Return

‘OUT OF DOORS … PARKS AND TREES’
3. ARRIVING

THIRD PART:
GETTING READY, GETTING THERE, STARTING TO EXPLORE

Certain essential points need attention before the group finally sets out.

THE LOCATION CHOSEN

The most fundamental point of all is that the leader of the activities must know the chosen area intimately, as a result of frequent previous visits in different conditions, times of day, and seasons of the year. The place should be relatively well-defined and free of objective dangers. A simple plan that children can clearly understand and use in connection with worksheets is a very useful aid. Areas for individual activities and group meetings should be carefully chosen (the latter located centrally) in order to maintain variety, and ease of access and communication. Previous practice in effective group self-coordination and punctuality come in very useful at this stage. The aim should be to manage a varied and active programme of encounters with the place, without the need to resort to such intrusive methods as loud shouting, whistles, loud hailers or using vehicle hooters.

TIME SCHEDULES

To keep the school community free of worries, punctuality in leaving and returning is essential. This isn’t always easy to arrange, but it’s worth forward planning every detail of the itinerary, leaving suitable amounts of spare time for it to be realistic, especially considering traffic conditions on the outward and return journeys. We tend to overplan and try to insert too many activities in too short a time. This means being cautious as to their number – it’s better to run a couple of experiences well with a little time to spare for feedback, than be racing to do four with hardly time to breathe. It’s also always good value to enjoy some time for final note-taking or calm reflection. Another potential distraction is the traditional idea that it’s essential to have ‘lunch’, which if not well planned may mean an hour of consuming food that’s unnecessary and often ‘junk’. This breaks the rhythm of the day while detracting from its purpose of contact with the place. An alternative is to incorporate nutritious snacks into the activities, so sending a healthy message and maintaining the continuity of the daily schedule.

OTHER FACTORS

For the safety and well being of each child, as well as the necessary parental permission, it will also be essential to bear in mind the following points:

>Everyone (including all accompanying adults) should wear clothing that is comfortable, well-used and old enough for sitting on the earth, climbing trees, over and under objects that may be ‘dirty’, and even getting wet without it being a problem.

>Other equipment should consider the nature of the place, the activities planned, the length of time they last and the weather conditions at the time of year.

>There should be either a group vehicle, or easy, rapid access to motor transport.

>Immediate access to telephone communication or radio.

>An alternative plan in case of emergency or severely changing weather.

AND A MOST IMPORTANT NOTE

… Learning about nature out of doors should always be interesting, safe and fun. But first, it’s essential to be very clear about how to behave when out of doors. So, here is a



CODE OF RESPECT FOR MOTHER EARTH

Every place in nature has its special magic. We're here to find out what the magic of this place is so we can enjoy and understand it.

First we need to be very clear that we’re the visitors here. The inhabitants of this place may be affected by our visit if we’re not careful or respectful. How do you think we should do this?

Here are some ideas. You can add your own.

Let’s respect every form of life in this place, however small it is.

Let’s avoid shouting and racing round the place, to keep it as quiet and undisturbed as possible. Just imagine 30 giants roaring around and stamping on your house. By walking slowly and quietly, we can all be safer and observe more of the life of nature here.

Let's leave everything in its place, except maybe some small stone, dead leaf or stick. If we need to take a live leaf from a tree, we'll make sure it’s only one and not a whole branch.

If we look under a stone, we'll be sure to replace it very carefully, exactly as it was. Imagine a giant taking the roof off your house ...

We'll take absolutely ALL our refuse back to school with us – even down to the fruit peelings and the toilet papers. That's what the refuse bags are for. Remains fruit and other food may be biodegradable, but we’re here to put our respect into practice. Imagine, if every visitor left their waste here, the ecosystem would soon be badly affected. As for chewing gum, it’s obviously best to leave that at home.

Watercourses are the source of all our life, so let’s be specially careful to keep them clean and free from any contamination by our refuse, no matter how small or unimportant it may seem.

Fire is a special danger, so we won’t ever light a fire excepting only in places where it’s authorized, and then the fire would be as tiny as possible. We would burn as little wood as possible, and take great care and use lots of water when we leave to make sure it’s absolutely out.

IN A VERY FEW WORDS ...

We'll take away with us only our good memories and everything we brought,
and the only thing we'll leave behind is footprints ...

WHILE ON THE ROAD

We can take advantage of the experience of traveling should by incorporating it as another of the learning experiences of the day. The following aspects of the journey out are worth considering.

ORIENTATION

Although any journey can be unfamiliar, full of excitement and distractions, traveling from school to the site of an outdoor experience is an excellent chance to do some orienteering and observation along the way. The idea is to establish a link in children’s minds between the points of origin and destination, as part of the same human and natural ecosystem. Prepare a simple worksheet with a few questions about distances, changes of direction, and special features along the way, particularly changes in vegetation, terrain and human activities. These can be referred to on arrival when the location of the day’s activities is introduced, and is also very useful to broaden the context of follow-up work in school afterwards.

ARRIVING – GETTING OFF THE BUS

We can also share observations like these informally on arrival. The moments soon after arriving, although full of energy and distractions, are aso full of first impressions, and can be useful in setting the tone of the day. Commenting changes in geography and vegetation clarify the basic question, What are the biggest differences between this place and the area of our school? For example … ‘What industries / other human activities did you see? How many? Did you cross any bridges over rivers coming here? What changes in geography have you seen (hills, rivers, woodland, drier / wetter)? What changes in vegetation? Are the trees different / taller / shorter closer? Is there different undergrowth? What about the air here? What colours are there? Smells? Is it drier / dustier / more / less fertile? Where is North from here? What’s the direction back to school in a straight line?

As a general rule, the more energy we focus on the first stages of an outdoor experience, the more successful it will be in achieving its objectives. The first moments after arrival benefit from our clarity of vision, commitment and flexibility. This is where previous experience and knowledge both of the group and the place itself can be hugely beneficial.

Let’s remember … Keeping children learning, while they are both absorbed and safe in natural places, requires agility and creativity. There may be surprises. Hopefully, our chosen location is not now be sporting a locked gate, a massive gathering with a barbecue, or a newly started building site … but this is always possible. Such situations will require adaptability, and above all a sense of humour and a proactive attitude.

Children want action. They need it and we should provide it reasonably soon, through games to let off steam while at the same time leading them gently towards focusing on their surroundings and the objectives of the day. We’re trying to create an ambience of calm concentration. This may take some time, as road travel disperses energy and inhibits many people’s ability to be fully present in their body and a place. We need to focus attention on nature as soon as possible. Achieving this while energy is overflowing is a balancing act, and time is short.

One way of approaching nature with active games can be like this: Everyone has to run and touch three things – the huge tree over there, the white post over there and that big round smooth rock. Go in any order, you can choose. You’ve got 5 minutes. Don’t go any further than I’ve said, and come back here. Another way is doing this together, walking with the group and asking questions along the way to concentrate attention. On returning we explain to them that these three objects are the limits of the safe area we shall use. Odd though it may sound, we also need to sit down on the ground as soon as possible.

This physical contact with the earth is an important act of symbolism (as well as often helping to keep people warm). The greatest damage we inflict on earth is the result of wrongly imagining ourselves separate from it. Many of us are taught to regard the earth as a source of discomfort, dirt, ill-health or danger. Such fears contribute to the ignorance with which we treat the earth.

The surest way to have children sit down on the ground is first to choose an inviting spot and then to lead them by example. You should be happy doing this yourself, convinced it does no harm, and ready gently to persuade those who may resist. Finally, it’s useful for the group to develop the habit of sitting in a circle. This means all can see each other, and emphasizes equality and respect for all those present.

PRESENTATION CIRCLE

Once there’s an atmosphere of sufficient calm and concentration, it’s good to enjoy a spell of silent observation as a group. Then we can have everyone briefly share their first impressions in a word or phrase, about this new classroom they are beginning to get to know. If the group is highly motivated and well prepared, this is also a good moment for a (very brief) moment of silent observation, and sharing first impressions of sights, sounds and even feelings … isn’t it good to be out!

THE ‘TALKING STICK’

At such moments, it’s useful to use a ‘talking stick’ to invite people’s contributions. It’s a natural object, often of wood as the name suggests, which gives permission to speak to the person holding it. The permission is not an obligation - it simply gives its holder the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of the circle. If he or she does not wish to speak, they can silently pass the stick around the circle to the next. Soon we’ll pass on to the first major activities programmed for the day, and this is a good time to give any descriptions necessary of programme, objectives or projects. These may have to do with orientation, the ecosystem, its history, special rules of safety or our code of respectful behaviour to the earth. Whenever interest begins to flag, we can interject a short game, before resuming our initial communications. The following games can be useful here, or by themselves for general motivation and introducing observation:

>Treasure hunts:

Any version of treasure hunting is useful, either in small groups of two, or larger numbers. On a given signal, all go off and search for certain objects, to bring them back and compare. It’s worth trying not to overplay the idea of competition between the groups, emphasizing rather the process of observation and concept of diversity.

>Guessing games:

One person thinks of an animal, and the rest try to guess the animal. The teacher can help by directing the questions, asking things like, How does the animal adapt to its environment (for example with talons or claws for hunting, sharp sight, sensitive hearing or sense of smell).

>Hand expressions:

Representing the movements of an animal – flight, swimming, crawling – by movement of the hands.

>Following an animal:

The easiest example is an insect, caterpillar, lizard, water animals). The children notice where it goes, how it moves, what it eats, and they discuss why they think it moves this way or that.

>The hunters:

In small groups, have 2 or 3 children in each group (the hunters) try to approach another who is blindfolded (the prey) without being noticed. If the prey detects them, they must retreat and try again.

>Being an animal:

Children behave as animals from the ecosystem (for example a fox). They go to the water, drink like foxes, look for protected places to eat quietly, shelter, make a lair for the family, and go hunting for their food … Some activities already described earlier in the book can be useful at this moment, as also can those included in the next section

SENSORY ACTIVITIES

WITHOUT SIGHT

Have you ever noticed how much we depend on our sense of sight in getting to know the world around us? For example, if someone says ‘Pine tree” to you, most likely you may think of something like a Christmas tree. But have you ever smelt the aroma of pine trees, or felt and heard the soft spongy soil their needles make, crunching under your feet, or the murmur of the wind in the branches of the pines? Then, if I say ‘Nettle’, some of you may well think of the stinging feeling they can cause on your skin, instead of seeing the plant itself in your mind’s eye. To get to know this place better, we’re going to experience it with other senses than the sense of sight. We’ll use that later. For example, it’s possible to use your feet to observe a place by walking barefoot. We can also do it with the sense of smell, of hearing, and of touch, for example through the thermal sensations of cold and heat.

WALKING THE ‘NIGHT LINE’

This is also a good activitity to do at night. A long, thin cord (up to some 50 metres long) is arranged along a varied route that wanders between objects such as trees, bushes or rocks. Children form pairs, and one in each pair is blindfolded and follows the night line under the guidance of the partner. The partner’s job, as well as ensuring safety, is to direct the other partner’s hands and attention to things and textures of special interest along the route. Finally, impressions are exchanged and then the roles are reversed and the whole process is repeated.

GET TO KNOW YOUR TREE

For this you need a group of several trees growing around a fairly open area in the center. As in the previous exercise, one member of a pair is blindfolded, disoriented by being spun around, and guided on a sightless walk, this time toward one single tree. They spend 5 to 10 minutes there, exploring all the details it’s possible to observe from ground level up as high up as their hands can reach. What is the tree’s trunk like, broad or narrow, and the bark, the ground, the roots, the branches, the twigs and leaves, any other objects, signs of insects, everything is to be observed. Do you think you could climb up it? Then the couples return to their starting point, and the ones who could not see have to search for the tree they visited. If there’s time, it’s possible to draw the observations made, and then compare them with the tree and complete the drawing. Very often sight is not enough for the task of recognizing the tree, and certainty only comes when the hands are used.

GETTING OFF THE GROUND

A fallen tree trunk is a great resource for an introductory group exercise which is fun for all. Everyone gets on it first of all. Then, without getting down, they find a way to rearrange the group in order of birthday months (January one end, December the other), ages, stature, etc.

SPENDING TIME IN A TREE

Everyone climbs up into suitable trees with plenty of strong branches, and stays up there off the ground for 5 minutes or so, observing with eyes closed. Listen to the trunk itself – sometimes in Spring you can hear the sap rising. Listen to the air, the leaves, any sounds of animal life. Touch the tree, feel its texture, smell its smell. Open your eyes for a while and look up into the crown of the tree and see the sky. How high is your tree? How old do you think it may be? Imagine all the storms it’s seen.

BEING 'ALL ALONE'

Living in the city, being all alone happens to us so rarely it’s a great adventure. It’s also easier to hear the faint sounds made by the breeze, the leaves and some of the animals that live there. Country people and native people, living closer to the land, naturally spent more time alone in nature because of the simpler way they lived. That helped them to learn about and understand its secrets. Now, for a short time, we can do the same. Look for a place that attracts you and makes you feel comfortable. It should be at least 10 paces away from the nearest person. Sit down, close your eyes, and settle down into feeling part of the place by being as still, quiet and invisible as possible. It’s amazing how much animal life you can observe in just 15 minutes observing like this. It can also be surprising how much a moment of silent reflection like this can help you understand. Enjoy the moment! Don’t move until your teacher tells you time is up.

AND – WALKING BAREFOOT

Walking barefoot is cool. It’s so simple, yet it’s also one of the great pleasures we’ve practically forgotten in the city. Many people never do it, some only when on a beach beside the waters of a lake or sea. Some even call it dangerous. Don’t worry, we’ll always practice it in places we know to be free of major dangers. Even so you should be careful doing it (and don’t do it at night, because you need to see where you put your feet). It’s an excellent exercise in careful observation – not just to keep your feet from getting hurt, but also for understanding so much more about the earth than your other senses tell you. You can learn so much about the textures of the earth, about humidity and temperature. For example, there’s no better way of understanding how important the forest is than by feeling the hot and hard, dry earth begin to burn your feet where people have cut trees down – and then walking back onto the cool, damp, soft leaf mould under a group of well-grown trees. These are understandings that don’t come from textbooks – just the experience of walking barefoot on the earth. Walk slowly through an area of varied terrain. It’s great when there’s still morning dew on the ground, and you can pass from its cold wet shadows into the warm morning sunlight, sense the grass and earth beneath your feet, with here and there a fallen trunk or branch, a smooth rock, gravel, soft damp earth or a pool with mud. It’s also possible – and fun to do – to practice walking absolutely silently, with no noise at all. That means you can get closer to the wildlife in the places that you visit. A final word about walking barefoot. In many cultures and spiritual traditions, walking barefoot is also a sign of reverence. It’s common to remove shoes before entering a temple or other place of worship. In many places footwear is removed before entering the ‘temple’ of the family home. In both cases we desire to show the place the greatest level of respect we can. But what about the respect we show the earth? The earth is our real place of worship, our real home, the source of everything we know as life. The earth holds our real identity. Yet by forgetting this and erroneously trying to separate ourselves from it, we now permit ourselves to show it the greatest disrespect, by spitting on it, using it and its waters as a dump for all our garbage – in short, maltreating it in a thousand primitive and ignorant ways. We should walk barefoot more, upon the earth. By doing so, we will understand it is God’s body, and our own.

But let’s get back to learning more about the place we’re visiting. Here’s a game.

TRAVELLING EXPLORERS FROM OUTER SPACE

Imagine for a moment … supposing we were extraterrestrials from outer space, searching for other forms of life, why do you think this planet earth might seem to be more attractive than other planets in the solar system? One reason could be colours. Another could be the cycles of waxing and waning just as we see our own moon from earth. It was only 40 years ago, when spacecraft went to the moon in 1967, that we ourselves first saw the beauty of our planet home from outside its atmosphere. For the first time we could see brown land, green forests, white ice and clouds, all of this against the brilliant blue background of the seas. Since then we’ve begun dimly to understand how all these elements interact to make up the global life system. In our intergalactic journey, the first thing that might catch our attention might be the tenuous white veil of earth’s clouds. Then, and more surprising still, the blue surface of a denser fluid than the clouds, in constant change and motion. Last of all, we’d be impressed by the green and brown appearance of some seemingly solid islands that are floating in the middle of all this intriguing splendour. Our spaceship is landing … let’s get out and explore …

MISSION ON EARTH – INVESTIGATE THIS UNKNOWN PLANET!

We divide into groups, with up to 12 children in each group. Each group of 12 divides into 6 pairs of investigating scientists, each of which has a speciality, as follows:

GEOLOGISTS - They’re going to concentrate on the earth they’re walking on.

BOTANISTS - Their job is to study everything that’s green.

ZOOLOGISTS - They'll investigate any signs of animals.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS = Humans, and everything about them, are their subject.

TOPOGRAPHERS - They’ll make maps of the place and everything they find.

ECOLOGISTS = They'll try to see how the different pieces fit together (see next part).

GEOLOGISTS

They may start by taking readings with a thermometer they’ve brought, for the same amount of time (say, 5 minutes) in different places – in the shade, the open sunlight, a damp place, below the surface of the ground. These readings will be of interest for other groups like the zoologists and botanists when they return home. They can plant a stick firmly in the ground and mark the length and direction of the shadow cast by the sun. Each half hour they mark the new position of the shadow, and transfer the observations to their record book. Depending on the hemisphere, the shortest shadow will mark South, or North. They find two slopes that face in opposite directions – for example, one may face North, one South - and see the differences in the soils, and in the plant life also. They analyze the contents of the soil, and not them down in detail. Then they go to the river bed, and observe and note down the characteristics of the rocks that are exposed – their size and shape and colour, the ways the water has shaped and polished them and their location. How do you think they got to where they are. Look around carefully at the rest of the surrounding valley. Test sample rocks for hardness with a steel knife. Some are very hard, some soft. Note your observations.

BOTANISTS

You may begin with the smallest plants you can find – say smaller than 5 centimetres high - and see which grow in shade, and which out in the sun. You’ll find lichens, maybe mosses. Why are some tiny, others larger? Which small plants grow near to certain trees. Which trees are the most common? Which are the largest, which are the smallest? Where do they seem to like to grow and why? Some may be in shade, in sunlight, dry areas or moist, some down by a stream, some facing certain directions. Are there any trees you always find associated with some different kind of tree, as if they had a partnership? Compare the shapes of leaves. Record them with a sample of each one taken from the ground. Leaf and bark rubbings are a good way of recording shapes and textures. Find seeds in Autumn, flowers in Spring and Autumn, and fruits in Summer – Autumn. Search for and examine details of the seeds you find. How do you think they travel so the trees can reproduce? Do they explode and ride the wind, or fall to the ground? Do some stick to your clothes or hair, or that of animals? Are some carried by birds, or perhaps by water? Why do some seeds have fleshy fruits covering them? What happens to the seeds that don’t manage to grow into new plants? What are they useful for? Without green leaves, there are no green plants. With no green plants, what air would we be breathing now? The variety of shapes and sizes and colours of green leaves is one of nature’s miracles. Could you find 20 different kinds by looking carefully?

ZOOLOGISTS

You’ll soon find out some animals are easier to see than others. When you listened on arriving, what was the animal sound that was easiest to hear? Most likely it was birds and insects. Let’s start by investigating them. You already know that silence and slow movement help you get closer to nature, so let’s look for a quiet place, and settle down and start observing. See the general shapes, the colours and the way of flying of the birds you see. Why do you think they fly the way they do? Remember birds most of the time are flying round looking for ways of finding food. Isn’t that a brilliant way to travel, by getting off the ground and flying? How would you like to be able to do that? Birds also do it in such a way as to be safe from predators. Don’t worry if you don’t know the names of the birds you see, you can find them out later. Observe them carefully, and note down or draw their most important points. How would you like to fly the way they do? The same goes for insects. Here it’s good to have a hand lens if you can. Notice details, especially the numbers of legs and the shape of body parts, and draw them carefully, ready to give a detailed report to the other groups. Observe where you find them, and ask yourselves why they’re where they are. What do you suppose they eat? How do they shelter, reproduce, care for their young? While looking for insects you’re sure to find some other invertebrates as well. Check that you all know what invertebrates are – no backbone. As well as insects you’ll probably find some arachnids as well. They have eight legs, and include spiders and scorpions. Other invertebrates will also show up in small, sheltered places, such as under rocks, in cracks in rocks and tree bark and among the grasses. Larger animals will be difficult to see with so much movement going on, but what you may well find are signs of animals. These may be scat (droppings), tracks, or partly-eaten leaves or other remains like bones, and are worth looking out for carefully. Such things as feathers and fur raise questions. Were they shed or lost in a fight, is the owner of them still alive? Bones can often tell you stories about who enjoyed eating them, as can seeds that are half-eaten by rodents, who left teeth marks still clearly visible. If your lucky enough to look beneath a branch or building where birds of prey have stood, you may find pellets of waste matter discarded by an own or hawk. And more common, though you’ll have to search, are scats of foxes, which can tell you lots about how these intelligent animals live and change their diet at different times of year.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS

In this speciality, it’s interesting to imagine yourselves to be a group of extraterrestrial explorers, and try to imagine why the human inhabitants of earth behave the way they do – for example, why do they: Make fences, construct roads or bridges, objects made from concrete and large buildings. Why are some animals free and others seem to be trapped with ropes in fields? Why are some places clear of plants and others full of them? Why do humans cut some big trees in one place, and in another plant great numbers of small plants that are all the same? What are those big moving metal objects with wheels for, that make such noise and smoke? What about the big towers that carry long cables through the sky, what would they be all about? And if by chance you see an aircraft, what do you think the humans do with it? A less fanciful angle for this subject is to observe, from the point of view of human beings, the impact on the place and its surroundings, and try to understand the historical and present ways they use the land. It’s worth doing this with reference to what you can see of the surrounding ecosystem, in order to imagine how the place was originally, and evaluate the impact of the human presence now. Do you find it positive or negative? Why? Do you think it would be good to take any action to improve it? If more groups come to visit like this one of ours, do you think that will improve the place or damage it? Why?

TOPOGRAPHERS

We’ve already introduced this subject, and noted that map making is an essential part of any scientific exploration. As everyone’s had a simple introduction to map-making in school, this group of Topographers should be a chosen team, good at their job and motivated to record the necessary data in the field and take it back to class as the basis of a large, realistic sketch map the others groups can include their observations on. To do that well, each group should have basic equipment which includes : Clipboards, pencils, erasers and short rulers for easy sketching and recording and a compass for measuring directions, and protractor for transferring them to paper. Additional adult supervision here will be useful, to make sure that the most important data are recorded before the group returns to school.

Return