I attended the public launch of this title a week ago, and since then have been able to have a leisurely look through the book. What an impressive collaboration between writers and the publisher’s design team this is! “A unique must-have resource for families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children,” the back cover proclaims – and yes, it is! I commend it without reservation.
I hope particularly as many schools as possible will obtain copies for their staff libraries. Although many of the recommended activities included in the book, together with the accompanying photos, suggest the need for a forest or woodland context, there are also numerous suggestions that would work just as well within the boundaries of schools that enjoy at least a little bit of green space. It is also undeniably the case that many of the children who are fortunate enough to be taken to the kinds of workshop organised by the book’s authors are from backgrounds that are already sympathetic towards outdoor learning. The book can have most impact if its ideas are taken up in classrooms up and down the country.
One of the speakers at the launch event remembered attending a local primary school in the 1960s. Every Wednesday afternoon the class would be taken up onto the Downs for nature study. The teacher would sit down with a packet of Weights cigarettes, while the class was given freedom to identify wild flowers and plants using Ladybird field guides. A bygone era indeed. The loss of such experiences from the school curriculum (how many infant classrooms even have a Nature table any more?) would not matter so much if children were still doing more of the same in their own time. But they’re not.
The book carries an impassioned foreword by Chris Packham, who notes, alongside a sharp decline in the numbers of kestrels, skylarks and lapwings, another “tragic extinction”:
… that of the young naturalist. I walk my dogs twice daily through the woods near where I grew up, and in years I have not seen a single child making camps, climbing trees, damming streams, let alone looking for birds’ nests, catching grass snakes or tracking foxes. Not one; they have gone.
Well, not gone exactly. They have been iomprisoned, protected from the dirty and dangerous outdoors by being locked up inside in front of televisions and computers.
Each of the three authors has been actively and successfully involved in running outdoor workshops for children over several years. They don’t pretend to have thought up all the activities themselves. This is a compilation of tried and tested activities guaranteed to engage and enthuse.
The book has four main sections – with easy to navigate coloured page tabs:
The book is generously illustrated with photographs that have all been scrupulopusly credited to no fewer than thirty separate photographers.
The book has an excellent index, an Afterword from Jon Cree, Chair of the Forest School Association, and author biographies.
Marina Robb is founder and managing director of the outdoor learning association Circle of Life Rediscovery; Anna Richardson is a forest school facilitator and trainer; and Victoria Mew, also a qualified forest school practitioner, has a particular interest in animal tracking.
I very much hope it comes to the attention of the judges of the SLA Information Book Award.