Learning with Nature – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Learning with Nature
A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities
By Marina Robb, Victoria Mew and Anna Richardson
Published by Green Books, 29th January 2015
Paperback, 208 pages, 210mm x 210mm   
ISBN: 9780857842398
Price: £17.99

Learning_with_Nature_web1Learning with Nature is full of fun activities and games to get your children outdoors, to explore, have fun, make things and learn about nature and help them grow up happy and healthy. Suitable for groups of children aged between 3 and 16, the graded activities help children develop:

• Key practical and social skills

• Awareness of their place in the world

• Respect for the natural world

all while enjoying the great outdoors.

Written by experienced Forest School practitioners, using tried and tested games and activities, it provides comprehensive information for enriching childrens’ learning through nature. The games and activities are clearly categorized, with step-by-step instructions, age guide, a list of resources needed, and invisible learning points.

This new book aims to connect children with nature and through a broad range of outdoor activities and games, young people are encouraged to engage their senses and interact with nature. Doing this not only leads to a better understanding of the natural world but can also contribute to much broader agendas including personal and social development. Only by enjoying our natural world, and everything in it can we all to to a better understanding of how we are all connected to the greater natural world, develop the empathy needed to wanting to conserve and care for the environment. Proper care for the environment, for our woods and everything else, does, however, mean and require management.

This book is a unique must-have resource for families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children. So, whether you are a parent or educator, “Learning with Nature” is full of ideas for fun in the great outdoors. It caters for children and young people of all ages and abilities – and comes with clear instructions and illustrations.

About the authors

Victoria Mew has followed her love of nature and curiosity in indigenous cultures since she was 12 years old She trained with Wilderness Awareness School, WA, USA, before gaining a BscHons in Human Sciences at UCL. She has since founded ‘Cultivating Curiosity’, an organization that works with people of all ages outdoors facilitating deep nature connection. She is also a qualified forest school practitioner.

Anna Richardson is teacher of foraging workshops, and works with children of all ages. Over the last 20 years, Anna’s interest in plants and traditional skills has developed through training, teaching and practicing bush craft. Passionate about new and indigenous ways to educate, Anna co-creates local community projects that enable people to share and learn together to reconnect with nature.

Marina is founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, a leading outdoor learning organization. A qualified teacher who has specialized in environmental education, Marina’s approach brings together best practice from environmental education, Forest School, eco-psychology, and indigenous wisdom. She draws upon many years of working with young people of all ages and backgrounds to create unique and fun learning experiences.

As a professional woodsman I must take issue – unfortunately – with a couple of points about using a saw, whether this be a bow saw or a pruning saw. Do not, ever, put the free hands in the way described in the particular chapter. It is not safe – though it may appear thus – at all but a disaster waiting to happen. The hand belongs, with a right handed person, about one hand width to the left. With a pruning saw, if the limb is still attached to the tree (or otherwise totally secure), the free hand can be placed over top of the working hand on the handle. This gives a little more pulling power. Also please note that a pruning saw is designed to cut on the pull only and thus should not be pushed back forcefully.

Contrary to stated in the book when using saws the free hand should be “protected” by an all-leather work glove or a work glove with leather palm and Kevlar material back. The hand holding the tool should, however, be glove-less.

Please do not use a knife of the Mora kind (as in the picture in the book) to split a log using a mallet. Using a mallet on the back of the blade for this purpose may be fine when using a machete or a billhook but not for the kind of knife as shown. Is is not safe for knife or user.

Forest schools and forest kindergartens in the UK, alas, are still nowhere near the way that they are on the European mainland and our health and safety culture is to blame for that in the same way that it is to blame for the nature deficit disorder in our children in general.

Aside from those caveats indicated above this is an important book to bring children closer to the great outdoors and in proper contact with Mother Nature once again. There was a time when this kind of play came natural to most, at least the boys, such as exploring the woods, building camps, and while illegal, yes, even building fires.

Unlike today's children, and my own childhood only lies some 40+ years back, who spend most of their time in front of a screen, and that often even at school, we played outside, explored the countryside and everything in it from dawn till dusk, always carried a knife on us, and no one stabbed another. We didn't need to teach us the countryside; we lived it.

This is what makes this book so very important as today's children – and even their parents – are so very far removed from the way we grew up and could explore, and it should be a manual that not only be used in kindergartens and schools but also in the homes. We must get away from mollycoddling our kids and packing them in cotton wool and allow them the freedom to explore and understand Nature and how everything is interconnected, including everyone of us.

Due to, in my opinion, problems with some of the advice as regards the use of saws, etc., I can but give this book a rating of 4.5 our of 5. That does not, however, diminish its great importance and value.

© 2015