Wednesday was my birthday! And what better way to spend a birthday than with a group of outdoor experts on their weekly learning adventure around the Camphill Estate.
Camphill is a residential and day school on the outskirts of Aberdeen that specialises in providing holistic, nurturing education for children and young people with complex special needs. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours being involved in the Nature Nurture session run by one of the schools management staff, Terri Harrison.
Children visit the school once a week and from the start, they were very excited about being at the school. It took them a good while to begin to wonder who I was, standing there trying very hard not to look authoritative but on the other hand not look like a target for excited children to bombard with questions and observations from the off.
The children were split into pairs so that they could 'look after' one of the adults. As I was a guest, I had no children looking after me. The looked after adults have a host of specific observation and guiding responsibilities though the children were very much in control of their own learning.
It was wonderful to see children confident and at ease in an environment that obviously has a very strong sense of safety and boundaries. What I saw was play-based learning at it's best with children allowed to take risks, explore and ask questions.
At one point, Terri produced some mallets, fabric and kitchen roll. I later learned that this was planned though to me it seemed like a spontaneous reaction to the children who, at this point were picking flowers. The mallets were used to pummel the flowers against the flag to make interesting designs. What started as a spark of interest from a few children quickly developed into an activity that most, if not all, children had a turn with. And, with a large amount of banging, hammering and walloping, no children's fingers were bruised (though I'm not sure about Terri's!)
Obviously, the ratio of adults to children make these activities manageable but to say that I was impressed by the children's ability to manage their own behaviour (something that these children find difficult) around a campfire and a claw-hammer is an understatement. These children were playing and exploring. But as well as that, they were learning control, restraint, awareness of others, risk and the value of the correct use of tools.
I came away feeling very positive that, as a mainstream teacher, I should also be ensuring that children have the opportunities to develop these skills as these children are in control of their learning and really on the right track to being successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors with the help of a group of very skilled and dedicated adults.
For more information and to support Camphill, visit their website.