Photos from our Children in Nature Festival

Have a look at pictures from the Children in Nature Festival on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/TheChildrensWood

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Enough’s Enough! Ditch the Stuff event this Sunday

The event.

Materialism links

A new study on materialism – giving teenagers more control over how they spend their time can reduce materialism

A great book for children on the power of having less stuff.

New series of short books coming soon from The Centre for Confidence and Well-being, including one on materialism.

A FREE event for families in Glasgow on the impact of materialism and what families can do about it, with an emphasis on nature. There will be  nature workshops run by the National Trust for Scotland and Forest School educators and much more.

TESS article on materialism in the Scottish education system.

Resources from The Centre for Confidence and Well-being.

More value than money

I’ve just come back from the North Kelvin Meadow event for families:  the second of an ongoing series of events aimed at connecting/reconnecting families with nature. Last week there were around 70 people and today we had over 150 people – I wonder how many will come next week?

My husband asked me recently ‘what is it that the meadow/wood experience gives children that an ordinary park doesn’t’.  I think there are many aspects to the North Kelvin Meadow that set it apart. Firstly, the complex, unmanicured aspect is unique.  Today we saw children digging, building dens and roaming far afield. You just don’t see this in parks.  I think the fact that the area is wild encourages children to be more creative and free, as there are no limitations.  Today I saw lots of children free of toys  and ‘things’  enjoying nature – one girl found a snail and was digging a path for it!

We have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement from people joining us and also the organisations supporting us: JoJo Maman Bebe, Dobbies, The Sentry Box, Ae Fond Kiss, Anniesland Garden Centre and more. The Woodland Trust did an amazing job helping children build dens and make bows and arrows.  It makes you realise how valuable this wild piece of land is to families – many of whom didn’t know it existed.

Most people hadn’t been on the meadow before and all of those  surveyed said they would come back, and all of the people surveyed except one person said that they didn’t want the land to be built on (that one individual wanted a partial build) This adds more weight to not building on the land.

At todays event someone said to me ‘surely you just want to keep this land because it’s your back garden’.  Of course that is part of the story.  I do want my children to be able to play  in nature while young, and in nature unsupervised when a bit older.  This to me is invaluable for building resilience and confidence in young people which will be an asset to the society of which they are part.  More than this, though, the Meadow is everyone’s back garden.  Parents in all the tenements on the adjacent streets and for at least half a mile around should view this as their back garden too, and encourage their children to meet up down here, gaining the benefits of play in wild natural settings.

The planning application is yet to be verified. Once that happens we won’t have long to fight to keep this beautiful last wild space in the west-end of Glasgow.   Let’s hope next week is as successful as this one for connecting people to the wilderness and for showing them the value in keeping the North Kelvin  Meadow.

The power of praise

I’ve just got back from running a workshop with staff at my son’s nursery school on Carol Dweck’s mindset.   What struck me was just how relevant the theory is to pre-school education.  Already, the teachers can see patterns of behaviour in children which are associated with the fixed mindset:  giving up quickly, not wanting a challenge and avoiding failures.

The staff were surprised by the research, especially the effect of praise on motivation, performance and behaviour. Some of the staff have been dealing with challenging behaviours  by praising children for being ‘clever’ or ‘smart’ when they do succeed.  The thinking behind this is that this will boost the child’s confidence and thus help them behave better and be more motivated.  However, Dweck’s research shows that this can have the opposite effect; undermining motivation and success in young children.

During our discussions the staff recounted various situations where the fixed mindset was apparent in the children.  For example,  when it is time for the children to tidy up the toys many of them just wander around not doing any clearing up.  When they do tidy up anything they are praised for being helpful “well done, what a helpful girl’  or ‘well done, what a clever boy’.  After hearing about the mindset material the staff noticed that this type of praise gives the child NO useful information on how to improve their tidy up skills – and so no wonder they are wandering around aimlessly.

To foster a growth mindset it is important to give praise that helps children to see that there is something they can change.  Praising for something specific  like “well done for picking up the toy engine and putting it away in the garage”  is more helpful to the child as they then know what the specific action was that was good for tidying up – rather than something general which they cannot change. This then improves their future performance in tidying up, or whatever it was they got the specific praise for.

This holds true for intelligence too.  How often have you heard “well done for doing that, you’re so clever?”.  This type of praise sends a message to the child that what we value is intelligence and sets up behaviours which aim to demonstrate they’re smart;  they don’t want to take risks for fear of looking dumb and stick with easy problems that will show they’re smart.  Praising for specifics like ‘well done you worked really hard on that problem’ gives the child useful information about how to succeed.

Teachers can play their part in fostering a growth mindset in children but ultimately it’s parents who have the most influence on their child.  This is challenging because previous research by Dweck showed that 85% of parents think it’s important to praise children for intelligence to help them succeed.  If we want to help children to flourish then we need to get this message out to parents.  I left the staff working on this problem…we’ll see what they come up with.

The Children’s Wood

Not many people know this, but there is a magical place for children to play in the heart of the West-end of Glasgow.  A place that is not a park or a playground.  It is called the “Children’s Wood’ and when you’re in it you feel like you have been transported to the calm of the countryside.

The Children’s Wood is part of the North Kelvin Meadow, just off Clouston Street.  You wouldnt believe that the area was a collection of Tennis Courts just under 30 years ago because  now it is filled with Willow and Birch trees, and many other interesting plants and animals.  The Wood is hardly used because people don’t know it’s there.

My son and I, and some of the other local families decided to start using this part of the meadow recently (other parts of the meadow are used for many other valuable community activities like allotment plots and dog walking). What has emerged in The Children’s Wood is a few paths and, we (the children and their parents)have created some stepping stones and balance beam paths made from old tree trunks, collected after the bad weather.

The children love it, and the adults too.  We made a couple of very small benches (not too big as they would be too inviting for late night drinkers) which means you can relax back and look up through the trees to the sky above.  The children have been doing all sorts of imaginative play games in the wood such as: train stations, sailing adventures, constructions sites, gardening and playing doctors.  Not to mention a whole host of other games, and using only the objects found in  the wood.

I love the Children’s Wood because it is a space which the children can call their own.  There are no manicured lawns or formal areas to inhibit play. My son and I spend hours in the wood playing all sorts of games and examining the many interesting plants and animals.

The sad news  is that the council wants to sell the land to build flats ,despite the land being in a conservation area and the fact that over 90% of local residents want to keep it.

We are not letting this put us off though and things may change after the elections in May.  This land is  incredibly valuable to the local community, because it fosters a sense of happiness and well-being.  This is far more important than having more flats or the council getting more money. We just hope that those making the big decisions about this kind of land come to see how important the North Kelvin Meadow is for the local community.

We may need your help at some point if a planning application does go in.  Please sign the petition below to help save the land:

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/north-kelvin-meadow-campaign.html

See the North Kelvin Meadow website here: http://northkelvinmeadow.com/

Into the wild

Glasgow has more parks per head of population than any other European city.  There are great places to take children run around in and reap the benefits of being exposed to green space.   Yet in the west-end of Glasgow (where I live) there are very few places that children can call their own. What I mean by this is that there are few areas where children are free to fully engage with the land to do activities like: build dens, dig holes and generally experiment with nature.  There are places for children to ‘be’ in nature but not to fully ‘experience’ nature.

Both of our main parks, The Botanical Gardens and Kelvingrove Park, are beautiful green spaces for children to play in. There is no question that this is good for them: see my previous blog.   However, I don’t remember seeing children immersed in nature doing things like digging or den construction.  The exception may be the Children’s Garden in The Botanical Gardens where children plant seeds and are generally free to play on the small area of land.

Children are not engaging in this type of play because the land is fairly manicured: cut grass, flower arrangements and play parks; sending a message to children that this is not the type of place to make disruptions.

This is a shame because experience in wild nature has a strong impact on later pro-environmental attitudes – exposure to manicured spaces do not. Playing in wild places elicits wonder and creativity in children and, among other things, encourages children to meet and overcome fears.

The problem for city dwellers is how to achieve this kind of experience without having to get in a car?  One suggestion might be to encourage the bigger parks to make some wild areas within them – like the Children’s Garden.  I spoke recently to an outdoor parent and child playgroup.  They take pubic transport to larger parks or wild spaces and spend the whole day there doing things in nature.

Other ideas might be to find unused local green spaces and start planting seeds and playing on the land.  The North Kelvin Meadow is a great example of this where young children and teenagers are free to use the land in creative ways.  Most recently young people have been building willow den like structures.  In summer, the land is wild and free and so children can be interested for hours with the different plants and animals to find, and places to hide!

Even just small steps in urban areas will be beneficial.  For example, my friend lives in a block of flats and there is a tiny area of grass on a small hill.  She has been getting creative with this space – encouraging her two boys to roll down the hill, dig for worms and so on.  Of course, there are only so many options with such a small space of land.  But it’s a start.