Children Are Wild

As we come to the end of the Making Memories project, space opens up to make sense of what has happened, and to reflect on the purpose of the project from my own point of view.

I was talking about the project with someone from Nursery World magazine the other day, with a head full of cold and from the position of being still very much within the rich, interconnected web of the project sessions. It was hard be able to stop and look back, and draw out clear threads in terms of the benefits for specific children and staff members, whilst still in the midst of our work together.

I know that previous projects that I have carried out with First Steps Nursery have resulted in certain children showing the benefit of child-led, multi-sensory approaches to learning, through their social and emotional development. They are happy and engaged, are encouraged to take risks and follow their own individual pathways, supported and encouraged by adults, connecting and learning with their peers.

Now with the final session of Making Memories over, I and Leigh Chalmers from First Steps are starting to bring the material for the exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre together. I have a little more distance from it, and can start making sense of where we have been, how far we have come, and why.

I was in the bath a couple of days ago, a little window of space between work and parenting, when the phrase ‘Children are Wild’ came to me. I’m sure many of us have heard the Picasso quote about children and their artful ways of knowing the world:

‘Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up…’

But I am interested in why this is the case, and what this has to do with outdoor learning; learning about and from the ‘real world’ of plants and animals, of touch, taste and smell. Perhaps the title of this blog should really be ‘Children Are Born Wild’, children are indeed born innately creative, with the necessary capacities to explore and learn from the world with their bodies and their imaginations, but they also have not yet been taught to perceive themselves as separate. Their bodies are interconnected with their environment, and their brains develop in response to these embodied explorations.

“In childhood, the boundary is quivering because children are liminal. The door is ajar; it opens easily on its hinges. The world creeps in through the portal of our senses…Both children and animals are off the leash – untamed disobediant compadres in sardonic… mischief.

Animals… are important to children in a further sense: they are guides to thought. They lead children to leaps of imagination. Wondering what a wasp is thinking or what a tree might feel is part of the mind’s development, practicising the quick spring of empathy.’

Jay Griffiths – Kith

So how can we enable children to maintain an awareness of themselves as integral parts of a system upon which they depend? And how can we keep supporting them to do this artfully? And I guess, why should we, what is the benefit?

A recent discussion at a School Without Walls event explored the Walls that needed to be removed within formal education and why. Children who went to school at The Egg Theatre, and who learned from time out in the city of Bath, were learning beyond their school’s walls. Other children collaborated between classes, and their teachers explored ways of connecting beyond the walls of those individual classes.

In the work that has taken place during the Making Memories project, we have effectively been staving off the building of internal walls. Walls that act as a barrier to the perception of oneself as a part of the world, a barrier to reaching out and feeling what mud feels like, berries taste like. We have been highlighting the magic that happens when a group of children are supported to creatively explore and make sense of a complex natural and historic environment such as The Secret Garden.

“‘The mind does not function without a body. We are all embodied – feeling and physicality are not separate’ (Welton in Doddington and Hilton 2007) ‘…all lived experience, what some have called our life world, concretely real and initially pre-theoretical, but from the beginning, because we are socially embedded from babyhood, our experiences and understandings are socially constructed.’”

Researching Children Researching the World – 5x5x5=creativity

The fact that a project like this is responsive to the needs and interests of the children is key to its success. We aren’t setting out to provide the children with a set way to see their world, and set facts to learn about it, we are enabling them to make use of their own innate capacities, their own ideas, interests and imaginations.

A child’s body and unique set of qualities and abilities meets a garden of sights and tastes and living breathing plants and creatures, and the two begin a dance with each other. The child reaches out to touch and to notice, and the garden responds with light and colour, the whir of a robin’s wings and the sound of wind through leaves. We are encouraging the children to pay attention to the world, and to ‘listen’ to it through their bodies.

‘…there is an interspecies awareness that from our very beginnings is opening us up to a wider world. This wider sense of connection with all the powers of the world is a primary matrix for all of our subsequent development. Our personal world is not simply connected to the human community. We are creatures of the wider earth community and the very universe itself. We would characterise this as our original birthright or innocence where the powers of the universe stand poised to join us on this wonderful journey that we call the gift of life.’

Edmund O’Sullivan and Marilyn Taylor – Learning Towards an Ecological Consciousness

As adults we are listeners too, taking a step back, watching and listening so that we can better understand the needs of the children. We are enablers, we are match-makers, helping the children to find out how their them-ness meets the garden’s it-ness, and what new forms, experiences and learning can emerge as a result.

‘Listening lets the outer world be re-created within you. Listening means being willing to let one’s borders be porous.’

Jay Griffiths – Kith

So Art, if used in the right way, as a process of noticing, of listening and responding to the world, and dancing with it through our senses and our innate creative capacities, maintains the permeability of our inner walls, which otherwise lock us into a social world which denies our interconnected nature, and prevents a sense of kinship and belonging.

“If aesthetic engagement offers us a remedy for our sealed-off, self-seeking purposiveness, it will do so by reconnecting, integrating, enabling wholeness and the recognition of oneness. Further, we must be involved in active process with the art and with the natural beauty… Engagement in aesthetic process, as creative artist or ‘appreciator’ of art (and ‘art’ means poetry, music, drama, dance and ‘natural history’ as well as painting and sculpture) enables us to recover our lost sense of unity with the living world, our integration with the rest of life on the planet.”

Noel Charlton – Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty and the Sacred Earth
(From ‘A Thought Piece on Artful Knowing for a Sustainable Future’ by Dr Chris Seeley)

Children are born wild, and we can learn much from accompanying them on their artful explorations of the world (see here for an earlier post on Children as Artful Leaders). By learning from them we can see what we’ve lost, how creative play through artful means can enable us glimpses of our own connectedness, and in return we can support them to maintain their own relationships with bees and trees, mud and the wind. By doing so we show them that they belong, we teach them that all they need is within them, that they are unique, that they are imaginative, that they are explorers, and that the natural world is there to inspire and to teach them.

This is why the outdoors provides so many of our positive childhood memories, and the primary reason why we chose for this project to be centred around the subject of place and childhood memory. Its not just a ‘nice’ thing to do, its a vital thing, for the health of our children (physically and mentally) and the future of our planet.

‘To sum up: children have been exiled from their kith, their square mile…Naturally kindled in green, they need nature, woodlands, mountains, rivers and seas both physically and emotionally, no matter how small a patch; children’s spirits can survive on very little, but not on nothing. ‘

Jay Griffiths – Kith


The Making Memories Exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre ran from 5th August to 16th September 2017, and included artwork that I made in response to my time with the children.

An article reflecting on the project’s themes and outcomes appeared in the August 2017 edition of Nursery World Magazine

Please search for #MakeMemoryWilts on Twitter and Facebook for further images and information

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