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Season 1, Episode 4:
Do We Make Up The Rules?


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In Episode 4, Marina looks at:

  • Noticing the rules that are in place and asking if we had a part in designing them at all?
  • What teachers are taught in their training
  • How a teaching mind-set shift may be helpful
  • A classic outdoor myth
  • Exploring the key benefits of this approach to learning

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Hello and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author, entrepreneur, Forest School outdoor learning and nature based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programmes for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode Four. Do we make up the rules? Today I'm going to be talking about rules and ideas perhaps we never question. As a former primary school teacher, I consider what teachers are taught in teacher training, and why it might feel uncomfortable to take teaching outside. I investigate the myth that you must have a forest school qualification to take groups outside and offer nature based experiences and why these experiences are so valuable.

I'm going to begin today with gratitude for birdsong. I've discovered an app called the Merlin App, which is amazing. Basically, you just download the app on your phone, and then you press record. And it starts recording the sounds around you and picks up the bird sounds presumably if you've got bird sounds, obviously. And then it tells you exactly what birds they are. And every time the birds make a sound, it highlights it. So you can actually pick out what the sounds are. So I really recommend it. And it's just been beautiful. And it's made me really tuned into bird sounds in a way that I've never been able to do before. So thank you for the organisation. I think it's the Joseph Cornell Institute in the US that have built this app to research. But for me, it's been amazing.

So today, I really want to discuss about making up rules. And this whole idea that we're living our lives around rules that we probably haven't even questioned. So rules, thinking about procedures we follow. And also thinking today about outdoor miss and pulling some of those things together. And this kind of follows on from the conversation I had with Juliet Robertson last week. And this recognition that schools and teachers really do find it hard to take and build outdoor learning into their everyday education, just taking kids outside feels really difficult for so many teachers who are used to being indoors in the classroom. And it all sounds and feels a little bit chaotic to develop things and do it outside. So I have a friend, Lily Horseman, who you're going to meet later in a future podcast. And she said to me, Marina, don't you realise that all rules are made up anyway? And I made me laugh, because I hadn't really thought about that before. But actually, she has a really important point that we're often given rules, and we never question them, we never challenged them. And we kind of follow them without thinking now, of course, most of the time, that's good.

They're there for a reason. And they're there, hopefully, to look after us in all kinds of ways. And you know, wisdom through time. rules have a purpose. But I'm not really talking about that I'm talking about things that actually can change and are flexible. And we don't really realise about that, let's have an example. In my practice with children, when, for example, given the freedom to come up with a game on their own, they'll come up with a game, and they'll maybe have a bit of discussion, a bit of argument about the rules and the way they're going to play it. But before you know it, they're playing this new game that they've created that's innovative, and they've used some fantastic language. And they are having fun, so I'm talking about understanding that there are rules, but actually also you can invent new rules, and you have some flexibility in thinking about coming up with different things. So from there, I thought well, okay, this makes me think about our culture and the way that we do things around here again, and particularly the culture of schools.

And if we know Though that outdoor learning is really effective and supported by research, and we know that it has multiple benefits for wellbeing and learning, then the obvious question is, well, why isn't that happening in every school? In every country around the world? Why isn't this part of every child's education?

Certainly, for me, I absolutely believe and want to see the natural world as part of children's development and learning. That's why I'm doing this. So I thought about, well, what was it like for me as a primary school teacher, so I did environmental management as a degree. And then I went on to do a PGCE C in teaching and as a primary school teacher, and actually, what we were learning was very mainstream procedures in a way, you know, we would do our look at the curriculum, we produce plans, we'd go into the classroom, and we would deliver those plans. And we would have to show the evidence of learning and linking to the curriculum. And here I was standing at the front of the classroom.

Most of the time, speaking to the children, the children were there receiving this knowledge. And then most of the time, they had to write it down or show me that they had achieved certain criteria. And that was the way that we measured their success. And if they couldn't do that, then there was always this feeling that they weren't good enough now, not necessarily for me, but from the system deemed them to be not good enough in that way of measuring.

So I was taught that I needed to have children on task that they needed to do, what I was telling them to do, and that what I was telling them to do was really valuable important. And it never ever occurred to me at that early time. That there were other ways of doing it. Even though of course, with 34 children in a class that I had, yes, six children at the time, they clearly wanted to move, they clearly wanted to engage, they clearly wanted to have some more freedom, and they weren't getting it.

I didn't feel as a teacher that I could also give them that freedom. And I didn't want to get it wrong, you know, I was brought up as a, as a teacher, you know, you're pretty conformist in the sense that you need to do it right, you need to conform, and deliver what the curriculum expects, what the head teacher expects, and so on. But in me, I always knew that something wasn't quite right. And I know that all teachers worry about this, this idea of play and giving children too much freedom, worried about the fact they're not going to be able to control the children, and also worry that the status quo is saying that learning is not about choice and discovery and curiosity.

It's about actually memorising facts and delivering it back. I mean, I've got a teenager that's doing GCSE is, and I can tell you that she's being told and expected, in her own mind to deliver, to memorise and actually regurgitate back. So, we know this isn't really learning that actually has a lot of meaning. I'm not saying that's true for everything. But I am saying that we can do better. And actually, there are other ways of valuing what is actually going on. So

I was talking to a head teacher recently, and she was saying, you know, we're not actually taught to be off task, just like I was saying earlier, and that her job is to teach, and that the children's job is to learn naturally, this whole idea of being free and exploring is really, really uncomfortable for a lot of teachers. So you know what, perhaps that is one of the reasons why it's difficult for our educational establishments to encourage outdoor learning in outdoor play, because we're not taught that we're not taught that it's actually hugely beneficial, to allow children to explore and discover what interests them.

Now, I am not somebody that is extreme in my views, I actually quite like both to be available, you know, the opportunity to go indoors, to sit to learn, to read, to learn from others, and I liked the opportunity for, for myself and for children to follow their own drives that intrinsic motivation, that is actually going to be something that those young people are going to need when they hit adulthood and when they start making decisions about the things they want to do in their life.

And if they haven't ever listened to that part of themselves, then they're going to really struggle to Find things that they enjoy and that give them fulfilment, that don't necessarily just tick this successful, I'm going to earn money box, which, of course has value. We need money to live and to survive. But we also need to feel a satisfaction in our lives. Otherwise, we're going to end up with a lot more challenging issues, mental health issues, and potentially depression and anxiety.

So it's really interesting to consider what enables us and gives us permission to explore other ideas or other rules. When do we need to be domesticated? And when do we need to be more wild thinkers? Well, I think we need both, I think we know when we need to be doing the things that we do all the time, that habitual habits that we have, the things that keep us safe, those comforts that we really need we can relax into. But we also need to be working with that edge, that edge thinking where that creativity is where we, we push ourselves just enough to learn new things, that's where the learning really happens.

So I'm interested in why our education system is not really supporting that, and I am not pointing my finger at anyone in particular, or even any teacher in particular, because I think we are co creating this system that is actually reinforcing these ideas that have been around for quite a long time. And it is going to take quite a shift to value something different. And I do think outdoor learning for school’s pedagogies ways of teaching that really value, this experiential aspect and value.

Thinking for ourselves and questioning approaches, and curiosity and discovery have a lot to offer. Let's face it, this world is not prescriptive in the sense, we don't really know what's going to happen even next week. So we do need to have this agility of mind to be able to work with the unknown. So we're going to be talking a lot about myths.

But I do want to just name that. People think that real learning and I've got my hands up kind of in inverted commas, real learning only happens indoors. But let's just pause and think that it's crazy. Most of us, once we've leave school and not learning indoors, we're not learning sitting down on a desk, we're learning about life we're learning with through our interactions, we're learning through our direct experiences we're learning outdoors, we're learning in all kinds of spaces and situations. And that's also where learning happens.

So why wouldn't we take learning into the outdoors? Well, I think we should be as you really know about that. And of course, I don't think we should all be learning sitting on chairs all the time. Of course, that's a place Isn't it nice to sit down sometimes and relax and listen and learn. But we are not going to learn all the time. If we sit down, I always say, you know, those children that are being forced to sit down for almost eight hours a day is not in line with what is really healthy development, physical development for children. And of course, they get frustrated, of course, they find it harder to concentrate and harder to engage, if they're literally listening a one way street information just being given to them.

So why don't we take it outdoors? And what are the benefits of doing that? We'll just have a moment to imagine that if you were a teacher, and you were teaching maths, well, let's not make a massive leap and say, Okay, now I'm going to suddenly take all my teaching outdoors, why don't we say okay, how can I deliver these maths, these massive mathematical thinking concepts? And how can I do that in a way that is embodied, that allows movement allows exploration and places that in the outdoors, so for example, in Early Years it is always a lot easier because they are encouraged to play and to explore, but we can take ideas like getting chalk and drawing circles and shapes and gathering objects and counting the objects and putting them in a line and measuring that line. We can make learning interesting and embodied.

We can do this in a playground, you know, we don't need to have a massive green area to do things like that. You know, we can also think about taking English outdoors if you had to teach about English, we could actually walk around the classroom and name object eggs like a tree, a wall, and they become nouns, right?

So we can actually think about vocabulary and we can do role plays and little bits of drama. And then we can think about writing a story. It's incredibly hard to come up with a story and learn language descriptive language, when you actually not felt it or experienced it. It's so abstract. And for a lot of people, including myself as an adult, some of these ideas, even these complicated words feel so abstract to me that I can't understand. And I spend so much of my time asking people to explain what they mean by a word, because I know the word, I'm pretty well read. But I often don't know what it means, like values. What do values mean? It takes me a lot of time to think about what do you really mean by that? People say respect? Well, what do you really mean by that, for example, but let me not go off track. So if you were a maths teacher, or an English teacher, or you needed to teach that subject, you could start by thinking, Well, how could I teach that subject in the outdoors, and start from a place that feels relatively comfortable.

By the way, if you are a teacher or a practitioner, and you work with groups, I'd be so interested in hearing from you about what is stopping you taking your groups outdoors, get in touch, send me an email, that would be really good to know what your issues are, and see if I can talk about that in another podcast. So as I said, we're going to look at some myths. And I've created a PDF for you to download, specifically about outdoor learning myths, you just have to go to the episode description, and you'll find a link to the show notes. And this is a project that I did with the South Downs National Park, just to really encourage people to get outside and actually know that they don't have to. There isn't that much red tape when you actually look into it. And I'll talk about that in a minute.

So I'm going to look at three myths. Of course, there are many, many myths. And one of the myths that I've already talked about, which isn't one of the three, which is about the idea that real learning only happens indoors.

That's a myth. That's absolutely a myth. But let's look at a few more.

So a classic one that I hear all the time. And I understand the reasons for it, is that basically, you can't go outside because of health and safety. Now, people think that health and safety actually means that you can't run any Forest School or outdoor learning activities without a specific safety training. Now, in reality, first of all, your lives at home are probably more risky than a lot of what's going on in schools. So let's just name that. Okay. The truth is, lives are fairly risky, certainly I work with a lot of families, with children with disabilities. And whilst when we're working with them outdoors, we have to think about certain risks. Their lives are always risky, and they are managing them, they don't get any training. We all know, as parents, we didn't get the training to be parents. And some would say we definitely need training, right?

So back to the school environment, the reality is that your schools are going to have risk assessments in place for a range of basic outdoor activities and locations. They're gonna have risk assessments for games, for walks for probably doing some planting, probably for doing some basic outdoor learning activities. Well, if that's the case, all you need to do is follow those basic risk assessments that are already there.

Now, there is a skill to writing risk assessments. And that's not for this moment. But it isn't that complicated. Sometimes, we get scared because it says risk and assessment. And actually, it's a very useful skill set that allows you to notice the things that could be hazardous that could harm you, and then put in what they call control measures. And we are doing this all the time in our lives. And we don't even think about it. You know, we're risk assessing when we're walking on a pavement to check that we're not going to trip. That is actually the hazard is, let's say the uneven pavement. And the risk is that we you know, the severity is that we could trip and bang our heads.

So the control measures probably to pay attention when we're walking along that pavement. But we certainly don't want us to be living lives where we're constantly having to be bureaucratic about that we need to have lived experience and bring our experience into that. So schools have that already. As a teacher or someone working in those schools. You We'll already be familiar with risk assessments. And you know, if you're not we, you can get help with somebody in a school that knows about that. These, they're just safety practices. Now, if you're thinking about doing fire or using tools, then you do need some more training, because there are some hazards and some control measures that you don't necessarily know about. But they're not difficult to learn about.

Children in Scandinavia are using knives at three years old and four years old. Now their culture is comfortable with that the rules in that culture are say, Yeah, this is okay. We've seen that children are doing this, they're climbing trees. And actually, the risks are much lower than the perceived risks. Okay. That's why some people say that we're risk adverse.

So my advice is to get some other training or get somebody to induct you, somebody who knows what they're doing to adapt to, so that you actually following great control measures that keep you and your group safe. But let's not get too dramatic. This is not like, you know, mixing some chemical with another chemical that I wouldn't know anything about this is this is some really core human skills that we forgotten, you know, those bushcraft, those survival skills that we're bringing in because there's so much opportunity to learn and develop through those activities. So you do not need a qualification.

To do this stuff. You need to learn some techniques of fire lighting, the children can learn those techniques, you put them in place so that you're following those safety precautions. and off you go. We actually do have an excellent Forest School Activities Online Training that cover all the benefits and the safety aspects. So you can have a look at that if you want to.

You need to do risk assessments. Yes, that is part of the law. And you need to think about control measures. That is true. But it's not just about risks. Remember, it's also about the benefits. Now in the last 10 years or so, well, the play sector always did risk benefit assessments, but the kind of outdoor learning sector didn't really pick it up until later on. But really, it's always what are the benefits of doing this versus the risks. And we need to be focusing a lot on the benefits. Because if we don't do it, we lose the opportunity of all this learning, this physical benefits, these mental health benefits, these actual life skills, benefits of understanding that we can manage situations that are a bit risky, and actually building our own self esteem around that. So we call them risk benefit assessments. And actually all our work is now underpinned by risk benefit assessments. And again, they're, they're not difficult to do, yes, it's good to sit down and think it through.

So that was my first thing, you definitely do not need a qualification to do these activities. Of course, I want you to be safe while doing them. And that takes a little bit of practice, and a little bit of common sense. And follow a procedure that can be shown to you in all kinds of different ways. Competence, that's what we want.

So another myth is that you need a high quality green space or outdoor classroom to offer outdoor learning, or forest school, or outdoor play, or nature, education, all these different terms that you might call these kinds of experiences, will actually, usually any outdoor space is enough whether you have school grounds with nice fields, or you can access a local park or the sea, or a little green space in the corner of a village.

Basically, you can offer a huge range of activities in small spaces. And of course, there are times when you need to bring in resources like you might want to bring in twigs to count or to build things with, you might want to bring in some robes or magnifying glasses. Yeah, it's all possible to and of course, we want to get the children involved in carrying these things to the space because that's also part of development and understanding around being self sufficient and contributing to the community as well.

So you can find out about green spaces, there's actually lots of ways of doing that online, looking where your parks are. And usually you can get to some kind of green space. Of course, you do need permission from the landowner of the cat or the council to use a space particularly if you're running a kind of formal session. They're not if you're walking through and playing some games, but if you're running a session and hoping to do fire making or using the trees to put a swing up, for example, then you would need permission mainly because obviously those places have public liability. And if something goes wrong, they're liable.

They wouldn't have expected you to be running a session there without you knowing about that, because, because then they're basically not liable. So you need to, you need to consider what you've got around you. But don't use that as a reason to not go outside. I know it can feel scary, and I know it can feel a little bit out of control. I know that giving freedom to children is particularly in the beginning, if they haven't gone outside feels a little bit overwhelming. But there are some really excellent simple outdoor boundaries and ways of working with groups outdoors.

That enables it to feel safe to have routines. And you'd be surprised how quickly children settle in to understanding routines, which come back to rules in a way agreed rules, that that it is often the way you explain about rules or guidelines or agreements with groups that actually make it feel far more inclusive. And actually, that is what we want to do, we want to feel that our group is included in some of the decisions we're making, rather than always being told what to do. And remember, what are we taking away from people's experience, when we tell them what to do all the time, it really means that they don't think for themselves and at some point, they really are going to need to think for themselves.

So again, it's worth considering as a parent, as a teacher about that and the impact of that. So, before I go on, I just want to give you a little image of a little story that I was told recently about a parent who was also a teacher who hadn't experienced outdoor learning, or forest school or for school based activities before. And she had put her child in a new school and this school was doing Forest School, which means that they were following these six principles and running regular forest school activities for children. And the child came back every time from Forest School, super excited, talking about what they done, what they made, what happened, what they discovered about slugs, or, or whatever it was that the child had done. And it became really clear to this parent who is also a teacher, that that never happened when their child came back from school.

Now, again, I'm not trying to diss the teachers at a school but it was remarkable to this teacher and it was because of that, that she started to look into for a school and wanted to bring it into her own establishment. And I think that just that image kind of raises questions. Here you have a model, which I believe is not exclusive to Forest School, this is a model that should be incorporated into all good education, where children are encouraged to have their own questions, to have a degree of choice.

You know, I'm not saying that they can do everything all the time, the degree of choice, and follow their interests and actually be involved in their learning and creating things that are meaningful for them experiences that are meaningful for them. And if we do that, then you'll find that they're really able to communicate, they're able to behave much better. And what I mean by that is they're able to work well in groups and listen more to other people and take on different views and stuff like that. They're able to use their hands, their heads, their hearts in different ways. So these are all really, really super valuable things that can come out of this approach to learning.

So before I finish, I want to just draw your attention to what is called the Health and Safety Executive. It's the kind of governing body of health and safety in the UK. Now, I think when we get worried about health and safety, which is one of the reasons one of the barriers, right? When we're worried about this, we often feel that we're out of our depth that we're not really supposed to be doing this. Now I want to read a quote from the Health and Safety Executive, because they actually are really, really supportive of risky activities. And they say that health and safety law is often used as an excuse to stop children taking part in exciting activities. But well managed risk is good for them.

It engages their imagination helps them learn and even teaches them to manage risks for themselves in the future. They won't understand about risk if they're wrapped in cotton wool. Risk itself won't damage children but it will manage and over print corrective actions could. So that's coming direct from the UK Health and Safety Executive.

If you go and look on their website, you'll find that they have all these case studies about ideas or examples of practice that have been taken to them for their discussion and their feedback. And actually, one classic one, which I'm sure you've heard about is that the myths about conkers, you know, they say that you can't have conkers in school because it's going to hurt someone, and someone's going to bang their head, when they throw a conkers.

Well, actually, if you go and look at this case study, so it's actually a press story that says that the agency HSE was stopping children enjoying everyday activities, like playing conkers, using skipping ropes, or climbing trees. so then they took it to a panel, and they discussed it. And they said, clearly, through a statement, that skipping, playing conkers, and football and climbing trees are all important activities, which can help people have fun and learn about handling risk.

There is no health and safety legislation, which bans these activities. In fact, HSE is on the record as encouraging schools to allow these activities to go ahead. If individual schools choose to ban these activities, it is for other reasons, and not health and safety. So this brings me back really full circle to the idea about rules. And you know, we think we're given a rule like you can't play conkers. And we think, well, there must be a reason yeah, and there must be a reason for this, there's must be some sort of health and safety. But sometimes we just repeat things that have been given to us without ever questioning it. And actually, we need to question some of these things. Because, for me, it's not okay, that we are going through life and putting all our children in England and around the world, often through a class based only system, which is not allowing them movement, not allowing this actual possibility of having more fun and a bit more freedom. And having this really more engaged conversation between children and adults, and asking good questions, and enabling them at least for some period of the week to choose what they're doing.

Because as I've said, underneath this approach, it allows them not only to develop their ideas to be creative, it improves their sense of well, being the I can do it feeling improves intrinsic, intrinsic motivation. It builds that sense of independence. And I haven't even started today to go through all the benefits of developing ecological identity. And that is a very, very important relationship that we need to have believe it's a right for us to have with the natural world, because we can't go on actually imagining that our lives are existing in a vacuum that we're not in every single way, supported by the ecological systems that are around us. And children. Know that actually, and they want to support that.

So that's a whole other thing for a whole other time. But stick with me, take a little risk in the next week, go out of your comfort zone, try something new, and I am sure the children or your group will be forgiving if it doesn't go right because hey, that's another thing. Actually, when we make mistakes, it enables us to learn so much.

Can you imagine if we already always got everything right? That would be pretty hard core and we definitely don't need to get everything right. We need to get ourselves back up and learn. Learn from it right.

For this episode, we have created a free PDF to download about outdoor myths created in collaboration with the South Downs National Park, just go to the show notes. The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. Join me next week for Episode Five as we meet Alison Roy. She's a consultant child psychologist, where we will be discussing mental health nature as our first home and understanding that children do communicate through their behaviour and play. Until next time.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild minds podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support the podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and read View wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show to stay updated with the wild minds podcast and get all the behind the scenes content, including show notes and links to website. You can visit the outdoor teacher.com or follow me on Facebook at the outdoor teacher UK and LinkedIn Marina. Robb

Transcribed by AI – sorry for any errors!