Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Shield Bugs, Tawny Owls, Newts and very happy children.

Never work with children and animals. I categorically refute that statement. Every time I take a group out on to the shore or beside the estuary or river I am amazed by either one of them - normally both.

Yesterday, I took a school group out for "Moor to Sea". The school is situated  beside the upper reaches of the source of the estuary. Surrounding the estuary are a series of streams that create an amazing merge of freshwater and saltwater creatures. In the workshop the children discovered newts, tadpoles, hundreds of grasshoppers, crabs, samphire and much more besides. We'll be working up our poems and creative pieces tomorrow.

Today, I headed up to the upper reaches of the Avon - to meet with South Brent Primary School. We walked down from the school to what is locally called, "The Island" where the river forks to create an open grassy knoll which seems to be popular haven for dogs & their walkers!

We discovered caddis fly larvae, worms, shield bug, nuthatch, dipper, an array of insects and...wait for this...a jay swooping down on a tawny owl. I'm not sure who was more excited the children or adults! It's moments like these which are just so priceless.

When we got back to the classroom the children made some amazing descriptive pieces of writing, poems and stories. I asked them, "What was the best thing you saw today?"   a child's voice piped up - "shieldbug!"

...reminding us all that every creature is special.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Peace on the Estuary

The first school has now completed their sessions on "Moor to Sea". It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience and I really look forward to the other 3 sessions with the other schools further up the catchment. The children have "worked" really hard to heighten their senses and their ability to perceive their local environment. I think this poem quite clearly says it all. This is written by a 10 year old girl who wrote this on our beach session whilst concentrating on our senses and how the estuary made us feel.


Waves lapping against the boats
Water trickling and rippling
It makes me feel white, like doves so peaceful
Like at that moment it was like I could beleive anything
Like the most wildest and funniest things
It was like I was in a trance
Under a spell..."

Needless to say I was bowled over when I read her poem. I love the way in which she reflects she "could believe..the most wildest and funniest things" - a perfect description for all the weird and wonderful things we see, hear and feel beside the estuary. I am truly in a spell.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Moor To Sea on World Ocean Day

Today, was a truly perfect celebration of all that is salty for me here in South Devon. After sending my daughter off in blue, to tell two as part of her "wear blue, tell two" campaign I walked the coastal path to collect my first class for the "Moor to Sea" project. The sun was shining, the wind was powerful - creating white horses that pounded my favourite beach. Sometimes the sea feels so intensely passionate and today was no exception.

So, as previously blogged, "Moor To Sea" involved inviting my 4 local schools for an exploration of their local "patch" of their catchment from moor to sea. For today's school it meant the mouth of the estuary. This is, in practically all concerns, a marine zone. You will find many of the creatures that you find on a sheltered intertidal beach here. However, through the nature of the river cutting it's way through the landscape you have a better sense of the integration of land and sea.

I wanted today to be an exploration of the children's senses. Leonardo Da Vinci once said that the average human, "looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking."

In modern society we forget to explore, use and celebrate our senses and the interconnected nature of our world that results from them. This was not going to happen today with "Moor to Sea" and this is the essence of the project - as well as exploring the wildlife of the catchment.

The first hour was spent exploring our senses. Initially, the children closed their eyes took a deep breath and listened... They were left in silence to simply listen... They then put hands up and when I tapped them on their shoulder they described what they could hear.. "water lapping against boats....waves crashing against the shore...gulls...the wind whistling..." they were creating poetry as they spoke.

In their Da Vincan style "Nature Journals" they wrote their experiences, feelings, thoughts and questions. These notebooks were not a place to write or draw something right or wrong. This was their opportunity to explore their thoughts and contemplate their surroundings and ask questions of what they saw, heard and felt.

They then looked at their hand and then the landscape behind it - focusing their visual senses. They explored the sights around them and considered the impact of these things on our estuary.

We then meandered along the estuary edge, carefully, until we came to a local small "beach". They then spent some time touching objects and concentrating how they felt and how they made them feel.

They focused their sense of smell on elderflowers, seaweed dry and fresh and wrote their words to describe these.

Slowly, they were collecting a magical list of vocabulary which will go toward their creative piece that we will work on in follow up sessions.

After increasing their perceptions of their surroundings they collected objects / wildlife to discuss on the beach as an object that best represented their patch of the Avon. We looked at the wildlife and talked about how some of the things we sensed might effect them and and about their adaptations to the intetidal zone. Although, this science will be worked on in our classroom sessions later.

There is something very special about seeing a child slow down their every day excitement and focus on their beautiful environment. They independently, diligently wrote all their thoughts, feelings, experiences and developed questions they wanted answering. It was a pleasure to watch - doubly so because it was World Ocean Day.

Children should have an opportunity to really learn how to look, listen, touch, eat, move, breathe and talk with right mindfulness. It is a skill and quality which Leonardo Da Vinci proves can lead to great things. But it is also something which can be so much fun and such a pleasure to work on and is a great "tool" to connect children with their environment and begin to understand it through all it's many layers.

Happy World Ocean's Day folks.

I can't wait to work with this class again and the other 3 schools to create some scientific, literary and artistic genius...magic.