I first met Anna and her children at a mini bioblitz at Figgate Park over the summer. Both of her children were so keen to get involved and help other children learn about their local park.
Anna tells us about her sons journey connecting with nature;
My youngest has always loved animals. Any animal. Since a very young age he was attached to his cuddly dogs, that had to come everywhere, were sucked on, poked at and always in his hands.
Then he moved on to Schleich toys. He enjoyed setting herds of cows up, hunting scenes, and made up stories about them. At every opportunity he would ask to buy another animal, or ask to get given a specific one for his birthday or Christmas. The collection is big.
Books…he would always prefer reading animal reference books and guides to reading novels, like his brother.
Last year he got more specialised in birds. Saying that, ever since he could walk, he would try and chase birds wherever we were, trying to catch them, touch them, he’d do anything to hold one. It hardly ever happened. Nevertheless, he started sitting quietly in the last year, watching the birds, studying their behaviour, getting interested in collecting their feathers (and having a designated feathers drawer, where he keeps them ordered by colours and sizes).
Earlier this year he got given an RSPB bird guide. This is when he really started to get into studying birds, turning into a junior ornithologist. During the summer he would sit up to 3 hours daily, reading the bird guide, studying the looks of birds, learning about their plumage, their changes throughout their lives and seasons, but most bizarre of all, he grew incredibly fascinated with their Latin names. So this is what he did…learning about birds, all aspects of them, watching Steve Backshall programmes, enjoying all of David Attenborough’s nature and animal series and sharing his picnics with the birds he encounters. This is his paradise.
Through the Scottish Ornithologist Club in Aberlady we met Dave Allan, a professional birdwatcher, who was delighted to meet such young specialist to share his enthusiasm with. With him, we have been for two bird-watching sessions, and while all this specialist knowledge goes completely over my own head, I love seeing the bond that these guys have over birds, sharing knowledge and enthusiasm, passing on experiences and fun facts.
I am grateful to have found such an amazing tutor and mentor for my youngster. He inspired him to note down all the birds he sees in his little notebook at the end of each day, including weather conditions and locations. Just like a pro.
What amazes me about my children is how much they can learn when their heart is in it. This confirms to me that our flexi-schooling approach is paying off in yet another way. By giving the children the time and space to explore their own interests, they open up completely new worlds of their own. Exploring and learning allows them to grow in their own individual way, turning into the particular person and character that they are and crave to be.
I feel I am not as active a part in their Flexi-Mondays anymore, I am more a facilitator, giving them the opportunity to explore, learn and experience. If that is good for them, it is for me. I find it stimulating, encouraging, invigorating and inspiring in my own little way.
I love seeing them grow like this – outwith all boundaries of social expectations and education systems.
Long live our Mondays!
Anna has since encourage Freddie and his brother to go along to Edinburgh Local groups Birding for Beginners outing at Musselburgh to learn all about waders as well as setting up Porty Wild Things which is linked to the Wild Network!To read more of Anna's blogs visit https://freerangemondays.wordpress.com/
Welcome to the Edinburgh Giving Nature a Home project (GNaH). We’re delighted that we are able to carry out the work we are doing in such a beautiful and green city. What both Laura Copley (Schools Outreach Project Officer) and myself (Amber Jenkins, Community Green space Officer) have noticed since starting at the beginning of this year is how much is already going on in the City of Edinburgh for wildlife, which is brilliant! But I wanted my first post here’s to outline a little about what we have been doing this summer.
Educating and Connecting children to nature
Have you heard of something that has been coined Nature Deficit Disorder? As we delve deeper into a modern world filled with TVs, computer games, Wii Fit and Facetime, it’s almost as if there is no need to go out our front door. Why bother going to see friends when you can play with them virtually? Why go to an exercise class when there are DVDs and programs to follow at home? Without even realising it we are barricading ourselves and our children from the natural world.
(Self led activities for children)
And why not...?
Studies on the Nature Deficit Disorder show that the benefits of connecting with nature are more than just educational. Children who are actively involved with nature are socially, emotionally and physically happier and healthier; they also show signs of being more creative.
Over the past few months I have been visiting Edinburgh’s local green spaces to do my bit and try, to connect children with nature. Edinburgh has such a variety of green spaces it is the perfect platform to get children inspired by nature.
William Blake once said in his Auguries of Innocence “To see a word in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower”, and this quote is so important to me as it encapsulates what we are trying to do in these green spaces. It is all about unleashing the power of a child’s imagination through engagement with nature: finding a mini beast they’ve never seen before or even potentially making new discoveries. It is amazing to see how a child lights up when they find something particularly unusual, and even we adults aren’t sure of the name.
I was trying to think of one particular child that we have helped, but actually all the children continue to amaze me and open my eyes. One boy knew almost every Latin name to Britain’s mammals and a lot of its insects as well. One child after looking at what bees were on the wild flower meadow for half an hour suddenly spotted a butterfly and out of nowhere shouted: “that’s a cabbage white!”
(Mini BioBlitz at with Friends of Figgate Park)
No matter their age, all children are inquisitive and love learning new things, my favourite moment has definitely been worm charming with three boys. This is where you encourage worms to come to the surface by tapping on the ground and the sheer excitement on their face that it actually worked was priceless.
What we are trying to do is open children’s (and adults) minds to what’s in their garden at home or in their local park. It’s no longer about what is out in that big wide world, quite the opposite, it’s about what’s right here and how amazing nature can be, right there on your doorstep.
(ALDI giving us the tools to connect children to nature)
Although summer is drawing to a close, we will still be out and about over the month of September, at the Helix park in Falkirk, bug hunting in Pilrig Park and running mini bioblitzes at Calder's Community Garden, so if you are interested in attending anything please get in touch! The project to connect children to nature in green spaces across Edinburgh is sponsored by ALDI (and is a two-year project so make sure you look out for us next year too).
Over the winter we will be working across 10 community sites and in six ambassador schools connecting more people to nature and carrying out practical habitat conservation over the city. If you would like to volunteer or just learn more about the project please contact me at email@example.com and we will try and keep you posted on our work over the next coming months.