Tag Archive | natural world

How do people get so ignorant?

How could you litter this place?

I just had a super little holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. The best thing about it was being outside on the hills and hollows from dawn to dusk almost, the weather being absolutely perfect.

It was the perfect holiday for me because outside in a natural environment is where I really love to be and, as you’ll know if you’re connected to me on Instagram, I’ll take most weathers. But last week’s constant light and sunshine was an amazing bonus I couldn’t resist. So constant, in fact, I nearly had heatstroke.

The only thing that was less than perfect was the bag of rubbish!

There we were tramping up this hill, so far from anywhere that only the dedicated few would make the effort to go. So you’d think it would only be folks who really appreciate it who’d go there. Yet what does one of those folks do? Decide to leave their plastic bag of picnic rubbish; sandwich packets and plastic bottles, polluting that glorious environment, expecting someone else to pick up after them.

I ask you – what kind of mentality do they have?

We were in exquisitely beautiful countryside, we’re actually able to walk this land as a privilege not a right, we are as such extremely lucky, and that’s how people wish to repay that privilege? By expecting others to clean up after them as they take their personal recreation and enjoyment. This being land where people live and work and depend upon for their livelihood? Never mind the risk to other living things.

How do people get so ignorant? I fail to understand what kind of education they can have had.

As I walked back down the hill, I picked up the dangerous bag, carried it back and disposed of it.

It would have been easy not to.

But I’ve learnt from my daughter. Her integrity almost puts mine to shame. I would never throw litter down – but I don’t often pick it up after others either, as she does.

She and I were walking together through the park in town where someone else has flung their discarded litter about the place. There are bins provided – very near – but no, it’s too much effort to carry litter to a bin. So she picks it up and puts it in the bin in passing. Such a simple unselfish act, she takes upon herself. She does it whenever she walks through and sees the need.

We’re often accused of making our home schooled kids dependent – or depriving them of independence by keeping them at home. (Total balderdash as you can read from this recent post) Yet I see her independently taking responsibility not only for her own rubbish but for the rubbish of those ignorant gits who are dependent on others picking up after them.

Ironic isn’t it!

The hills and remote places were otherwise glorious. And do a great deal to heal the sometimes less glorious thoughts that creep in about the less glorious others we have to share them with.

I do hope you’ll never be one of them!

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A song for comfort

At this time of year I love to hear the blackbird song. He’s singing his rights to territory and of course serenading a potential mate. His song is the most delightful – up there with the more famous songsters the Nightingale and the Thrush.

I find these moments connected with nature immensely comforting and enriching – whichever I need at the time.

It was the Blackbird song that also prompted a short story from me which surprise surprise won a little competition at the time – not something I normally do. (Copied below)

And following a recent bereavement I was put in mind of how important it is to build these strategies to overcome tricky times in our lives and encourage our children to do the same. Life never runs smooth. There are smooth currents at times obviously, but also rapids, waterfalls and undercurrents to continue the analogy! And part of our duty as parents and educators of this next generation is to be honest about them and help the kids find ways to negotiate them too.

Some find music helps, some use gaming, some use art or social media. Some throw themselves into work. Or running or walking. Or writing – as I do at times. Love from others always brings solace. We are all different and all need different strategies that will help us do this; child or adult. I’m aware in my adult children how they have begun to develop their own. But more importantly how they do not take their spiritual and mental well being for granted but treat it seriously, acknowledge that it needs serious attention at times, and this is something we continue to talk about.

Looking after oneself, mentally and emotionally is as an important part of any education as the academic. We have to see that side of it is not neglected – not easy in schools I fear. In fact, many parents turn to home schooling for that very reason. But however your children are educated make sure some time is spent understanding and nurturing the spirits as well as any other part of the curriculum.

As for the story:

When I was little my mother would take me with her on her walk round the city’s evening streets. The reason she went was to listen to the Blackbird sing.

I felt a bit odd just standing there, unaware at the time that this was my first experience of the power of nature to feed our spirits. What I was aware of though was a special aura of peace upon her face as she stood upon the grey pavements and listened.

Growing up I began to learn a little more about this power. Freed from the taunts and terrors of schoolgirls that were my daily diet I’d spend hours walking the marshes where I could be alone in a completely natural environment. Here the traumas of adolescence were released into a feast of distance and solitude. When I was in a natural place, I could be myself, naturally. No need for artificial smiles, bravado, or attachment to gang behaviours you didn’t believe in. You could just stare at the horizon and be peaceful. You could simply be – although I wasn’t aware it had anything to do with the spirits just then.

But that practice has stayed with me always and now I know differently.

Now I know that in order for us to be well; body, mind and spirits, we need to check in with the natural universe from where the spirit comes. We need contact with ourselves and contact with the earth and the wider universe. Simple awareness will do, meditation, call it what you will, but it won’t be denied.

As long as I have that, a pain in the hip or a twinge in the joints can all be eased. It just takes a moment of appreciation in the way the sunshine can lick the fields into loveliness and I am well. A walk in the raging winds can whoosh deep rooted storms away from both the land and the soul. The song of the rising Lark can pick up my spirits from my boots and lift them high enough for me to see the light all around and beyond the oppressive troubles we attach ourselves to so deeply we become consumed. The lesson in my mother’s face taught me that early on.

When my mother died I felt crumpled and consumed with grief. I lay on the soggy bedcover not wanting to face the world. Yet something told me to get up and open the window and seek the solace I have always found in a breath of fresh breeze, the smell of soil or sea, the touch of nature’s palm. So I did.

And I do not believe that it was coincidence that, at the very moment I leaned from the bedroom window, the sweetest shrillest blackbird began to sing!

Happy Easter!

I always think of Easter as the gateway through which spring passes.  

I love it – more importantly for me because the equinox has passed and, although the weather still can throw up some challenges yet, at least we have more light than dark in a day. After long dark winter days that also darken my moods, it’s a blessing to have that.

It affects the children’s moods too, did you realise?

I relate a story in my ‘A Home Education Notebook’ when, having got pretty much to the end of my tether with the children (my mood’s fault as much as theirs) I bundled them up despite conditions and we went out for a walk. This wasn’t without protest – but I pressed on determinedly.

And I’m so glad I did. For everything changed. Their moods picked up, bickering was forgotten, spirits lifted, the grumpy tweenager even started singing! And when we got back with sniffy noses and blazing cheeks everyone was calmer, more peaceful, more tolerant! It was an antidote to doldrums I could always rely on.

Have you tried it?

There are many studies now that show the benefits of time outside everyday – most importantly for the children, both physically and mentally. And it’s so uplifting anyway.

There’s much to seek; buds bursting – look out for the sticky ones, birds carrying twigs for nests, bulbs blooming, primroses, lambs, the first butterfly/bee/ladybird. And the time when the sun actually feels warm on your face.

Turn yours up to it like sunflowers, cure your family gripes, run off all that chocolate; get yourselves outside.

Have a Happy Outdoor Easter!

What about science if I homeschool?

On one of my walks at the end of last year, when dusk was being blown in horizontally with the gales and snow I found a buzzard – in trouble.

At first I thought it was a piece of sacking blown from the farmland onto the barbed wire fence. But the dog was scenting it from a safe distance, making me suspicious and I went to investigate.

Can’t imagine how it happened but it was ensnared by the fleshy part of the wing onto the barbs and had tangled itself round and round until all it could do was hang. Or so I thought, when I tried to help it went for me with its fierce beak and talons.

I feared I was going to make it worse so called a birding friend for help and we rescued it between us by cutting chunks out the wire and letting the vet see if it could be removed from the flesh.

“It’ll have to be put down, I reckon” said my friend. I thought it was likely too. I watched them go with heavy heart. But couldn’t help thinking that the girls would have loved to have seen it.

“Did you get a picture?” my youngest asked. That had not been my priority at the time and I was keeping my eye on those flesh ripping talons.

Having wildlife on their doorstep, our involvement with the natural world and consequently wildlife, was an organic part of our home educating days. And a great way to introduce the sciences into their learning days.

Science can be a subject potential home schoolers feel they’d never be able to tackle. Yet it surrounds us every day whether you live in the countryside or not. There are critters to identify (my youngest now sees more deer in the town than she saw here), natural spaces to visit, plant life to experiment with even if you only have a plant pot on a windowsill. And the most fascinating aspect of science is often their own bodies – a great starting point. You can do experiments in your own kitchen (Google kitchen science) and go online for all kinds of inspiration, clips, resources, (look at this one from the science museum) There are also a number of generous bloggers and groups who share resources and ideas.

So don’t be put off home educating because you think you couldn’t do the science.

One of the most important aspects of science is encouraging a scientific mind and kids already have that in that they question everything and are always asking ‘why’. Parents just need to extend those valuable scientific skills to others like finding out (research), encourage their observation, hypothesising, classification (naming things) analysis, etc. So easy now with the internet. And let them look at and investigate everything however repellent to you it may be! It’s all science in a way.

If I hadn’t investigated the piece of sacking that buzzard would still be hanging lifeless on the fence. But miraculously its wing only had a flesh wound and it made a full recovery in a rescue centre.

The day before new year they brought it back and set it free. My heart soared with it when I watched it go.

Off he goes

The earth is more important than maths and grammar

Bread in the making!

Pulling out of London on the train recently I love to look upon the back gardens. Behind the terraced streets these little green oases must offer some much needed sanctuary to the wildlife (never mind the humans)!

From the centre of the city, where the soaring icons, office towers and blocks of flats butt up against each other without a scrap of space between, we begin to pass these tiny, tatty back gardens where people are making such a champion effort to provide that sanctuary with what little space they have. And even those rammed in high-rise blocks boast boxes and planters and gardens on rooftops in gallant attempts to create a little natural space where nature can flourish among places covered in concrete. Sometimes it does it on its own and a buddleia protrudes from a wall and weeds grow on sidings. But many Londoners are giving it a helping hand, creating spaces to invite insects, birds and critters we’ll never see to drop in.

When I see these awesome attempts to give nature a welcome I am filled with awe and wonder. And immediately stop taking for granted the abundance of natural space and greenery I have round me where I live now. I grew up in a top storey flat in London so I know what it’s like to be concreted in. I know how precious these few natural oases are. We didn’t have one!

I’m also thinking about the children who live without them now. About the generations of children who never experience countryside. And how they will ever be able to understand the significance of nature and natural science.

From the tiniest miniscule organism, through all the plants and animals, to the largest oldest tree everything has importance in the ecology of the planet. Everything needs a place. And we depend upon it all for our food, for our air, for our survival and that of the planet. And I worry that those children with shuttered, sheltered existences will never have the opportunity to know anything different, will never truly understand that significance, being so far removed from it on their pavement journeys between home and school and their virtual lives of indoor entertainment.

Surely this knowledge and experience is far more essential to an education, will have far more impact on a future, than times tables and grammar? It is imperative. But as kids follow academic curriculum and obedience to indoor culture I wonder how nature will make its impact known.

So I urge all families to help your kids understand the ecology of the earth that is battened down beneath that concrete, understand that it is still what everyone needs for their survival wherever they live, whether they have contact with it or not. Cities and towns have places to go to get down to the earth, they have planters and gardens and parks, and even farms, where that understanding can begin. And failing that you can simply stand in the supermarket by the fruit and veg and ask the question; where does all this come from and what aspects of nature do we depend upon to get it here, from the bees that pollinate, to the insects and leaf matter which make the soil, the animals that fertilise it, to the workers who make it possible. That question will take you on a journey.

The earth may not be under your feet as it is now under mine, but it is just as essential to your life. And it’s essential to every child’s education that they understand that!

Using nature to talk about mortality with kids

I wonder how the little Guillemot is? 

I think it was a guillemot anyway. It was standing forlornly at the edge of the water so still I thought it was an upstanding stone when I first caught sight of it in the distance. But as I walked nearer I realised it was a little bird. It was bedraggled and saturated and appeared to be shivering.

I guessed it had probably got exhausted and waterlogged. But had managed to come ashore with the tide.

What to do?

Leave it to recover in calm and solitude, or take it somewhere? The stress of being captured can often create further injury or cause them to die of shock anyway.

It was always a dilemma when we found exhausted or injured wild things. They rarely survived as a result of our attentions but the children always wanted to take them home and cosset and cuddle them back to health as we did them! None of which does wild things any good usually but it’s very hard to explain that to a child.

Nestlings were the worst. The children were adamant that they could save them with human ministrations, not understanding that most of them wouldn’t make it – human comforts are rarely what they need.

Living in the country animal fatalities were regularly witnessed. Another corpse in the tideline or a remnant of a fox’s meal, as well as farming, were opportunities for study and discussion and also conversations about the natural course of life.

These events, and the passing of pets, are a good opportunity to talk to kids about these difficult issues – although not difficult really if you make them a natural part of examining life.

More difficult when they’re not talked about and come as a terrible shock.

Mortality is usually conveniently hidden away like a taboo. But it is far better that it is confronted honestly, that children understand about the cycle of life, that we are sad and bereft for some time after losing someone or something, and that this passes, new aspects of life flood in and make us feel better and we survive and move forward.

Children are very matter-of-fact. They deal far better with honest answers than with cover ups. They see through those. They can only trust us if they know we’re honest. That way they’ll believe us when we say that we can recover from grief and loss, rather than thinking this is just another grown up lie.

The loss of pets or things in the wild and natural world provide good opportunities for us to talk about both the living and the passing of life, not in a morbid way. But in a matter-of-fact way with the children. And we shouldn’t shy away from it.

Had little children been with me when I saw the guillemot they would no doubt have wanted to do something about it. But I thought it best to leave it to find itself somewhere quiet to recover as it looked reasonable robust. After I’d had a good look at it – a rare treat to be so close.

But it popped into my mind occasionally throughout the day as I wondered about its fate.

Building skills with the Big Garden Bird Watch

It might be a bit late to get a pack for the Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend but it’s never too late to encourage the children to learn about the bird life around them.

Find out more about what to feed your birds at www.rspb.org.uk

Find out more about what to feed your birds at http://www.rspb.org.uk

You might feel you’re not that interested in birds and neither are the children. But there’s more point to it than that.

Doing activities like this encourages the development of the skills children need for science in general.

The snag with the curriculum of science most parents are familiar with through their own experience in school is that you can feel very much removed from it. But the basis of science is quite simple really; it’s based in understanding the world and the things within it. As Albert Einstein famously said; ‘the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking’. It evolves from there!

And the best place to start is with the things that are relevant to children now, the things they see – birds for example. And bugs. And flowers and plants. And  wondering about things, like what they’re are made of, what materials are used, where they come from, and why – from homes to helicopters to trees. And from these small beginnings their study stretches into the bigger questions like what’s the earth made of, what space is, and bigger aspects of chemistry and physics.

Yet the skills needed to pursue science into more complex subject matter are based right back in activities that are seemingly small and insignificant. Like bird watching for example. For this encourages the children to practice the most fundamental skill of all scientific study – observation.

From there will come other valuable skills like; questioning, identification, hypothesising, language, (through conversations about what they see), analyzing, classification, extended study and understanding how everything relates to each other as well as to them.

So use any opportunity you can to get the kids interested in the world that’s near to them and it will build the skills and understanding needed for when the time comes to study those things that right now seem further removed! The Bird Watch offers such an opportunity.

For more ideas you might also like to explore:

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

http://www.froglife.org/

www.rigb.org