Nature is a place of regeneration, abundance, colour, peacefulness and life. It’s a place we share with others, including wildlife, the weather, and it carries on regardless. A resilient site for young children who need a bit of extra attention and calm to talk and play through any stress in their lives. The school growing garden and composting site is where my little group first met.
I will not pretend to have special qualifications as a play therapist or psychologist, rather my knowledge and experience as teacher, forest school leader, and importantly, life experience in dealing with children and emotional issues, qualifies me to help young children talk and express feelings about settling back into school post lockdown.
This is what I did
Mindfulness was the theme: I understand mindfulness to be focusing upon your feelings and how this impacts upon your thoughts and physical actions in a shared moment.
As a small group of six children and myself, we undertook small tasks such as gathering up weeds, filling pots with earth and tipping out and starting again. Wheeled the old plants and weeds to the compost bin and watched the fruit flies and rotting apples, noting the smells and describing the textures. We planted dried peas and counted them into the holes made with our fingers pushed into the fresh potting soil. And all the time, talking about these events helped focus our thoughts and supported cooperation.
Why this is important
I believe young children need a physical task to focus and sequence their thoughts. A sense of purpose helps support cooperation and caring for each other.
Creating empathy for nature: after tasks were completed we walked around the garden and looked for berries, interesting leaves, signs of wildlife, collected feathers and talked about the birds we spotted. The relaxed atmosphere created the space for these five and six year olds to talk freely without my prompting. And yes, those Covid questions came up. These included their worries for their friends and families. Walking amongst the plants and trees provided an informal distraction. It was easy to discuss their voiced concerns.
We collected small items and sat on the grass to make pictures. One girl used a stick to tap the fence and sing. We joined in until another boy suggested a story. Using the nature pictures, or mandalas, we made up fabulous tales. At the end we closed our eyes and ‘smelt’ the air. Their suggestion!
And all this in about fifty minutes.
Clearly, the group benefitted from this time outdoors. I understand being outdoors in informal small groups doing a blend of teacher led and child-initiated activities as important as anything else they might do in the curriculum at school in these times.