work we do at The Children’s Wood. It helps children to feel part of something bigger than themselves; part of a wider support network. Getting to know people of different ages, and from diverse backgrounds, builds empathy; children will learn about the struggles others have gone, or are going, through, and that we are ‘in it together’. It also builds trust in others since through our communities we will inevitably meet and get to know our neighbours. Being part of a community brings problems to be solved – we’ve experienced this many times through our campaign to stop a housing development and to get people outside into nature more. Collectively, more can be achieved since it’s easier to support the whole family as well as the child.
Community is needed more now than ever, it is far too easy to be connected to social media and electronic devices. These feed addiction and stop us from connecting with each other and feeling alive. It also breeds a kind of individualism that can undermine our healthy social, emotional and physical development. Relationships are key to making us happy and through community life we can develop these bonds with other people. Social Scientists have studied happiness levels and time and again they have found that our relationships are THE top factor in making us happy.
It is not surprising then that when relationships breakdown- and attachments are broken – children suffer. Attachments are central to us living a meaningful and healthy existence. The research into ACES highlights how toxic and long lasting the breakdown of relationships in childhood can be – this is because the attachment has been damaged in some way between the child and the adult(s). This then impacts on seemingly unrelated outcomes such as crime, physical health, mental health and even life expectancy.
The great news from this research is that there is hope. Relationships can be repaired and the wider community can help with this. Attachments can be forged with people out with family: teachers, police, youth workers, shop keepers, neighbours, community workers, volunteers and so one. These figures – YOU – in the community have the power to transform children’s lives and build resilience. All it takes is small acts of kindness or unconditional love.
YOU in the community have the power to transform children’s lives and build resilience. All it takes is small acts of kindness or unconditional love
This is where nature comes in. We have an in built connection with nature that is primitive and hardwired. Biologist E.O. Wilson describes this as ‘ the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’. Wilson developed a theory around this called Biophilia which supports the idea that we are biologically hardwired to respond to nature. We need it, just like we need social interactions. Being in greenspace for even 10 minutes can help us focus better, a walk in the park can reduce symptoms of ADHD and depression, playing in wild spaces increases resilience and the list goes on. Nature will always be there. A child can climb a tree and feel relaxed when life gets stressful or there is trauma at home. The tree, and nature in general, will provide some level of nurture and relief to that child.
Sadly, children are becoming more disconnected from the natural world than ever before, and they are suffering because of it. Children need to have contact with nature and until fairly recently they have always had a relationship with the natural world. If you go back in time you will find that children would have either played or worked on the land; we are now seeing the virtual disappearance of this type of childhood activity. Environmental writer Richard Louv has brought this to our attention in his book Last Child in the Wood. Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder to explain the unhelpful behaviours associated with a lack of nature. Being in nature can reduce these symptoms and build resilience, happiness and well-being. This makes it important for us to look at how we can structure our communities so as to increase children’s access to greenspaces and reconnecting childhood to the natural world. This can happen locally in the heart of communities by cleaning up and utilising local wild and greenspaces.
Even more powerful though, is when both nature and relationships coexist like they do in the Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow. When the two factors – community and nature – come together we have something very special. When this happens the child is being nurtured by two of the strongest influences in their environment; both of which build attachments and resilience. Facilitated community activities bring these two elements together and can build a more nurturing and rich environment for children and the wider community. I believe this is a great model for creating Awesome Childhood Experiences and I hope that more people take on their local wild spaces for changing childhood for the better.
by Emily Cutts
Take Me Out
I went along to the Take Me Out training a couple of weeks ago at the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park after being invited by Heather Douglas the Early Years Lead at Glasgow City Council . The course was led by Matt Robinson from Grounds for Learning (in England it’s known as Learning Through Landscapes) and the aim of Take Me Out is to promote a much more proactive approach to getting children outdoors into nature in the early years. They hope to do this by sharing good practice from across Europe and providing resources for people to use.
The Take Me Out project has run for two years, sharing the best practice in outdoor play in Slovakia, Estonia, Denmark and the UK. Developed by Outdoor leaders and practitioners in all partner nations. Through this project they have developed a range of resources and ideas for play and learning outdoors as well as training. Here is a video summarising the learning from this international collaboration.
For those of us who have been immersed in the research and practice for many years a lot of what came out of the day was not new, however what was different was the commitment and passion to really make change. It was brilliant to see the useful and supportive work that came out of the Take Me Out collaboration. The training day allowed us to take a step back and be playful outdoors as well as reflect on good practice, misconceptions about risk and how to get our children playing outdoors in all weathers.
Through my previous work as a Psychology Researcher at The Centre for Confidence and Well-being and my background in working in the early years, I remember learning and writing about the problems of the lack of time outside in nature for children and how they were suffering as a consequence. Back then, over 10 years ago, it was definitely a counter cultural argument and it was difficult to get people to take the issue seriously. This has changed. There is now a much more focused effort to make practical changes to how we think about the outdoors in the early years. This change is thanks to the many people working to spread the word as well as the training and development happening across Scotland and also further afield.
Inspiring Scotland who are a major player in the move to get Scotland’s children outdoors have been collaborating with eight local authorities, thanks to Scottish Government Funding. They are developing outdoor learning as a way to meet the Scottish government’s commitment to a near-doubling of funded childcare. The government has committed to providing 1,140 hours a year for all three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds by 2020
Inspiring Scotland in collaboration with Glasgow city council are already implementing this idea in three of its most deprived areas – Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Tollcross . Go2Play, the Jelly Piece Club and Peek are collaborating with the council on these exciting projects to make outdoor learning. It’s so exciting to see real change taking place and that this could make a real and positive difference to the future of many children in Scotland.
At the Children’s Wood we are already supporting local nurseries (and primary schools) to get outside more and we hope that we too will continue to support those local nurseries through this initiative so that more children, especially those who really need it, get this opportunity.
If you are looking to get your children outside more then The Take Me Out handbook is really useful for teachers and educators working in the Early Years, you can download a FREE copy from here
We’re looking forward to disseminating some of the research and ideas to share with you. Keep an eye out on our Facebook Page for more information
We’ve had a busy two weeks back to work, and play, on the land. The playgroups are back on (Wednesday 10-12pm and Friday 11-1pm) and the Saturday Outdoor Play sessions, (10-12pm) Also the schools sessions are back on and Andrea has been busy. Thanks to all the schools for coming to the land and helping the community to get outside more. It’s great to see so many groups coming to the land out with our sessions. Its been lovely snowy and frosty weather. Despite the conditions lots of people have come out to play. Forest School will be starting next week with Dunard Primary school and we have a new volunteer Lynn who will be supporting Andrea in leading the Forest School. Lynn is also Level 3 Forest School trained. School children will be coming to work with Kathleen Friend on the beedookit project – they will be building a periscope so that the bees can be safely observed. We’ll be posting more information about this on the website soon.
We’ve welcomed a group of students from Strathclyde University teacher training department who will be leading some sessions for schools over the next few Mondays. We also have a group of 28 Canadian Academics coming to visit the land – through an inspiring Scotland and Glasgow City Council collaboration on showcasing outdoor learning in Scotland. They will be coming to see what we are doing for supporting and creating opportunities for outdoor play and learning.
Strathclyde University Teacher Training students
Our focus this year is going to be on Mental Health and we hope to do more to support adult mental health in our community. We know that one in four people in Scotland will experience a significant mental health problem and that the financial cost of mental health in Scotland is in excess of £10 billion per year. We hope to play a small part in our community to support the other services already making a difference. We believe that no matter who you are you will benefit from time outside in nature and lots of evidence supports this – getting outside makes you feel good. Also, the great thing about nature is that it has no adverse side effects, apart from the cold!! We’ve already welcomed a group from the Restart project in Maryhill and had a fire together on the land and we hope to do more on for supporting mental health and well-being. The Conservation Volunteers will be leading a 5 Ways to Well-being group on the land starting on Friday 16th February (time TBC) for 4 – 6 weeks. We’ve applied for a joint funding application to continue this project for at least another year. If successful, we will be able to do more for mental health in the area as the TCV will train up people within our community to help to continue to deliver the programme long into the future. We’re continuing our collaboration with Glasgow University and some of the Masters students will be researching various aspects of both community and nature on mental health. We met with them on the land this week. Please get in touch if you are a local doctor or work with groups who could benefit from the targeted sessions. childrenswood@ gmail.com We’ll keep you posted.
Riikka, will be continuing the after school healthy eating programme. The Afterschool Food Club returns on Wednesday 24th January! Sessions will be held at the Kelbourne Street Scouthall from 3.30-4.30. We would love to know how many families are interested in attending, so if you are planning on coming please email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also an opportunity to volunteer and gain some experience/knowledge in healthy eating; if you are interested, please email us!
Joni is on annual leave so the Wednesday gardening sessions won’t be returning until February. Daniel is around on a Friday and will be working on various jobs including the sensory garden and in the community garden building raised beds. The next Volunteer Action Weekend is the first weekend of February 12-4pm. Come and join us. The more people involved the better
Burns for Bairns – 27th January
Our lovely pal, Children’s Wood supporter and Patron, and all round talented guy Tam Dean Burn will be coming to the Children’s Wood next Saturday 27th of January to perform Burns for Bairns. Bring your lunch and stay on after the Sat am Outdoor Play session for Tam’s 12pm performance. Have a look at Tam’s previous Rabbie Burns reading in the wood from 4 years ago. https://vimeo.com/85288731
Other upcoming information
There are two larger projects happening on the land this year, the beedookit and the the National Theatre for Scotland production of the Play The Reason I Jump a play based on the book by Autistic 13 year old boy who has Autism. The performance will be happening during the last 2 weeks of June. We know how powerful the land can be for people who are on the Autistic Spectrum, we have seen the benefits in terms of language, emotions and behaviour so we are excited to support this project. Do get in touch if you are interested to know more. The Beedookit will be built over the next few months and the bees will be going into the beedookit at the end of March/April.
We are also applying for a building warrant to do up the shed, Alex MacGregor is currently drawing up plans. This means we will have running water a small kitchen and a toilet Yay! We’ll keep you posted as we will have to fundraise to make this happen. Do let us know if you’d like to help raise money by raising for the Children’s wood when doing any charity fundraising events.
There will be the usual community events and other activities happening so we’ll keep you posted.
Den Building After School Sessions
Come and join Craig from Operation Play Outdoors for our FREE den building after school sessions. Den building in the Children’s Wood is a great way to meet friends, get creative and start the week-end with some outdoor play. Sessions may end a little earlier as the nights draw in, but we’ll play it by ear. Looking forward to seeing you soon. All ages of children and young people are welcome.
The dates for upcoming den building sessions are: Friday 3rd November, 10th November, 17th November and 24th November 3:30pm – 5:30pm
Easter Art Club 2017
Come and join our Environmental Art club for children on the Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow this Easter, from 3rd April until 7th April. The club will be led by two different artists and will include activities like clay art, stick art, painting and much more. Morning sessions are on from 10-12pm and afternoon sessions 1-3pm. Suggested donation £2 per session. Bring a picnic and stay for lunch. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Spending time on NKM and CW can improve attention in primary aged children
The Children’s Wood collaborated with Glasgow University Psychology Department on a study looking at attention in primary school aged children. The study explored the attention span of local children after being in the Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow. Attention span is an important ingredient for academic success and learning. (more…)
Forest School Club for Schools starting in February
A 6 week Forest School Club for Schools will be starting the week beginning 18th of February. Spaces are limited so get in contact soon to avoid disappointment. To book a place contact Emily on email@example.com More information below!
Forest School at the Children’s Wood, North Kelvin Meadow
What is on offer?
A six week programme of Forest School (FS) sessions, involving one morning or afternoon visit to the Children’s Wood each week. The sessions offer an outdoor approach to delivering Curriculum for Excellence, and will be tailored to suit the learning and development needs of each group. All pupils in nursery, primary, secondary or special education can be catered for, but each session can only be attended by a maximum of 15 children
A typical session will include:
- Welcome/introductions & safety awareness, reinforced through a game
- Free play (e.g. mud play/painting, climbing ropes, exploring)
- An activity directed by the leader (e.g. den building, treasure hunt, craft)
- A woodland workout (exercises to keep warm if necessary!)
- Reflection time
The role of the teacher:
- To liaise with the FS leader regarding the learning and development needs of the group
- To advise children and parents of the appropriate clothing and footwear required
- To provide adequate supervision, with an appropriate adult:child ratio for each session
- To maintain overall responsibility for the group throughout each session
- To ensure that agreed rules and safe practices are followed by the children
The role of the Forest School leader:
- To liaise with the teacher regarding the learning and development needs of the group
- To advise the teacher of the appropriate clothing and footwear required
- To provide appropriate learning resources and facilitate outdoor learning experiences
- To protect the health and safety of the group by risk assessing the site and activities
- To advise the teacher of health and safety/emergency procedures to be followed
- To deal with any emergency that may arise, including administering First Aid if required
Who is the Forest School leader?
The sessions will be led by Gail Cisman (a Forest School Practitioner qualified at Level 3). Gail also has a current Outdoor First Aid certificate, PVG Scheme membership (Disclosure Scotland), and appropriate insurance. Moreover, Gail is a fully qualified and registered Primary Teacher with around 10 years of experience as a Countryside Ranger.
What is Forest School?
Forest School has been described as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults, regular opportunities to achieve, and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.” (Forest Education Initiative, 2010)
The key features of a Forest School are:
- a safe woodland setting;
- a high level of adult supervision;
- an outdoor approach to delivering the curriculum (Curriculum for Excellence);
- opportunities for exploring freely and being creative;
- regular visits to the woodland setting.
These features ensure that a secure, stimulating learning environment is provided, in which children can follow their own interests and develop their natural curiosity about the world around them. Forest School offers a flexible approach to learning, and the activities enjoyed may include transient art, den building, wildlife tracking, balancing and climbing, working with tools, cooking on a fire, storytelling and singing.
Where did Forest School come from?
Forest Schools were developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s as a way of teaching children about the natural world, and by the 1980s they were an integral part of the Danish early years programme. The benefits of Forest School were witnessed by a group of British nursery nursing students who visited Denmark in 1995, and they brought the idea back to England. Since then, Forest Schools have spread throughout England, Wales and Scotland.
What are the benefits of Forest School?
Research has shown that Forest School can have numerous benefits, such as:
- increased health and well-being;
- improved risk management skills;
- greater independence and confidence;
- increased ability to work as part of a team;
- improved creativity and problem-solving skills;
- greater enjoyment of, and connection with, the natural world.
(O’Brien & Murray, 2006)
Forest Education Initiative (2010). What is an FEI Forest School?
O’Brien, E. & Murray, R. (2006). A marvellous opportunity for children to learn: a
participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales. Surrey: Forest Research
You can contact Gail by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any further information.
Julia Donaldson supports the Children’s Wood
“Wild spaces are invaluable to children, especially those growing up in
towns. They stimulate the imagination and nurture the spirit. Places
like the Children’s Wood within North Kelvin Meadow are hard to come
by in urban settings and so should be preserved at all costs.”
Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and Children’s Laureate