Wednesday, 26 December 2012

What About The Detail?

The richness I achieve comes from Nature, 
the source of my inspiration. 
                                                                                                      Claude Monet                                     

Walking in the Australian bush is an adventure, there are so many unexpected elements of interest in this environment which are easily missed, to me these surprise elements make the bush experience what it is - and a reason to grab the camera! I have a great love and respect of nature; the perfect detail of even the smallest leaf or bug, which I often only notice through my camera lens, still creates that overwhelming sense of awe and wonder in me. Pattern, shape and colour in nature serve an important purpose and it is this detail that might make a difference in a variety of circumstances.

Some of the range of flowers possibly not noticed in the large photograph!
I have in the past been 'accused' of paying too much attention to detail - why is this so important to me? It is this attention to detail that best demonstrates my respect of the people and the environment I am in - I really care about them which is why I do my best!

It is very often the small things that might be overseen, dismissed or considered unimportant which may make a big difference! Artists know the importance of attention to detail as do bakers, architects, doctors, builders, carpenters, builders, mathematicians, scientists, and doctors! 

At a recent dinner in Scotland I felt the table centre pieces needed some nature added to them - picking up a few natural materials and placing them on the central mirrors to me added the final touch, not critical but still meaningful!

In a recent blog I recalled an experience while traveling that was memorable to me - the small details made a big difference! I linked this to the opportunities we offer young children.

Does attention to detail in creating a high quality play and learning environment for our young children add value to their experiences? Children are aware of minutia, they notice the small things that we as busy and rushed adults often tend to miss - valuing and showing an appreciation of this demonstrates to children the respect they deserve from us.

Stopping and enabling children to closely study a tiny bug or explore the 'mechanics' of nature.

Eating lunch at a beautifully laid table with real cutlery, drinking glasses and a vase of real flowers

Wingate Children's Centre in England
Having access to beautiful high quality resources presented in a respectful manner
Auchlone Nature Kindergarten in Scotland
Giving our full and undivided attention, going down to the appropriate physical level when communicating, asking for opinions and consulting about small and large matters, being respectful of personal dignity and treating others in a manner we would want to be treated are all signs of showing respect but are also part of the finer detail of relationships. It is often the relatively small details in interactions that cause the most hurt or upset; not getting appropriate recognition, feeling an action is unfair, not feeling valued or appreciated - this would apply to humans from birth to 100!

By really caring and knowing the people around us, we can value them for who they are, value their unique strengths and support them in many ways by paying attention to the detail that would mean most to them at that time such as a gentle hug, a card, a kind word, a smile, a flower, a phone-call and other small acts of kindness! Paying attention to the finer detail does equate to being respectful towards those I care about.

Everything that happens to us leaves some trace behind; everything contributes imperceptibly to make us what we are.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Monday, 20 August 2012

What it is to Wonder!

What is Wonder?

                “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”             (Socrates)

I wonder? What is it to wonder? Do we all wonder? 
Children wonder and it is no surprise that they do....they have only been on the planet for a short time and there is so much to discover. I still wonder daily and feel privileged when a child allows me to enter their world of wonder.

Walking along the beach with my husband I spotted an office chair standing on the sand and pointed my camera at it. What are you taking a picture of the chair for?" he asked. "Because it is an office chair on the beach and you don't usually find them there!" He shrugged. When we got closer I again took a picture. "Why are you taking MORE photos of the chair?" "It's covered in hundreds of snail like creatures". He grunted and waited for me to finish. "I wonder where it came from, how did it get there, I wonder how long I has been in the sea? "Well you will never know" he mumbled and walked on. 

As I walked I continued wondering. That chair must have been in the sea for a long time? Whose chair could it have been? A couple of hours later the chair was missing. I  continued to wonder what story that chair would be able to tell if it could talk. Maybe it got washed into the sea after a flood, maybe it fell off a passing ship, maybe it came from the other end of the world? 

During the week I often thought about the chair and continued wondering about the chair and it's story. The following weekend we again walked along the beach and there, in the dunes, stood the office chair. "I know," my husband commented when I again started to wonder "that's a migrating office chair!!"

I continue to wonder about the office chair on the beach and our differing reactions to it. Why did I keep wondering while my husband didn't, he must have wondered when he was a child...or did he? Has he just lost the ability to wonder? Did I retain my sense of wonder because I work with young children. I love being drawn into their 'wonderings' and joining in the magic world this takes me into.

Why? Do children only ask this because they want to annoy us or are they wondering? Are they asking for a detailed answer or inviting us to join in their journey of discovery? Do all children wonder or have some children stopped wondering? Could this be because  adults no longer facilitate or support this? Being able to wonder about the world allows us to be creative and imaginative, to hypothesise and theorise, and to engage in the amazing changing world around us.

Noun - A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Verb - Desire or be curious to know something.
Synonyms - marvel - miracle - prodigy - astonishment - amazement





Children should be allowed to be little explorers and scientists as well as 'wonderers' and when we are invited into their world full of this awe and wonder, become a 'wonderer' with them.... experience an amazing journey of discovery .....and remain a life long 'wonderer'.


 “I would rather have 30 minutes of "wonderful" than 

                           a lifetime of nothing special.”      Julia Roberts

Friday, 15 June 2012

Magical, Mystical, Moving ...... Boys!!!

A few months ago a very good friend, Alistair Bryce-Clegg of ABC Does, and I decided to write a simultaneous blog on a subject that is very close to both our hearts - BOYS! Life got in the way and it is only now that we have managed to coordinate our diaries and publish our blogs! We do not know what the other has written and I am excited to find out what I will learn in Alistair's blog

I first met Alistair when we were both presenting keynote speeches at a conference and during Alistair's speech we had to take our shoes off, write holding a pencil with our toes, we had to build a den (cubbie) and then he poured water on us to see if it was waterproof! He made quite an impression!!! We met up at other venues where we were both presenting and then found that we were both working on separate projects in Liverpool. Alistair is an Early Years Education consultant and his formal biography reads: "Alistair enjoyed a successful 10 year career as the Head Teacher of three-form entry Infant School and Early Years Unit in Cheshire. Alongside his headship he established a successful consultancy career specialising in the education of children in the Early Years."  For a more interesting insight into who he actually is visit his not boring biography


"It is, in fact, nothing short a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom." Albert Einstein 

Although Albert Einstein was referring to 'curiosity of inquiry' in the above quote - he could also be referring to children who need the motivational opportunities and then the freedom to explore these to thrive and develop.

What is it about our boys? Why do so many parents, teachers and educators find them a challenge to work with? There is an ongoing debate about the influences of nature versus nurture in shaping the behaviour of the boys and girls we work with. I feel there are a number of other influences we should also consider such as culture and the life experiences that these children have been exposed to. It starts right from birth, t-shirts for boys have the slogan "Here comes Trouble!" while little girls have "Little Princess". Girls tend to be socially more responsive from a very early age, they smile at a face while boys might not make that distinction and will smile at a face and a toy!

From an early age David would choose to 'drive' the tractor
I have always been an advocate for boys - maybe because I grew up with 3 brothers and I also have 3 amazing sons! I love their honesty, their mischievous nature, their energy and vibrancy. Consulting with kinaesthetic children including boys I realise that they thrive in the outdoor environment. Why is the outdoors different? Why do we insist that children need to be indoors, sitting at a desk to learn? Why do we feel that they need to sit still for long periods of time to listen? Maybe we should look at ourselves and decide if our expectations of boys are reasonable or are we setting our little boys up to fail from an early age? Dr Ferre Lavers feels that for anybody to achieve THEIR full potential they need to have high levels of well-being and involvement. Are our boys happy in a formal classroom situation? Are they fully engaged in the opportunities on offer? If not, they are unlikely to reach their true potential.

Fully engaged in a motivational sorting and matching opportunity. Photo Ronel Boshoff Bakker, South Africa

During a Mindstretchers Action Research project in Liverpool, United Kingdom we looked specifically at Boys and tracked 3 boys in 20 schools over the 9 month period using the Leuven scales of Well being and Involvement. By introducing a child centred consultative planning approach using Claire Warden’s Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™ methodology we introduced opportunities for children to explore what challenges, interests and motivates them, increased natural resources in the classrooms and increased risky opportunities including the introduction of real tools and fires. At the end of the project we were able to demonstrate an increase in the boys’ levels of wellbeing and involvement! What meant even more to me was how the perception of the Teachers changed - top four adjectives to describe boys went from “energetic, fun-loving, boisterous and noisy” to “energetic, fun-loving, caring and sensitive”!

Construction - 3D transient art, light and shadow, science, maths

One of the major concerns regularly raised is connected to boys’ education! The Australian Government has managed a number of research projects relevant to this and this as well as public debate have identified a number of key issues which are very similar to findings in the United Kingdom:
  • Schooling is not a positive experience to many boys.
  • Boys are less engaged and  less motivated in their schooling
  • Behavioural issues are more likely to be associated with boys
  • Depression and suicide is more prevalent in boys
  • Boys are less likely to stay at school
  • Fewer boys than girls are achieving  the national literacy benchmarks
  • The gap between boys’ and girls’ academic achievements has increased 
Large construction opportunity in the classroom, not seat based! Thank you to Cornish College, Melbourne
At the recent EYEC conference in Sydney I spoke about "Nurturing our Boys" and had a number of delegates come up to me afterwards admitting that they need to change the way they work with young boys. One young man shared that he had hated school and that in all his school years he only had one teacher he considered a great teacher - a male teacher! In an ideal world 50% of Teachers would be male but the sad fact is that there are very few male Educators especially in early years. There are however many excellent female Educators – we as female Teachers and Educators cannot be males but we can research and understand what boys need so that we are then better able to support them appropriately. We could invite male role models into our environment to model behaviour – ask the policeman or the janitor to read a story, a sportsman to show how he uses maths in his sport etc.

Classroom in a tipi, thanks to John Marsden, Candlebark School, Melbourne.
Boys have two sensitive periods during their development, one at about 4 -5 years and then again at puberty. We tend to recognise and excuse the behaviour of our teenagers but what about those younger children? This is when there is a massive surge of testosterone coursing through their bodies which is linked to muscle development, violence and social dominance. It is difficult to keep still... why then is this the age we often expect children to start seat based formal schooling? I would say this is a recipe for disaster for those who are trying to cope with their 'new' bodies. There is certainly a place for ‘buying time’ by allowing kinaesthetic children to start formal seat based schooling closer to the age of 6. We should recognise that children can learn as well if not better if they are allowed to move as it takes more muscles to sit still than it does to keep moving. A child sitting still on a mat is not necessarily learning any better than the child moving, in fact I would even say that the child sitting still may be so busy trying to control his body that he is unable to listen!

Scientific exploration - a REAL experience. Photo Ronel Boshoff Bakker, South Africa
Get active! Boys need to move and physically 'feel' the learning opportunity. They also need to know why they are doing something, if they can't see the point they will not want to do it so offer contextual learning opportunities. Most boys feel that most of what they have to do at school is pointless including lots of writing or copying from the board. Boys are competitive so offer opportunities that encourage healthy competition and they have a great sense of fun and humour so use this to motivate them.

Boys behaviour is often seen as being aggressive. What is interesting is that we interpret play behaviours differently. I asked male and female Teachers to write observations of children's play, the males all referred to rough and tumble play while the majority of females recorded aggressive play. Boys are programmed to protect their territory, to be the hunter gatherer so it is no wonder that they have a natural instinct to make and use guns to protect their space or to go 'hunting'. As females we often over react to this urge instead of seeing it as a role play opportunity and sensitively supporting boys to explore their instinct. Fairness and the rights of other children should be recognised. Making and using bows and arrows for example takes a lot of skill and is a motivational learning opportunity. Boys should not be made to feel 'bad' for having this urge - many families also have friends or relatives in the armed forces or game hunters - it is not the weapon that is bad but how it is used.

Stuart climbing trees demonstrating his skills
Children learn best after exercise - we sometimes talk about letting them run off steam but it is more than that. Brain gym has become popular and there is a place for this but it should not replace 'proper' active physical play such as running, jumping and climbing. What saddens me is that very often children who have not completed their work, who are struggling to keep up with the class are held back in the classroom to do more work instead of having their break! These are the children that should be allowed to have the physical opportunities outside to allow them to do their ‘work’ better. When I was taking a group of educators to Denmark for a study visit the senior lecturer commented on the fact that children's playtime was being reduced to allow more time for subjects such as Maths and Language.....he compared it to making children take more of the same medicine that didn't work in the first place!
Martin at 3 seeking the challenge of sliding down a waterfall
Boys need challenge and risk. They search for these opportunities and will use equipment inappropriately if they are not provided with appropriate opportunities and resources. I have seen children (often boys) climbing up walls or railings in a shopping mall. In settings where the outdoor equipment is not appropriate for their age and stage of development they  will find resources to create bridges or add height which is then often less safe that providing them with appropriate equipment. This extends to inside the classroom too – many children feel that school is boring and offers them no challenge....we often interpret this as being a behavioural issue.

Teenage boys seeking risk and challenge
Boys tend to not be great listeners so ensure that the core message is concise and direct. Get to the point! I have heard a number of husbands say that to their wives too! Boys are more likely to be told off than girls – not because they are ‘naughtier’ but because they are louder and get caught more often! Offer praise but make sure it is not empty praise but well deserved praise.

Boys’ brains mature in a different sequence to girls and they develop concepts of movement and space first so an environment that allows these concepts to become concrete is vital. The best place for boys to learn is the outdoors! There are no walls to bounce off, plenty of opportunity to be active, to take part in large scale construction and role play opportunities. 

The outdoor classroom, thanks to John Marsden, Candlebark School, Melbourne.

 To allow all our children to succeed we need to ensure that we consult with them and offer them opportunities that motivate and stimulate each and every child in our care. Only by doing this will our children have high levels of well-being , be engaged in the opportunities on offer and be able to reach their full potential whatever that potential is.


"Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process...the independent scientist in the child disappears." John Holt 

Footnote: Please note  that although I refer to boys generally many of the observations would also apply to girls who are kinaesthetic learners and some might not apply to all boys.

For more information
West, P. (2002) What is the Matter with Boys? Choice Books, Sydney.
Warden, C. (2006) Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™
Ros Bayley, Sally Featherstone. (2010) Cleverness of Boys

I also acknowledge the work of
Gary Wilson, freelance consultant, Huddersfield, York, UK
Joseph Tobin, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Arizona State University
Dr Jeremy Swinson, Liverpool John Moores University

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Following the Child’s Interest

“All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents”  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Ryan (5) is into 'where places are' and has a globe which he uses to see where the different countries are. For his 6th birthday he asked his granny, Jackie, for a world map birthday cake. When he told his dad of his special request Dad's comment was: "that's a bit of a tall order isn't it?" Ryan's reply was: "well, she'll just do the best she can!"


On his birthday Ryan received a huge wall map of the world and his dream cake; the first thing he did was to make sure that the flags had actually been placed into the correct countries checking each and every one of them! 

What impressed me is that a child this young has an interest in the wider world, he knows that the earth is round as represented on the globe but that it can also be represented flat on a map ..... or a cake. He also knows where the different countries are and not only that, he knows what the different flags look like....he certainly knows a lot more than me! 


It would be nice to know that Ryan's extensive knowledge and special interest in his subject is also celebrated at school; that he is able to share his knowledge with his class and is able use his special interest as a focus in his learning but unless teachers have the flexibility to follow the child's interest and for the planning to be child led this would be highly unlikely.
 Ryan’s sister, Elia, had requested a butterfly cake for her 4th birthday and again Jackie produced her dream cake. It is most likely that in her class there will be an exploration into butterflies as young children are generally interested in mini- beasts and teachers are very comfortable with doing the life cycle of a butterfly. Elia and many other children interested in this subjects will be able to share their knowledge and interest at school BUT not necessarily at the time when they have that interest; rather when the adult decides it is time to explore life-cycles. 


We all have different interests, talents and intelligences as well as different learning styles. Teaching a group of young children with different interests can be a challenge but I feel every child deserves to be taught in a manner that best suits them so that they can achieve THEIR true potential. As adults we can choose what interests us, we can choose to attend art classes or to go to physics seminars but young children in schools are often taught the subjects that are considered important by the adults even if these are subjects that may not be culturally relevant to some children and subjects where not every child has an interest or ability in that subject. 

Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University, developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) in 1983. According to him we have nine different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways we interact with the world. We all have nine intelligences but none of us have them in exactly the same configuration as we each have a unique profile. For Gardner, intelligence is the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued; the skills to problem solve; being able to gather new knowledge to create solutions to problems. I would say that a child’s in depth investigation into something that really interests them and is relevant to them will display what Gardner considers intelligence; whether that child has an interest in nature, mathematics, music, language etc. 

In an ideal world children would follow and explore their interests in the classroom through a play based curriculum; children being part of the planning process and teachers having the confidence, freedom and ability to observe, assess and identify the learning that is happening to support child led planning. Could we strive towards this ideal world for our children?

BTW......... Jackie had got it right and Ryan did not need to correct any of the flag positions on his cake! 


Jackie drawn by Neve

One of our roles as the adult is to create an environment that allows children to have high levels of well-being and engagement so that they may reach their true potential - whatever that potential is.

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him”    Pablo Casals

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Natural Connection to Water ..... and Sand.

Play in the sand; splash in the water; get dirty; get wet. The beach is the only place my mom doesn’t get mad about me doing that stuff. Of course I love the beach!” Dixie Dykens (age 5)

There is something magical about water, I have a definite attraction and connection as I love beaches, rivers, ponds, lochs, dams, creeks, water drops and of course puddles!

When I am feeling stressed or just wanting to get out I often choose to spend time on our local beach, I am so fortunate to again have such an amazing facility near me and have always dreamt of having a rustic little beach hut, maybe sharing it with a good friend who has the same interests and emotional attachment to water. Maybe one day that dream will come true and I will have a little bit of beach paradise!

What is it about the ocean in particular? A beach walk is a sensory experience; the gentle rhythmic drone of the waves, the heat of the sunshine, the space and freedom both mentally and physically. The unpredictable find of sea-shells, seaweed and other ocean treasures, the daily changes in the environment created by the forces of nature as well as the manipulation by man. Do other adults feel that same connection, do children?

The variety of sand structures on the beach have always fascinated me and I decided to photograph the ones I came across this week ....”sandcastles” they were called when I was a child although some would not traditionally be classified as such!

Why do children (and adults) have this urge to dig, build sandcastles when there is a large expanse of sand? I have a number of theories but am sure there are many more!
  • Freedom to be really creative, there is no right and wrong way and there is no mess to be tidied.
  • Space to use your whole body or just your fingers, movement; running, jumping, cartwheels (wish I could!), rolling.
  • Sand and water are freely available and loose parts such as seashells, seaweed and driftwood can be found and added – each child sees a treasure in what they have found. There is no waste.
  • Adults are relaxed, maybe because they can see their child and are therefore not fearful of perceived risks.
  • Time is usually plentiful – adults tend to come to the beach for longer periods of time allowing children to really get engaged in an activity.   
  • Children do not feel judged and feel free to experiment without adult interference - unless the adult insists on helping because they might feel that it looks a bit sad to be seen building their own structures! 
  • A social experience, children can choose to work together. Observing children's play behaviours it is interesting to note how often children who have never met before will jointly tackle a sandcastle, working cooperatively and often without verbal instructions to each other, each child contributing what they feel is appropriate. 
  • Children instinctively choose to build near the water’s edge knowing that the water to sand ratio is vital and I believe that they also know that at the end of the exercise their hard work will be reclaimed by the incoming tide. Even very young children know that they cannot take their creation home – I have never seen a child having a temper tantrum because it has to stay there only upset children who have to leave the beach when they wanted to stay longer!


There is often no evidence of plastic castle mould shapes or buckets, in fact the castles I have seen children build have been built by hand, no spades, no buckets, only what nature provides – large shells and sticks for digging, hands for moulding. Parents offering the plastic bucket or spade often have that rejected as if children are seeking that added challenge and sensory opportunity of using only their hands or what they find in nature.

Too often I see small amounts of sand in an indoor sand tray, usually filled with so many brightly coloured plastic moulds, spades and buckets that the sand is not even visible. I found a piece of plastic litter on the beach and found the bright pink colour visually very intrusive. Then there is also often the rule “ do not mix the sand and the water” WHY not …….that’s the best bit! As not every child has access to beaches, how can we offer these experiences to those children too? Can we have a large sandpit outdoors, a sand-shed or a large tray and allow combined sand and water play? Can we remove some of the plastic man made resources and offer children natural materials such as shells, stones, seedpods, sticks, baskets, wooden and metal spoons, metal buckets, wooden bowls for sand play? I hope so!








What learning is happening?

LOTS!! Here a very random collection as they came to me…….Science, maths, problem solving, social development, fine and gross motor co-ordination, emotional development, language and communication both verbal and non verbal, proprioception (an awareness of where the body is), creativity, perseverance, inventions, knowledge and understanding of the world, realising the reward of epistemic play, realising the value of the intrinsic rewards as well as verbal praise from adults and peers, dealing with adversity, different sensory experiences, capacity and volume, shape, light and shadow, colour………………..    

“Children don’t make mistakes, they are discovering how things work and how to do it differently”

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.

But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Mother Teresa

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bush School - Nature Education in Australia

"I detest schools with a passion. 
My main beef with schools  is that they are an utter waste
 of young life because they don't educate. 
Education is preparing someone for life and schools fail to do that"  Terry Deary 

 I am in my element .....children, wild space, time, camera 
........and I am in a school!! 
A school unlike the ones described by Terry Deary

A space where you are trusted, a place for freedom, creativity and natural exploration.
Spirit of Play Community School is a small rural school in a picturesque old Post Office building in Denmark, Western Australia which is situated next to bushland and a creek. The teachers, Sarah and Regi, together with an enthusiastic group of parents approached me to support them in creating an identity for the school which has always had a strong link to the natural and indigenous environment. It seemed natural to develop a Bush/Forest school as there was already such a great passion and enthusiasm for nature education within the school. I am delighted to be supporting this development - in Scotland I had helped set up the internationally renowned outdoor Nature Kindergartens as well as being the Head of the Kindergartens until I moved to Australia, I am passionate about children having the time and freedom to really investigate what is important to them in a natural environment.
Feeling the natural environment - really being part of it

There are of  course many differences between Scotland and Australia; in climate, in fauna and in flora, in risks as well as in culture that I need to be aware of but these I can research to develop an understanding.  

I believe that children the world over develop, play and learn in a similar manner and that the curricular outcomes adults design and teach to, do not change that ..... children themselves are not dictated to by a changing curriculum. Deep level, long term real, contextual learning and understanding is achieved when children are motivated by the learning opportunity and this happens when children are allowed to influence the program and are also allowed to explore their interests in depth. Children do not learn in set 45 minute periods ......... that is not enough time to really explore and complete an investigation....... no wonder many children or young people struggle to complete tasks as they mature!

Being able to support children’s learning in a wild space is very different to working in a classroom and even in a garden. That very close connection to unprocessed nature allows us to really FEEL what nature is about, to realize and appreciate our place in it – to me it is something that is alive and is in ME and I believe children and adults can also feel that as they get to know and love the natural wild space; a spiritual connection. Children with a love and appreciation of wild nature will grow up to value and protect this environment for themselves and future generations.

I arrived at the school on the first morning of the term with my prepared interest box on 'tools', the children gathered around curious to find out what was in the mystery box.

As a group we created a 3D mindmap about saws to find out what knowledge the children had, then looked at the possible risks of using various different tools. We discussed and I demonstrated how to use the tools safely with children making the suggestions and rules. 

I demonstrated the new Treewrap™, the children helped to decide what should go into it for our adventure into the bush. ALL the tools, wire, twine, tarpaulin, shadow sheet!

Gathering at the garden gate the children counted how many children were present that  day, they then each picked up a special stone, placed it on a log and counted the stones. Each stone represents a child; on their return from the bush, children would take one of the stones off the log; if any stones are left they will know that somebody is missing – in this way children are part of taking care of the group's welfare.

Before crossing the track children sang a song looking left and right and then listening – a large noisy digger caused excitement; on the return trip they commented on the fast speed of a white car and declared it unsafe while the other car was much slower and safer. Once over the road children were trusted to run to the area in the bush they had identified as the space to explore on this day.

Children helped to wrap the Treewrap™ around a large tree rather than suspending it between two smaller trees; now they could select and have free access to the tools and resources displayed in the pockets or hung from the Velcro straps. A storage system allows adults to have an overview of what tools are in use; children are encouraged to bring tools and resources back and not to leave them lying on the ground.

Sticks used to mark make and to construct,

Everybody very quickly settled down – each child free to choose what they wanted to engage in and adults there to offer support if needed or requested but otherwise to record children’s comments and actions as well as observing and assessing the interaction and learning. Adults are or should be very much part of any high quality environment, observations and assessments are continuous and not intrusive to the children's play or concentration. It should not be necessary to set up activities to do this.

During the nearly 3 hours we were in the bush there were no arguments, no raised voices, children naturally shared, took turns  and also supported each other with self chosen projects. Adults commented on the calm purposefulness and full engagement every child displayed in their chosen activity - they all had a sense of agency.

Signing the first page of the Project Book
Sharing our reflections
Back in the school, after lunch and playing in the naturalistic garden we again gathered to allow adults and children to reflect on their experiences of the day. All the children were very keen to share their experiences of the day which together with photographs, the children’s voices and the planning possibilities adults have reflected on that come to inform future planning. Two children who had moved away from the group in the bush and had not immediately responded to the signals from the teacher were calmly encouraged to reflect on the situation and discuss possible solutions. All the children contributed to the session in a way they were comfortable with, some more verbal than others!
What did we do in the bush - did we learn anything?

"The challenge for us as adults is to be able to stand back, trust that learning is happening, identifying the learning and finding an appropriate  way to evidence and record this learning so that it is also meaningful to the children."

Splitting reeds and removing the soft centre
One child made a mini basket using reed she had picked herself. "You take out the soft in the middle, then you tear long bits until you have lots. You twist like this and then the other way, you count when you make it" I wish I had the manual dexterity she had!

The baby fairy bed
Two of the children created a fairy house using loose bits from their environment, while others contributed objects they had created using the tools. "The fairy house for tiny fairies. I need sticks, not those; this long and then another one the same. This is the bed, we need two [gum-nuts]. They fly here and there is a baby in that bed"

Many children enjoyed exploring what the hand-drill can do and took turns with the one we had, negotiating as well as sometimes compromising! This little boy was fascinated by the mechanism and technology of the hand-drill, he carefully watched the cogs move as he turned the handle. He experimented drilling into different branches and logs - some were soft and decomposing while others were very hard or still green. He drilled through a stick and tried to simultaneously drill through a gum-nut - concentrating to position the objects so that they lined up. He did not get frustrated but quietly persevered at the tasks he had set himself.
Drill through the stick and the Gum-nut
Helping to change the drill bit

Another little boy used the hand borer to make holes in a seedpod he had found and then pushed a piece of wire into the hole.

The soft wire was used to lash sticks together, to bend and to make little  figurines, to decorate the fairy house and also to bend and shape into different numbers!

The files were also very popular with children experimenting on different sticks and branches and using different angles of the file as they were easy to use and results were immediate. Some created patterns on sticks, while others worked on getting the wood as smooth as possible, I was impressed by the descriptive language these young children used.          
The saws were always in use! During the morning discussion we had examined the benefits as well as the risks and also looked at various procedure to reduce risk. In the bush most of the children chose not to wear a glove - they were gently reminded but once they confirmed that they knew what the possible risks were and what the procedures were to protect themselves against this risk and they still chose not to wear a glove the adults respected this choice.                                 

One child spent all his time in the bush creating a caterpillar world with a cocoon, a place for them to sleep or hide in as well as making a caterpillar using two sticks balanced at right angles to each other creating a triangle - very tricky until he tied them together with wire. Others joined him, contributing and then moving away again.

A great deal of time was spent on a very detailed mini shelter. One of the older boys initiated this activity and very soon some of the younger ones contributed as well by finding an assortment of natural materials and making suggestions as to how they could be used. The children treated each other with respect and kindness at all times.

The older boy shaped four small detailed figurines and placed all of  them on tiny logs around a mini log fire. "can't leave those in there when we go as that would be littering and not good for the environment" the older boy explained to the younger children. 
The shelter was measured in centimeters as well as inches so that it could be recreated at a later date or place. Some children felt it would be good to have a bigger shelter in the bush. There was a discussion about increasing the dimensions so that the children could use the shelter too. This resulted in a complex problem solving  mathematical discussion about ratios, percentages and surface area. The boy photographed his structure so that he could share it with his friends as well as having a copy himself as he took pride in what he had initiated.

The bush site the children had chosen this day had previously been used for an Aboriginal ceremony and white beach sand had been placed in a clearing. Children started to dig in this space and were excited to discover that below the the white sand they could find dark sand, stones and even some glass and plasterboard. They wondered how this could have happened and a number of different theories were offered by the children. They did not ask any  of the adult for their opinions!                        

As they compared holes, they noticed that all  the soil layers were of different depths in the  sand holes so fetching the tape measure they then set about measuring the depths of the layers in the holes and then comparing the differences between the holes.
One of the younger boys sat quietly gathering the different piles of sand into mini mountains next to each hole. He explained that all this sand came out of that hole and that the big hole had more sand and a bigger mountain than the small hole but if they did some more digging then they could make bigger mountains. The children discussed this with some claiming that sand from other holes could have got mixed up. I was impressed with his knowledge of displacement!

When it was time to go back to the school the children all tidied up making sure all the tools were packed and that no wire or twine had been left behind that could injure any bush creatures. They ran back along the track, some of them so confident in that terrain that they walked backwards, took an exciting short cut through a dry ditch to then enjoy their lunch outdoors - they all ate very well! A new rope web was very popular and the hammock was used to lie in as well as to turn themselves into a cocoon.

I thank all the children as well as parents and teachers for allowing me this opportunity to share my love of the wild space with them - I have been invited back and will most certainly be there when I have a day off .... as Wells N M (2000) stated."Proximity to, views of and daily exposure to natural settings increase children’s ability to focus and enhance cognitive abilities."
I KNOW they increase mine too!

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow 
them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what 
Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the 
sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
-                                                      David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobi