Review: Not ‘just messing about’
I kept a diary at the age of seven. For most of one summer I wrote the same thing almost every day. ‘Just messed about’. Looking back, I realise this was an early forest school journal, my attempt to describe the wealth of adventures, real and imagined, in the tangle of undergrowth at the end of my garden.
Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination’s booklet, Outside/Inside, finds more elegant and unusual ways to capture the richness of a child’s experience as they encounter a wild outdoor environment: the possibilities it offers for physical challenge and imaginative play, scientific discovery and gleeful enjoyment. It exemplifies what Mary Jane Drummond’s introduction describes as she quotes from V.G.Paley on ‘the absolute centrality of dramatic play, storymaking and storytelling in the growth of children’s individual thinking and social connectivity.’
Outside/Inside reflects, too, on the way the forest changes the relationship between child and adult, between teacher and learner, as children take the lead in imaginative exploration. It goes on to pose the question: what happens if we try to take the forest back into the classroom? What if we try to continue not just the children’s ideas and interests, but this different relationship, in the classroom? Teacher Ben Wilson describes his journey from a teacher needing ‘to face the unknown with a crib sheet’ to one who is content to sit and just listen to what children have to tell him. He charts his growing confidence that children will be able ‘to create most of the connected classroom activities for themselves’, and that through these activities he will be able to trace their educational progress.
But just as the educators in the project did not tell the children how to go about their learning in the forest, so the booklet doesn’t provide a blueprint for teaching: rather it offers a series of provocations - anecdotes, questions, and images - as a lens through which educators can view their own practice.
The questions in the book are fascinating: is something only real if we can take a photograph of it? How can children explore the immensity of the woods back in a classroom where everything is scaled down? But the images in the book have an equal status with the words. They capture not just ideas but moods and values. A picture of the muddy shallows of a pool paired with a child’s drawing of her friends playing in a lake. A child looking through a chunk of ice: a map in chalk of a fantasy train journey.
The words tell me – persuasively and with intellectual rigour – that education out of doors is a powerful and enriching experience for children and adults. The images bring back the immediacy of those experiences that slipped between the pages of my seven year old diary, and remind me of their importance in my journey through childhood.
Marion Leeper, storyteller and educator
Read Outside Inside here or purchase a copy from the CCI shop.