I often talk on my workshops about how Nature is our greatest teacher. I am at present reading a book called 'The Last Child in the Woods' by Richard Louv and in conjunction with other readings and from my my own past experiences I would like to share my thoughts with you on Nature and our creative child within...
The Last Child in the Woods it does not bear thinking about, the thought that our children would never experience the things we did as children, sure they have their computer games but is that really a substitute for being in nature? The term 'loose parts' was first described by Nicholson he was referring to toys and how children use these tools to be creative.
When we are in nature as children and perhaps even as adults we become creative our imaginations Run Wild we invent all kinds of games to play even when we are at home we can be creative. I remember as a child I would often play in my bedroom using a ruler stuck into the clip of a pen, this then would become a plane, a submarine or a spacecraft if fact anything I wanted it to be.
In nature children are very creative from using the den they have built as a castle or anything they want it to be, to exploring the woods as if they are on some great adventure, while the computer can be seen as a vast tool which can be applied in infinite 'loose parts' Lauv (2008) points out that these loose parts are made up of 0 & 1's in other words a binary code.
Lets compare this to nature's code.
We learn from nature by connecting with it, using all our senses. It is believed that our DNA contains memory and each cell in our body also contains memory from which we learn, it is not just our brain that teaches us, nature as Louv states is our "richest source of loose parts."
I personally believe nature is our greatest teacher, it allows us to be creative, for example I once watched a group of young boys who I had taken out tracking, spend time with a track, these were kids who apparently had short attention spans, yet they spent in all, around twenty minutes looking at this one track, disguising amongst themselves what they thought could have happened, the questions they were asking and acting out were 'what happened here', 'what is it telling us', and 'what can we learn from this?
When I go swimming I try to move through the water creating as few concentric rings as possible when I do this I am transported to a completely different world, its almost as if you are are becoming the same as the water, while I totally enjoy the Internet it still does not give me this sense of wonder and awe, such as seeing a young roe deer staring back at me, watching from a short distance away and in them few minutes there is a connection a sense of trying to discover each other. The children who sat on the track in the classroom without walls find it hard to concentrate in a classroom with walls and often became disruptive and yet here they were completely immersed in what nature was presenting them with.
Is it because we have an innate relationship with nature?
I believe this is exactly the case, the boys not only tracked the footprint on the ground but they also tracked each other exploring their relationship with each other, they were tracking their surroundings by going off to look at other areas where the trail could have gone and when they did not find anything they came back to their last definite sign and started over again.
They were tracking each others questions and actively seeking out the answers, they showed no signs of frustration at not finding the answer to their questions. They were tracking on so many levels and yet in school they struggled to do this.
I was once asked at university to explain spirituality in relation to academic part of the course I was on. How do you do this it is such a personal experience, anyway this is what I came up with on the hoof as I had been given no warning.
To me the brain is an important part of us but it is not the whole of us, for example I need my brain to get me through the day when problem solving and so on. The computer is like the brain, when I step up to the key board, i can write a book, draw a picture, crate music and much, much more. In fact the computer has come a long way there are programmes that monitor what you do the computer and then the next time you step up to it, the programme will preempt you behaviour, this is known as automaticity *.
It is like learning to drive a car for the first time, you are constantly thinking about every action you need to take from mirror to gear changing. However, after a while you find you can drive from point A to point B and not even remember doing this, that's because the short-term memory as stored these actions into long-term memory, therefore freeing up the short term to deal with more immediate problems.
So back to creating a book etc on the computer, it's a wonderful thing to be able to do all these amazing things with the computer/our brain. However, once I step away from the computer that's all it is a computer, it needs me my creativity, my soul, my heart. without this the machine will just be there.
So what has this got to do with children's creativity?
Well I remember once a colleague came into work after the Christmas break, I asked him way the long face, he said he had bought is grandson the biggest and best Tonka toy you can imagine, he then went on to say that his grandson played with the toy for about twenty minutes but then moved onto the box which he played with for the rest of the holiday. Of course he would I replied that's because THE BOX can be a racing car, a ship, a castle or even an aeroplane, it can be anything you want it to be.
As a child I can remember playing with a pen with a small ruler pushed into the clip, that pen was a plane in that moment, then I would take the ruler out and it became a submarine and so it went on for example I would take an old shoe box with my friends and we would draw square son the lid and draw in rivers, hills an woods. Then we would get our Airfix soldiers and a dice, make up some rules and we would play for hours, if you got a six you beat the person you were up against Now, I like to think that this game we all played as kids was the fore runner of Risk today, who knows.
The point is while computer programmes and games are truly amazing and excellent tools for learning etc there is no real replacement for being out in nature. As children we would think up all sorts of adventures to get up to, from building a den to cowboys and Indians (hands up who always wanted to be an Indian).
More to come later...
*Automaticity is the ability to do things in long-term memory without occupying the short-term memory with the low-level details which would require a large amount of attention, thus allowing it to become an automatic response pattern.