A bit more than a year ago, we started children’s afterschool activities in Kurland Village, to add to the variety of things already available for the children to engage in after school. This started under the name Nature Network, a concept that was developed by the resourceful and inspiring Rhian Berning in Cape Town some years back. Nature Network is about spending time outside with children using all the senses, exploring, playing games, and learning to appreciate especially the nature that is found right at children’s doorsteps.
In an earlier blog entry I wrote a little more about the background for the reasons for starting these activities, as well as the general aims of engaging in this kind of work. These are, in summary, to, where and when possible, enable environments, encounters and moments where love, compassion and care (for each other and other beings) may arise. The activities are also organized just to provide a safe and fun platform for the children to explore their local nature, and are done in the understanding that all one really can do is do one’s best and do it enthusiastically; if this excites or inspires those around, then so be it… We are all after all living examples to each other, and can pretty much choose what kinds of examples we want to be.
The sessions have over the year been on a break on a few occasions, but have overall been running weekly, and a core group of children has been established. These boys and girls seem to show up week after week, to take part in the walks, games, quiet moments, story moments and music sessions that we have been engaging in. At times we are a big group – up to 20 children, in which case we don’t go for any lengthy walks – and sometimes a small group, with whom we can more concentrate also on activities such as quieting one’s mind, imagining futures and reflecting on one’s place in the world, and drawing. It was a pleasant surprise to discover Carmen Clew’s & co. book “Planting seeds of life” which includes lesson plans that have already been tested and proven beneficial with children of the Crags before, in terms of learning about respect and other useful tools for life, as well as environmentally beneficial behaviours.. Some of these activities have been incorporated in the sessions, otherwise they loosely follow the Nature Network lesson plans by Rhian Berning, the ideas put forth in “Coyote’s guide to connecting with nature” by Jon Young, as well as ideas from the forest school movement and other sources.
A few activities have turned out to be favourites; like, mimicking animals’ movements and sounds, “guessing what animal” –game, walk to a little waterfall, climbing trees, dancing, playing the guitar, as well as listening to sounds of nature around. However, the children are the real geniuses here, and often the sessions take their course depending on their wishes, moods and emotions. Indeed, they all have their own kind of “map” of the local area; some are familiar and comfortable with certain places, while others would rather not go to certain places. The children know where things grow, and some of them seem to have been alerted to this more during the sessions. Some are aware of many of the edible or usable plants around, while others do not really have this interest or knowledge. Most have some stories to share about what people do around the village; where people go trapping, where groups go smoking, or playing games, or walk to get to work or to visit their friends.
So we all build our views and maps of the places we live in! Based on our values, tendencies, habits and characteristics. It is interesting however, to me as a facilitator, how many things play a role in shaping these maps.. fear, excitement, curiosity or lack of it, wish and tendency for risk taking or the lack of it…
During a few talks with the parents, it appears that not many parents of these children have the time or wish to go spend time in nature with their children. Yet many of them find these sessions are times when children can deepen their learning.
Be it as it may (and plans are underway to further study children’s learning about nature and values related to it, in this area), the Nature Network sessions have been full of adventure, fun, learning and sharing. We have gotten to know each other better, and to know our environment a bit better as well. Even Tico, the dog who lives by AJ and Jackie, boys who often join the sessions, has eagerly joined us on numerous occasions!
In the future, the Nature Network sessions will incorporate aspects of research; the wish is to loosely assess children’s connection with nature using established methods, as well as engage children further in learning about and immersing in their local nature by using self-study booklets. We would also like to start sharing videos, photographs, upcycled crafts and findings through platforms that enable the rest of the community to learn about and share in the adventures of these children. Perhaps via a little display at the community centre? Or a Facebook page? A book about children’s play & learning in nature? Ideas for the future. 🙂
The sessions continue weekly, and children also take turns to take part in forest school sessions organized about monthly outside of Kurland Village. In addition, we have an exciting visit planned to Brackenburn in the Crags, to see what we can find in the forest there…
I shall be sharing more news of the Nature Network and forest school sessions in this blog.
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments or questions do feel free to get in touch: