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In the woods with... John Woods - Early Years Practitioner Kinder Croft C.I.C.

After a well-deserved break indulging in the Christmas festivities, Stephanie and I were back at Kinder Croft. If there was any fog still lingering in our minds from the holidays a blast of cold January air and the combined energies of a gaggle of exuberant children would soon reinvigorate us.

The new year was also the start of a new term and brought with it some new faces. Some of these children had never spent any time in a nursery, and so we were curious to see how they would respond. I’m pleased to report that by and large, most of them slotted in no problem. One or two them were a bit teary at drop-off, but Stephanie was close at hand with some soothing words. She has a real knack at dealing with this kind of stuff, and it can sometimes leave me feeling a little inadequate and worried that I might struggle to form a relationship with some of shier kids. But I’ve always managed it in the past; give it time I say to myself.

It’s been interesting to watch them over the past few weeks and see how they take to the forest. Some are a little reticent and need to spend a little time figuring out how things work before they feel comfortable getting more deeply involved, whilst others jump straight in undaunted by anything. Some are drawn to certain areas of the forest and for example might be seen listening to the wind murmuring through the trees, or perhaps determinedly pushing themselves to overcome a particular obstacle. Others are drawn to specific objects, and there are some still who like to have a little sample of everything they see going on around them to get a feel for the place.

What’s readily apparent is that the children are all really engaged in what they are doing and are doing it because that’s what their natural energies have drawn them to.

Just before the holidays I was looking through the photos of some of the things we have been up to so far at Kinder Croft. We can both be a bit snap happy at times, but there is so much cool stuff happening, and we think it’s important to be able to show to the children the things they have been doing and learning about. Anyway, one picture in particular caught my eye: it looked really dramatic, there was a lot of movement with a big imposing backdrop, and it simply screamed adventure.

It reminded me of that Disney movie Homeward Bound, where after a mix up during a family flit, the family pets decide to make their own way home. I thought to myself ‘wow the way I’ve taken that picture it looks like that pile of rocks they’re intrepidly clambering over is actually a huge mountain’. The children were clearly striving.

I put that picture down to a lucky accident, or some sort of clever camera trick. However, after a while I considered what the camera had actually done was give me a glimpse of how they see world all the time. Photographs, and the visual arts in general, teach us the importance of perspective, and this picture done me the favour of realigning my perspective. For them every day is filled with awe and adventure: this photo wasn’t an illusion, it was a document testament to the very thing itself. I then took to thinking about how the children had got to where they were in that photo. We had seen them weigh up risks, hesitate, falter, bumble stumble tumble and fall; but most importantly, we had seen them have a go.

To set out on an adventure takes courage, resilience and a certain faith in yourself, confidence that you have the requisite skills or are capable of developing them. These are attitudes and sensibilities that we are consciously striving to nurture and develop here at Kinder Croft.

This is not necessarily because they will help children climb big mountains or be the next generation of polar explorers (although I hope they do!), but because they are attributes that make for the effective learning of anything. This is the key life skill par excellence, make no mistake about it.

I mentioned previously that children’s days are filled with escapades and adventure. But upon further reflection this is perhaps a tad idealistic: of course, they could be and should be, but the sad fact is for one reason or another an increasing number of children are not having these ‘everyday adventures’ anymore. I think of the green spaces where I played as a child now overgrown with metre high grass and dense thickets of brambles, and I’m sure others can chip in with similar anecdotes.

This might come across as sanctimonious, but I believe the problem is complex and not the fault of anyone in particular; it is a ‘collective action’ problem. There are by now numerous studies identifying this as a problem, and to the deleterious effects it is having on children’s well-being. For children to learn they need to be in a ‘good place’, in all the multiple senses of that phrase; we provide that ‘good place’, again, in all it’s multiple senses.

In this short post I’ve banged on about the importance of adventure, and I don’t think it’s something that can be exaggerated. Walter Bonatti, the famous Italian alpinist was a boyhood hero of mine, and he remarked, perceptively in my opinion, that adventure draws all that it best and most human in us. It has a distinct moral dimension to it, and it would be a mistake to conceive of it only in terms of it’s narrow educational benefits. I think back to the picture of him in my comic book with him tenaciously climbing up the North Face of the Matterhorn alone in winter, with blood streaming down his bare hands, and to that picture of the children that occasioned this blog post (no injuries sustained I’m pleased to say).

What is the connection, if any, between these images? For what it’s worth, I think the comparison is quite suggestive and there are lots of possible avenues to pursue here. But relating to what I’ve been talking about so far I think it’s important to stress that adventure doesn’t have to be about matching the death-defying exploits of the world’s exceptional explorers. Rather, that with the right perspective, it can simply be about risk, challenge and the leap into the unknown.

We do our children-and ourselves-a great disservice when we fail to attune ourselves to both the necessity and possibility of ‘adventure’ in the everyday, and that is something that we are striving to do at Kinder Croft; everyday.

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