Wild Children, Wild Words.
It is a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged, that kids need nature and nature needs kids – otherwise, it’ll be the end of us all. And although I’ve heard things from children that alarm me (what’s a cuckoo? how do badgers swim underwater?) there is plenty to gladden the heart: certainly locally to me, there are schools, supported by wildlife organisations, that are getting nature into the curriculum, whether it is supposed to be there or not.
At the wonderful Nature Discovery Centre, our Wildlife Trust’s Education Officer took Inkpen Primary’s Infants on safari, pond dipping and sweeping for bugs, enriching their learning on habitats. Back at school, the youngest enjoy regular ‘Forest School’ and have raised butterflies and the junior children currently have eels in the classroom: last term, another class raised trout. Thanks to Action for the River Kennet and The Renewal Project, other schools have benefitted from this experience, too, as will the conservation of our local chalk stream, its wildlife and the water we drink.
Last week, I took my Wild Writing Workshops to John O’Gaunt Secondary School’s exciting 2-day Primary Project. The pupils were genuinely shocked when I told them that, if they were our native wild species, over half were at risk of dying out before they were my age. A few shocked me with their lack of knowledge of their wildlife – (do moose live locally? Reindeer?) but many, too, had seen and identified kingfishers, water voles and even otters in the tiny part of the chalk stream the public have access to (the other miles and miles are in private ownership). But all 120 children, without fail, were fascinated by the things I gave them to explore ‘as inspiration’. We warmed up to writing, listening to the trees. Around the playing field in the slight breeze, the only trees moving were the line of tall Lombardy poplars. The oaks, ash and beeches were still, but the trembly poplars roared to our cupped ears and flashed in the sunlight – and we were away. ‘It’s the sea on the shore, a train, the sound of the rain, friends whispering, the roar in my head when I’m angry’. Antlers, raven and kite feathers, a jay’s wing, fox teeth and a football-sized chunk of chalk scored deeply by badger claws inspired micropoems. I challenged the children to write a single, powerful sentence conjuring ‘spirit animals’ that would accompany them to secondary school on their first day, as a kind of ‘alter-ego’ or shadow-self, Harry Potter or Northern Lights Trilogy-style, whose characteristics they might share, emulate, or hide behind.
We had otters wearing headphones that slipslopped down corridors, their curiosity and playfulness helping make new friends and find classrooms, we had red kites blazing trails of confidence, frailty and certainty at breaktimes, wolves that shouldered heavy rucksacks and heavier expectation and fallow deer whose antlers clattered books off shelves and knocked clumsily into ‘bigger children’, drawing unwanted attention. All rather telling and poignant.
To save it, our own native wildlife, its ecology, science and interconnectedness must be accessible and included on the curriculum. But we are missing a trick if we cannot see, show and teach how it also inspires us, creatively; offers us a salve to the world’s harder edges, is good for our health and well-being and is a joy in its own right.