Thursday, 14 August 2014

What happens after you feel the fear?

I didn't know how much of this last week would be spent dealing with fear. Heights, the dark, spiders in the toilet, bigger kids. All normal parts of a week of play in a field on the edge of a wood. But what struck me again and again is the resilience and bravery of children who know they are afraid but refuse to let that get in the way of experience. 
Jerry Hyde says there are some books which you only need to read, because it's all in the title; Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. That sort of thing...
Choosing the forty foot tree swing, walking out in the dark, becoming so fascinated by the fact the spider has babies that you get over your fear and look through a hand lens. The tales of bravery I could tell you, and that's just one week.


It's normal to feel fear. It's part of what keeps us safe. It's part of moving out of your comfort zone. A way, as I've explored before here, to help children (or anyone) move out towards those fears that won't case harm and to still feel safe is to help them see it as a challenge and to play with the idea. You can't simply tell someone not to be afraid. Something has to replace the fear. 
We stepped out of the field, over the fence and into the dark dark woods at night. Nate said; "I'm scared!"
What of? I asked.  "Everything." replied the tiniest voice. Are you afraid of the clouds? I asked. "Yes." Are you afraid of kittens? "Yes" said a slightly bigger voice. Are you afraid of fluffy blankets? "Yes!"  ...of baby chicks?
"Yes!!" said Nate. "I want to hold Elliot's hand."
 Are you afraid of holding Elliot's hand? I asked "oh yes" Nate laughed and took Elliot's hand. 
Sometimes it's a challenge to remember why you were afraid before. 


Fear is an OK thing to feel, I tried hard to let the children know that it was OK and a normal thing for them to feel. The bodies way of dealing with fear is cortisol. The chemical trickle that, if turned into a flood will lead to a fight, a freeze or a flee. This stress response in it's trickle state gives us the adrenalised state of full attention, real curiosity and the learning sweet spot that comes with it. Too much adrenaline and the flood turns into a punch and kick, or a run from the scene. Or a shutting down, and a blacking out. Poppy's stress response is so extreme that she starts to black out if things get too noisy or busy or crowded around her. The doctors are still trying to work it out, but age 11 she manages it well, preparing an adult to take responsibility and notice the signs. Coming over and tugging a sleeve when she feels it start. Yet, the need to feel the fear and do it anyway is so strong she pleaded to be included "will I be still able to  go on the swing and the night walk even though I have my head thing? Pleeeeeeeease" she refused to let anyone suggest she was not up for it.

Clipped onto the swing and ready for her first attempt I could hear her rationalising under her breath; "my friend did it... all I have to do is is is is... if I step off here where will I go... and what if what if? So we talked about the special kind of fear that comes before you do something really cool and really safe and how that gives you an even more special kind of feeling afterwards. The feelings you have when you have overcome a challenge. "OK ready" she said and let herself go into a wild swing with a scream that could be heard across the valley. It ended in laughter. "I'm totally doing that again." 

Bob Hughes in his Taxonomy of Play Types uses the phrase; Deep Play. It's one of the hard play types to describe, yet whenever I have helped people unpack the play types and we talk about deep play, "you know that sensation when you do something tricky and you feel it right here, under your ribcage. That's deep play." Everyone nods we all know that feeling, from balancing on a wall and wobbling just a little, from climbing a tree and losing a foothold, even standing on a stage and preparing to sing or take part in a play. It's different for everyone. Your deep play could be my everyday experience. My deep play could be your relaxation. The Swedes have a saying about that feeling; occasionally you have to feel the ice in your stomach if you are to feel alive.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Look after yourself, look after each other and look after the place we are in.

There are many ways that I have used over the years to set ground rules with children. It always boils down to this though; 

How this is works is negotiated as we need to know it, sometimes in the middle of a game we might need to stop and work out the rules and make sure they work for everyone. This process of making group agreements rather than ground rules is an important part of developing social skills and having empathy for other people's needs.

With this comes an element of responsibility for your own self. Knowing where the boundaries are and making sure you stay with the group is important. As is the ability to notice your needs and do something about them.

This can't come at the cost of the place we are in. We should remember that we are visitors, in the home of the things that live in the woods and wilds. 

I've been making some resources to help focus on these three responsibilities and I'm interested to hear how you start these sorts of conversations with the children you work with.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wood cookies swinging in the trees make romantic braids...

Occasionally I see a craft technique and think to myself "I can't wait to take that to the woods!" So it was when I attended a textile workshop with Larry Schmidt at the North House Folk School. He specialises in traditional Scandinavian textile techniques that were brought to America by the first settlers and the have wonderful names like flettet snor, frynseflet, bregdet band and rundflet snor.

I've shared this technique with various practitioners and children over the years, most recently when I was hanging out in the woods with the fabulous Treecreepers. They have done what I have never managed to do and got some excellent photos that they allowed me to share with you. (Thank you Simon and Harry).

The technique is called a Nordic slinging braid. Also known as a romantic braid because it requires two people and good cooperation!

The first step is to hang weights off four strands of wool, string or thread. These strings need to be two different colours. Wood cookies or little branch slices are ideal for weights. Treecreepers used different symbols to help people who can't distinguish the colours as easily. This promotes thinking skills, trying to work out what things would work as opposites.

The strings need to be tied together then hung above head height. This is when I realised that the woods are ideal for this. All those convenient branches! 

Next stand facing opposite each other, each with two strings of different colours, one in each hand.

The next bit is simple; take the string in your left hand and let it swing across and swap it with the string in your partners left hand. 

Now do the same with the strings held in both of your right hands.  

Now repeat; left, right, left, right and... allow the rhythm to build, the strings to swing, from one person to the next, sometimes getting faster, or slowing down, stopping completely to untangle and laugh when things go awry. 

You will notice a braid starting to develop above your head and a pattern starting to develop in the braid. This pattern will be different depending on whether you both have the same colour strings in your left hand or opposite colour strings. You could try more than two colours when you get the hang of things. 

They are called romantic braids because you can only really do them with another person, I like the way this appeals to very physical people, and people who like to get immersed in making things, as well as people who 'don't normally like this sort of thing' but think they will have a go.  

Massive thanks to Treecreepers for the use of their pictures. Check out their facebook page for more inspiration (and probably some pictures of beetles). 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Bug book hotel

I have spent an inspiring couple of days in Scotswood Natural Community Garden. It's a stunnning place on so many levels; just two to three acres in very urban part of Newcastle, thriving with trees, flowers, birds, insects, foxes, ponds and people.

The garden is a real treat for the senses, with lots to discover. I was taken with these book bug hotels that Hive Arts made with the Garden for their Pollination Street project.  

So much so that as soon as I got home I started hunting through the bookcases and garden for suitable materials. 
The first step was to drill a few holes into a log from the firewood pile. 

I chose a few different hole sizes. This sort of habitat will be appealing to a range of small creatures like ladybirds, their larvae, lacewings and solitary bees. 

Then I chose a book with a hard back cover. This was a really tricky thing for me. I'm a real book worm and was always told that you should never do bad things to books (or paintbrushes). But I overcame my conditioning, found a book on Ecology that was very out of date and I think the author would approve of it becoming a habitat!

The last ingredient was a bundle of hollow stems from plants that had died over the winter. When I tidy up all the dead stuff in spring I keep this for fire lighting so I still had a ready supply. You could use bamboo canes instead of hollow stems. 

Using a drill I made holes in the spine of the book. Then got a stick with two pieces of long wire wrapped round it that would hold everything together. 

Materials assembled! I used quite a lot of trial and error as well as some pliers to get the wire tight enough and to make sure everything was securely held together. I started by threading two wires through a hole drilled up through the log, then took both wires round the bundle and then through the book. Pushing extra stems through the bundle helped make everything tight and I could use the left over wire wound together to make a strong hanging hook. 

With everything assembled it was ready to hang. I chose a sheltered spot in a tree out of the sun and weather. Hive Arts were inspired by Alec Finlay's 'Bee Library' at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 

 I hope they like their new home.

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