About 5 years ago, I met lots of thoughtful outdoor practitioners and academics and a fair few ‘pracademics’ in a lodge in the middle of Finland and had some of the most interesting and confusing conversations in my professional life. Words like ‘hermenutics’ and ‘heuristics’ flew over my head; ‘experiential’ I thought I understood, but little did I know. Off home to Devon with a new found excitement for my chosen field of work, I dived into reading John Dewey and trying to make philosophical and intellectual sense of my way of doing outdoor education.
Reading and discussing is now my favoured professional development. I’m not completely done with learning new things to do with sticks but I am enjoying bimbling around the educational forest of ideas for the moment.
Yesterday I chanced upon an article on place-based learning and sailing by Mark Leather and Fiona Nicholls from the University of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth. I knew it would be worth reading as I have met the authors and, to use an appropriate place-based sailing phrase, I liked the cut of their jib. The following quotation jumped out at me so I followed it up on Wikipedia.
“while it takes time to form an attachment to place, the quality and intensity of experience matters more than simple duration”
Yi-Fu Tuan, eminent humanistic geographer, wrote this in 1977. (I did a geography degree in 1992 – how on earth did he not get a mention?) His words struck a chord as I’ve been thinking about the impact of Forest School on children’s attachment to, and desire to care for, the woods where they learn. As the setting becomes more familiar, does the intensity of the experience diminish? Given budgetary and curriculum constraints in mainstream schools, can we offer short, intense and high quality programmes that still have strong outcomes in terms of attachment to place?
It is easy to stray from the path in the forest of ideas. Different tribes have their campfires burning brightly, visible, flickering from a distance. Some camps are at war and it can be interesting to climb a tree (lurk on twitter!) and observe the debates from afar. Like Chris Loynes’ students in his recent Natural Connections Blog, I have no map of this metaphorical forest and am free to wander at will, stopping to notice things of interest as I go. As I’m not enrolled at any academic institution, I don’t have a guide either but I do get fragments of maps sometimes, in the form of references, bibliographies and the odd bit of ‘spoor’ in the form of chance tweets and conversations.
So far I have not recorded these metaphorical forest wanderings but hopefully this post will be the start of a new mental map as one idea leads to another. The next stop is ‘A Pedagogy of Place’ by Brian Wattchow and Mike Brown which is available to read for free on the Monash University website.
As I beat through the brambles of social media, I keep passing by the critical pedagogy campfire and the experiential educators seem like old friends now. Any suggestions for getting off the beaten track would be greatly appreciated – please scratch them in the bark of the comments box below.
Now I better do some marking 🙂