Blog by Tamara Johnston and Trudi Bennett
The Children in Nature Network (started by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods) is celebrating 15 years of the children in nature movement. Richard Louv introduced the world to the term Nature-Deficit Disorder. “Nature-deficit disorder describes the human cost of alienation from nature, among them; diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.” (Louv, 2008)
In all our programs we are increasingly seeing how disconnected children are becoming with nature. This is most evident in the increasing discomfort various groups of children have being outdoors. Elements of nature that provoke this discomfort vary from hot or rainy weather to fearing being bitten by ants and mosquitoes and even to the feeling of sitting on dirt or scratchy leaf matter and sticks.
The mentorship provided by facilitators at all our programs assists children in feeling comfortable in nature, whatever elements are presented. The mentorship starts from celebrating ‘Wet Knee’ or ‘Wet Bottom’ Day when the grass is dewy. We make it evident in our body language as we move, sit, and even lie down on the earth with relaxed and joyful comfort. It continues when a facilitator sits with a child who got their first ant bite. We relate our own story, how long the stinging might last and what to do to help cool the site and distract the mind. The programs themselves provide exciting challenges and opportunities for children to play and explore. They become so caught up in the fun of the experience that they forget about any fear or discomfort they may have had.
In our Nature Connection Series, this was true for the primary school students that visited their local bushland. In the evaluation conducted by Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, they found that 89.4% of participating students enjoyed the program. The main reason for the lack of enjoyment by the others is that they had not yet reached a level of comfort in nature. Some of the negative aspects still outweighed the positive benefits for them.
“It’s nice, but there is a lot of things that can bite. But I don’t want to go back to class. I do like it here.” Student
Animals are highly sensitive creatures and are incredibly in-tune with their surroundings. They can pick up attitudes of stress, anger, frustration and even hunger in other creatures including human beings. In the Art of Mentoring, Bird Language understanding, humans can become what is known as a ‘Bird Plow’ when walking with stress or holding other feelings of disconnection. Birds detect these harsh feelings and disappear in a wave in front of us in case we are a threat. If instead we enter a space with a feeling of peace, comfort and connection we will not cause alarm in animals like birds. Then, we will be able to have closer encounters with them.
The following ‘diary’ of one participating school in the Nature Connection Series, illustrates how students gradually become comfortable in a natural space and what happens for them, their community and the surrounding nature.
Ocean Road Primary – Ongerup Pass with facilitator Tamara Johnston
Week 1: Wednesday 20 October 2021
This afternoon was all about fostering a connection with the land. The bushland across the street from Ocean Road Primary is a maze! There are many small spaces and trails that circle back on themselves. The mission today was for students to into their bird groups, find a cubby space and make a flag. These flags will become our boundaries in the dense bushland over the following sessions. We started to get to know the land by making a space for ourselves in it.
Afterwards, the students mixed into larger groups and started sketching a map of the bushland. They asked lots of questions like ‘Where on the map is your bird cubby?’ and ‘Why did your team choose that location?’. We all listened intently to the very interesting explanations.
This afternoon was also about developing strength and resilience as the rain poured down. One of our main trails became a river. Many students delighted in rolling and jumping in it and over it.
Relationships and understandings are already beginning to develop among the bird groups. At the Story of the Day (a time for reflecting and sharing experiences at the end of each session) there was talk about groups becoming allies, as well as political dictatorships developing. Trade amongst the bird groups has already developed. There was high interest in this, with many found items that I have no doubt will circulate over the next 7 weeks. I am delighted with the possibilities this holds for learning through games and community building on this beautiful dense bushland.
Week 2: Wednesday 27 October 2021
This afternoon down in the bush was beautiful. We had a look at our maps to determine where the farthest cubbies were. Those became our boundaries in the vast bushland we are exploring. We discussed the cardinal directions, “What direction is the ocean?” and “What direction is the estuary?” The students went back to their cubby spaces with flags and boundaries markers to set the space for the day.
It is so nice to see the bush becoming more familiar today. It was turning us around and around last week! Students ran through the bush with ease heading toward their cubbies.
Then, the challenge of the day was presented – ‘With your direction groups, find the most interesting object.’ Their teacher spoke about looking at it like a scientist, taking notice of details and surroundings. After they found the item, they came back and wrote clues and drew maps for another group to find. The groups swapped maps and set off to find the treasure.
The students are taking so much pride in their nature journals. Their teacher has guided them through a beautiful wattle painting art lesson for the front cover. They are already full of thoughtful reflections from our time together last week. The students have written predictions and information about the different local birds, and what are most common within a few kilometre radius of our bushland. They journals are full of sketches of birds and maps. They have become such a treasure.
As one of the participants, Ashton said, “I wish we don’t have to wait a whole week until we are here again. I would love to come every day!”
Week 3: Wednesday 3 November 2021
It was a beautiful afternoon in the bushland. We began our day with a tracking game. The participants had to track Tamara who became a ‘Tailuman’, a human animal with a tail. She was dragging a stick as a pretend tail to make marks and leaving piles of oats as pretend scat for clues. The group had to follow and find her. The Tailuman wandered all over the place through the leaf mulch in the bush. The students loved this variation of Hide and Seek. They discovered that Tailumans need to leave clear tracks and Trackers need to use good observation skills.
While Tamara was hiding waiting for the kids to find her, she enjoyed listening for ‘the quietest sound’ in her Sit Spot leaning up against a tree. This became the motivation for our next challenge. To find your very own Sit Spot in our bushland and listen for the quietest sounds.
A Sit Spot is a Core Routine of nature connection which gives us the opportunity to be present and mindful in nature. The class teacher discussed with her class how Ocean Road practices mindfulness each day at school as part of the school routine. A Sit Spot in nature is an extension of what they already practice. A Sit Spot is a spot that the students have on their own. They will return to it every session, to spend some quiet time observing and being in nature. In our sessions together in the bush, there will usually be some time for journaling in our Sit Spots, most students were really excited about it!
Students found their sit spots and returned to the group to place them on our developing maps. The question was posed again, “Why did you choose this spot to be your Sit Spot? What were the intriguing features that called you to it?”
Many interesting observations were shared in our ‘Story of the Day’ time. Haley’s explanation of the snake eggs that she found and the difference between snake eggs and bird eggs was fascinating. Kangaroos were spotted too. The students are getting much more comfortable exploring our beautiful bushland each week. I can’t wait for more adventures next week.
Week 4: Wednesday 10 November 2021
What a beautiful afternoon back in the bush with the Year 5 class at Ocean Road Primary School. We were learning how to understand animal interactions by learning to hear bird language. Understanding bird language is understanding the different types of calls that birds make when they are in different situations. Can you hear the difference between a bird singing a morning song, compared to a bird sounding an alarm? If you learn to understand bird language then you can understand so much more about the nature stories around you. We practiced today during our Sit Spots.
A kangaroo with a joey hopped past as we were sharing our stories of the day, which was a major highlight. It feels like now that we are getting comfortable with the maze of bushland, the animals and birds are getting more comfortable with having us here too.
Week 5: Wednesday 17 November 2021
Oh, the treasures we found today! A mysterious animal skeleton and many nests on our scavenger hunt. We discussed how we have always been watched by all of the animals and the birds in the bushland. To help us ground into our Sit Spots, the class teacher inspired the students to make beautiful mindfulness rocks. This helped to anchor the students into their Sit Spots.
‘Cubby Time’ has become really important every week. The kids just really want to spend time exploring each other’s cubby spaces and guiding their own adventures. During ‘Cubby Time’, I went back to the spot we found the skeleton to take a picture. I turned around and on the main path there was a group of at least 13 kids running somewhere in a line. Something was very important to go and have a look at and someone at the front of the line knew what it was. I watched while more and more kids just joined the running group as it went around the corner. More and more adventures to share from our time in the bush.
Week 6: Wednesday 24 November 2021
Today was about playing games and spending time in our beautiful bushland. Every week it seems that the group is becoming more comfortable and settled on our excursions.
“Can you walk through the bush without making a sound? Can you walk so stealth that no one hears or feels you coming?” Today we practised quiet stalking as we tried stealing sticks from a castle of sticks guarded by a blindfolded guard with a spray gun! It is a form of mindfulness walking because you have to focus on every step.
Next, we went out to our cubby spots again to share time with our friends. Every week we are venturing a little further out, exploring the surroundings. Today we were up in the trees and sharing Sit Spots with friends. We learned lessons about being respectful with the animals and insects who are sharing their space with us.
Week 7: Wednesday 1 December
Today we talked about how eagles have incredible sight and can see the smallest movements of rodents in the bush. We played a game to practice these skills where we took turns as an eagle trying to spot the rest of the participants hiding as mice. Then we went out to our cubby spaces for our Cubby Time.
The challenge today was to connect with your favourite spot. We had to notice and appreciate what the features are that makes this place special. We came back to share stories, and add details to our maps. An interesting discussion came up. Should redraw the maps? We have learned a lot more about the space in the past 7 weeks. “How would we redraw the bushland with what we know now about the narrow pathways, small spaces, animal and insect homes along the way and cubby zones?” We have made this place our own while learning to respect the land and the animals who were here before us.
Week 8: Wednesday 8 December
This was our final session in the bushland today. We played a big game of Capture the Flag in our direction groups to celebrate. It was fun to strategise and carry out plans to be the first team to capture all 4 flags from each direction. We then gathered in a circle and had a talk in a circle about ways that we can continue to visit the bushland next year at school. We discussed all of the games that we played and how we can tell our teachers next year about all of the possibilities. Next, we had some time in our cubby spaces reflecting on gratitude for the bushland. Thank you to the amazing place that has held and challenged us in these 8 weeks. What a brilliant experience it has been for Room 19 of Ocean Road.
“In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of caparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness.” (Louv, 2013)
We are grateful for our project partner WA Parks with the financial support of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group. Without their funding, these schools and their students would not have been able to access the support and mentoring given in utilising their nearby nature spaces. For us at Educated by Nature, we have been able to widen our reach, bringing Nature Connection programs to more than only the schools that can financially afford it.
If you would like to find out how your students could be involved in a similar Nature Connection Series at a bushland space local to your school, please email as at email@example.com to discover more about consultation opportunities.