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Monday, 31 August 2015

Magic and not-so-magic mushrooms; Foragers Diary

Got you with that title didn't I...

This post obviously isn't about those magic mushrooms but I do love mushrooms, they are one of my favorite wild foods, except perhaps pigeon, and searching for them and finding them is very satisfying. 

I'm going to look at some of the less obvious dangers of fungi foraging today, not the poisonous ones but the dangers of unwanted 'insect based protein'. 

You wouldn't be so enthusiastic about these particular specimens would you;

The brown/red staining where the stem of this mushroom has been cut gives it away as a horse mushroom, but can you see the problem with it, those holes are made by the dozens of fly larvae that have eaten their way through this particular specimen.  

It's not just the stems either, the cap of this field mushroom was full of larvae too.

These ones don't look so magic do they!

I'm not normally squeamish about the odd bug in my food but when the whole cap of one of the mushrooms you were planning to have for breakfast is crawling with little fly larvae it puts you off. To get around that you should always select the youngest specimens you find, if the cap of the mushrooms you find are still closed they tend to have less larvae in them, but do be aware that fungi can be harder to identify when their caps are still closed. 

Some fungi tend to be effected less by fly larvae in my experience, I have never had a problem with them in fairy ring champignon, and I spotted a big ring of them this evening as I walked back home from feeding my pheasants but I had already eaten mushrooms for lunch so I might pick them tomorrow.    

Todays mushroom lunch, mostly horse mushroom, one shaggy parasol and a field mushroom. 

The staining in the picture above, red on the field mushrooms and orange/brown on the shaggy parasol is one of the features you can use to help your efforts to ID your lunch. But what if that beautiful field mushroom you have just found stains yellow when you cut it?

If it does it's a yellow staining mushroom and should be avoided, it's not one of the most seriously poisonous mushrooms but it will make you ill. Just make sure you pay attention to all the features that you can use to identify the fungi you pick.

 enjoy your foraging


Saturday, 22 August 2015

From the High Seat

That seat again!

My calendar and family commitments were threatening to keep the gun cupboard locked for a couple of weeks but I found a very small window of opportunity and made a trip to the high seat possible. I parked up on the dyke bank ready to check zero with a new batch of ammunition, which I did rapidly and found all well, so off to the seat with no further ado but without sticks or roe sack, such was my haste on departure. The absence of the sticks would be a pain if I encountered something on my way to or from the seat which needed the height or rock solid rest which the sticks provide. The missing roe sack wouldn't be a big issue, I had carried many deer before I ever bought it and plenty since so this was little more than an irritant and certainly not a disaster.

Even before I got to my parking spot, a Roe Deer leapt across the road in front of me, so fast I'm not even sure if it was a buck or a doe! I saw a pleasant range of bird life on the way to the seat and hadn't been in the seat long when a noisy squirrel joined me, less than 10 feet away but I couldn't get him in the view finder for a selfie together. I had tried a few peeps on the deer call and a few squeaks in case any foxes were out seeking an easy meal all to no avail.

I was watching and listening intently as the light faded when I spotted a small dark shape moving towards me along a wheel track through the wheat crop, a quick glance with the binoculars showed the head and occasionally neck of a little muntjac buck which appeared and disappeared as he moved between the crop which was higher than he was. As he approached a junction in the tracks I lost sight of him for a while so tried to call him in to view with a peep on the deer call but that appeared to have the opposite effect, I next saw him beating a retreat down the opposite wheel track but thankfully he was a bit like me running a marathon, jog a bit then stop! The last time he stopped was literally my last opportunity as the range increased and visibility decreased, it was a now or never opportunity which I took and the little fellow was obliged to accompany me home.

Another brief but fruitful visit to the high seat and a very pleasant if all too short visit to Riddy Wood's northern boundary, back soon!


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Does Teaching Children to use Knives Help Develop Their Dexterity and Strength; A review of my recent research.

I have posted here before that I was in the planning stages of a piece of Research which would aim to determine whether or not learning to use a knife would help children develop their dexterity and strength. 

I conducted this research as part of my studies towards a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education and this is the write up of that research but as you'll see it didn't take me long to become distracted by my main research aim and start to consider other things. 

Children can do all sorts of constructive things with knives if they are given the chance

The Original Research Question

The original aim of my research was to address the question of whether allowing children to regularly use knives for craft activities would increase their grip strength. The potential implications of any increased grip strength could include an improved ability to perform extended writing tasks, improved manual skill in age appropriate tasks such as getting dressed and cutting food (DOT, 2005).

I was originally motivated to address this particular issue because I feel that in the UK children are not normally given access to knives, there may be a number of reasons for this in our modern society, perhaps we don’t feel they are necessary in everyday life any more, perhaps we are concerned that children will hurt themselves or perhaps it is because we think of knives as weapons.
However I am inclined to think that a child who has been given supervised access to a knife and opportunities to learn how to use it safely and creatively will develop a better, safer attitude to knives than someone who has never been allowed to use one and instead has always been told they are weapons? Couple that with the prominent leisure activity of shooting, stabbing and battering virtual enemies to death on a games console and is it any wonder that young people firstly think of knives as weapons not tools?

I thought it would be interesting to research whether introducing the use of knives and tools to children from a younger age aids their development of fine motor skills, but unfortunately when you use popular academic search engines the first results to appear always seem to have titles like 'teen charged with having knife at school' or 'weapons carrying on school property'. Forest School initiatives are doing a fantastic job of redressing the balance and teach children how to safely use knives, bill hooks, saws and other tools. If only there was more encouragement for children and young people to learn to use knives and tools it would surely help development of dexterity, confidence and a sense of creativity.

Whatever the reason that children are not normally allowed to use knives; it may be that we are actually depriving children of opportunities to develop a responsible attitude towards knives, an understanding of the risks associated with using them and how to protect themselves by developing a safe technique. Imagine also the further developmental potential of helping children learn to use knives: The self confidence that will come from being able to use a tool which they think is very ‘grown up’, and the satisfaction of being able to do or make something with a knife. What I’m particularly interested in though is the potential physical development in terms of dexterity and fine motor skill which may come from regular use of knives and hand tools. Other cultures seem to introduce knives to children from a younger age and we can presume that this exposure will equip them with the skills to use that knife. Eventually our young children will need to use a knife in a kitchen or for other activities and I planned an experiment to test whether strength can be developed and improved as a result of knife use over a period of time.

However had I considered this question more carefully from the outset I would probably not have chosen it. The reason is two-fold:

Firstly; if I had reviewed the literature more thoroughly I could have found plenty of sources which explain that extended periods of exercise will increase physical capacity whether that's in terms of fitness or strength.

If I could have answered my question just with a literature review it should have followed that exposing children to the kind of activities I had planned would result in an improvement of fitness and/or strength. If the literature already exists which could have supported my hypothesis I perhaps should have focused my efforts elsewhere and chosen a different question to address. Additionally if an investigation of the question I did choose was ever to yield meaningful results I should have paid greater attention to the existing literature regarding physical development and exercise to help me develop an intervention that could be effective and a more rigorous method of assessing development over the course of the study (I will discuss this in greater depth later in the section on methods and research design). Although it may have led to a more effective intervention in terms of promoting physical development basing the intervention on the theory and practice of physical development would have taken this project outside of my comfort zone and the normal ethos of my practice, my work normally revolves around nature engagement, bushcraft and traditional skills so rather than use these activities as a method of facilitation I wanted to see if they would effect a child's physical development without being modified or adapted for use as 'developmental' activities but just used as they are, simple craft activities with the primary objective of creating something.

From a personal perspective; I find it very hard to concentrate on research unless I feel I am finding something worthwhile, or even ground-breaking and new. I realise that this may not always be realistic, but once I had decided that the answer to my research question was obvious even without the data I would collect I didn’t feel inspired by that particular question any more. Without that inspiration and desire to carry on with the research I found it harder to concentrate on data collection. I became disaffected with my original question I felt less and less inclined to ensure the faithful implementation of the method I had originally devised and had I chosen a question I could relate to better or which I felt had lasting value I may have got more, in terms of results, from this project.

Secondly, I was motivated to address this particular research question motivated by a personal conviction that teaching children manual skills and providing opportunities for them to use tools which they might not normally have access to nowadays is important.

However in an attempt to force this vague question into a quantitative methodology, rather than conducting a qualitative study which seems to be the more popular approach in educational research; I lost interest in it.

As my first degree is in a science subject (Countryside and Wildlife Management and Ecology) I tend to favour quantitative research to avoid the potential subjectivity of qualitative analysis. This is always the approach that has been promoted within that discipline and if you look at a collection of the most influential research in wildlife management it is almost all of a quantitative nature and any hint of subjectivity in the presentation of the research would devalue it. However in retrospect had I taken a qualitative approach to this research I could have addressed some much more valuable questions than the one I chose. I suppose my attitude that quantitative research is better/more valuable than qualitative stems from a hard science based episteme that there is one truth which can be determined by the proving or disproving of a hypothesis; rather than multiple realities or truths which might exist or co-exist simultaneously. These truths may be very subjective depending on the perspective that reality is viewed from. To make observations about them requires a qualitative approach and the ability of the researcher to analyse qualitative results objectively rather than to simplify a multidimensional problem into a single question or null-hypothesis. If I had been open to other research methods while I was proposing this project I may have been able to devise a more interesting question to address which would have kept my interest for longer and inspired my interest more than the question I did choose. For example I could have looked at changes in children’s confidence levels, children’s and parents perceptions of knives as tools/weapons or any number of other questions. Had I chosen one of these questions I may have been able to gather more significant results, not only significant from a research or statistical perspective, but in terms of the potential impact and value of the results to my future practice.

Methods and Research Design

In evaluating my choice of method and the quality of my research design I will address two main points:

First; the suitability of the method and research design I used to address the question I chose.

My research was originally going to involve two methods to address two distinct questions; whether or not using knives and tools helps children develop strength and dexterity. This would not be considered triangulation in the traditional research sense as triangulation normally involves two methods providing evidence to support or disprove the same hypothesis. In retrospect this broader question would have allowed me to make observations about the kind of applied or practical dexterity which I was interested in. However in preparing for this piece of research I took the decision to limit this to just grip strength as I felt it was a bigger factor in the kind of development I hypothesise would occur as a result of the intervention I delivered. I decided this due to the fact that, as Fleishman and Hempel found in their 1954 study, the majority of the commonly used dexterity tests do not test a combination of strength and dexterity but rather fine motor dexterity. Although there are a range of factors which contribute to that strength was not found to be one of them.

What I was really interest in was applied dexterity, the kind of dexterity that will be of benefit when practical tasks are being carried out; the kind of tasks that I have seen students unable to perform in the past. I have seen students of sixteen years of age, and even older, unable to cut a straight line with a saw or hammer in a nail. This was the kind of dexterity and strength I wanted the children to develop as a result of the intervention I put in place. All the dexterity tests I could find though didn’t measure this applied dexterity, there has in-fact been some disagreement over the suitability of peg board style tests for the measurement of dexterity in the first place (Backman et al, 1992). Rather these tests dealt with fine motor skills in isolation with activities such as placing pegs in a board /or manoeuvring wooden blocks. This was the reason I wanted to include something in my method to measure strength as well as dexterity but in aid of a simple, easy to execute project I decided just to measure strength. While simpler to execute this has left me with results that do not prove what I had hoped to.

I had originally considered using a test of my own invention to measure this 'applied dexterity' and in retrospect I think I should have, although that then raises the question of whether unrecognised tests or methods devalue the research. That is ultimately the reason that I chose not to use my test but it would have been a very simple and easy test to carry out. All it would have involved is each week each child would sharpen a pencil with a knife, this could then be timed and the quality of the job assessed. This could have been very subjective but with some simple research design beforehand could have been quite an effective way of showing a child's development over time and would have addressed both strength and dexterity.

To address the question and method I did use though rather than focusing on alternative options; I chose to use a grip strength dynamometer to test the grip strength of the children participating in this research at the beginning of every session (over a period of six sessions) to test the null hypothesis;

Ho = learning to use knives and tool has no effect on children’s grip strength.

The use of the hand grip strength dynamometer was adequate, although as I have explained already all it can tell me all it can tell me is whether or not a child's grip strength has improved rather than providing insight into whether their 'applied dexterity' has improved, which is what interested me in the first place. Also the six week period with an hour and a half to two hours with the children each week did not give the children enough exposure to the activities to cause any statistically significant change.

The use of a control group is vital to the success of this kind of research, when measuring the effects of an intervention (University of Oxford, n.d), and although a control group was tested to make any meaningful comparison it would also be necessary to careful consider the type of groups being tested. For example if one group is from a rural school where children are involved in farm chores, gardening fishing etc.. and another from an urban school where children might have less opportunity to take part in manual chores or labour there may be a significant difference in results and should be taken into account when discussing results and drawing conclusions. Although the control group and intervention group were both very close together, geographically and in terms of the demographics of the group I should still have done some kind of survey to ascertain what external factors may already be influencing grip strength in the children taking part, either as part of the control group or intervention group.

The activities I eventually delivered in this intervention differed slightly from the activities I originally proposed and I will explain them here including some explanation of why they were chosen and a brief evaluation of the overall suitability of each session in addressing the research question.

Willow necklace/bracelet making, using knives and mallets:
This activity was intended as an easy introduction to knives and tools. It introduced the knives the children would be using throughout the sessions and also the mallets that they would be using. The idea with the mallets was to allow the children to perform tasks which they would otherwise have been incapable of as they are not strong enough. They can use the mallets to strike the back of their knives and perform larger tasks such as splitting and chopping wood. It is also a good safety measure as it gives the children something to do with both hands, holding the knife in one hand and the mallet in another, or teaming up with another child, each one holding the knife and mallet double handed. This keeps the children’s hands away from the sharp edge and point of the knife.
Making marshmallow sticks, toasting forks and skewers for camp fire cooking.
As well as being fun being preparing for a camp fire gets students used to making wood shavings which will lead into a later session and sharpening a point on a stick which requires the same sort of movements and application of strength as all sorts of everyday tasks such as peeling vegetables and sharpening pencils. Sharpening the sticks could also be differentiated for children who were not strong enough by using the mallets to make three angled cuts producing a point on the stick.
Wooden lollipop/stick figures;
This activity introduced the children to the use of a brace and bit to drill holes as well as applying the skills of making wood shavings that they learned in the previous sessions. Having to keep the wood shavings attached to the stick they were working on was a new challenge and demanded that they learned enough control and developed enough strength to stop the movement of the knife at the appropriate place.
timber sports’ log sawing competition and shuttle darts:
This activity introduced a new tool and an element of competition as well as capitalising on the two previous sessions work to make a ‘dart’ using the same method of producing wood shavings in earlier sessions. This activity does have really strength and stamina building potential but not specifically related to grip strength.
This activity tied in a lot of the skills the children had learned in earlier sessions to make a simple musical instrument. They were able to split wood, use the combination of knife and mallet, shave, score and chop.
Fire Lighting etc..

As a final activity the children processed firewood, lit fires, made toasting forks and skewer’s and cooked on the fire.

I think I could have selected activities which would have been more suitable to aid the development of grip strength but I was keen to keep the activities focussed on producing something at the end and introducing new skills and experiences to the children rather than purely facilitating grip strength development. With this approach I think a much longer programme of activities would be needed to see a significant change in grip strength whereas if the activities had been specifically selected for grip strength development a more marked change might have been noticeable after the end of this short six week programme.

Second; alternative methods and research designs I could have used to address the alternative questions that I think might have been more interesting or valuable to investigate.

In choosing to frame my research question in such a way that it demanded a quantitative approach I limited what I could discover from this research. If I had taken a qualitative approach to this research I could have made some more interesting observations and been more engaged in a project that I thought was worthwhile. A few examples of alternative methods and research designs I could have implemented, had I chosen a different question are;

If I had asked the question; Does parental perception of knives change if their children are allowed to participate in craft activities using knives and hand tools? I could have used focus groups and questionnaires to address the question and determine if parents viewed knives, or the idea of their children being allowed to use knives, differently between the commencement and conclusion of a period of exposure to activities where they were allowed to use knives. The activities could have been exactly the same as the ones I chose for the question I did address but the research method it’self would have been different.

If I had asked the question; Does access to ‘dangerous’ tools develop risk perception in children? I could have used field notes and observation or video diaries to determine how the children reacted to the risks of using knives over time and their level of care and attention to their own and their peers safety during the sessions.

If I had asked the question; Do children develop a greater understanding of natural materials and sustainability through taking part in craft activities? I could have used simple questionnaires to gauge the change in understanding between the commencement and conclusion of the scheme of activities.

These questions would have been interesting and may have held my interest more than the project I eventually delivered.

Implementation and Ethical Issues

The results of this research did not allow me to reject my null hypothesis although I did implement the method as closely as the circumstances allowed. Here I will briefly summarise my findings and make some observations regarding the implementation of the project.

In summary the results of this project did not demonstrate that the intervention I delivered had any significant impact on a child’s grip strength. However this is more likely due to the ineffectiveness of the specific intervention than anything else. The practical implementation of the project went quite smoothly, the group I worked with were very keen to get involved with most of the activities and the teachers at the host school were very supportive and interested in what I was delivering and have in actual fact invited me to continue my involvement with the school and help design some ‘woodland’ learning resources for their play ground. Making arrangements for parental permission and permission from the school was fairly strait forward. The school dealt with all the permission forms and communications with parents which saved me time and were also able to provide first aid facilities and a first aider which gave me less things to have to organise myself. The execution of the sessions went very smoothly on all occasions and I was able to set up my equipment while the children arrived for their day at school and begin the activities first thing in the morning. There were no major behavioural issues to deal with during any of the sessions except occasional over-excitement from a few of the children but teaching staff or learning assistants were always present to support me in dealing with the children so I could focus on the activity.

When comparing the control group to the group which took part in the intervention there was no significant difference in the development of strength from group to group. However some observations could be made based on the progress of the group taking part in the intervention that might indicate that should the intervention have continued for a longer period some more significant results may have been possible. I will explain some of these observations in this section as I evaluate the implementation of this project.


There were some minor indications that the intervention may have had an effect, however without continuing the programme of activities for longer there is no way to tell conclusively. Although this particular research project was only designed to last six weeks it should have been obvious to me that significant results would probably be hard to find after such a short period with fairly limited exposure (1.5 hours per week) to the exercises and activities within that six week period. Over a longer period the limited weekly exposure to the activities may have had a greater effect and been measureable.


It would have been ideal to have had an un-interrupted six week period to deliver this programme, however, half term holidays and other interruptions meant that there were a few weeks where the programme was not delivered, although six weeks’ worth of sessions were delivered it actually took place over a nine week period rather than six. This not only pushed the completion date of the project back but also meant that there were some gaps of two weeks between sessions. This may have impacted the development of the students. The schedule of activities was also far too short, one hour and a half exposure to these activities per week for six weeks is not enough to produce significant increase in strength.

Group size

I had originally planned to dedicate a whole morning to teaching one group, however, due to the class size (20) I had to divide the class in two and deliver an identical hour and a half long session to two groups rather than having a longer period with one group.

This may have impacted the outcomes of the intervention as six hour and a half sessions spread over nine weeks was never going to have the same impact as six three hour sessions. With each child spending less time working with the knives the potential benefit was clearly going to be less. Although activities of this length, an hour and a half instead of three, may actually have been better suited to this age group. I think it would have been hard to hold the children’s attention for three hours with the kind of activities I was delivering in a playground environment. In a wood or forest it would have been different because the environment it’ self would have helped to engage the children and the activity could have included the chance to search for and collect the material needed for the various craft activities and would easily have filled a three hour session whereas in a playground where I provided all the necessary material three hours may have been too long. A group size of twenty could have been dealt with if an additional instructor had been available.


The hand strength dynamometer which I used for this research was not really suitable for the age group in question. It was a digital model which would take an average reading of strength based on a person squeezing it for a few seconds. However this did not prove to be easy for children of this age group and in the first few sessions several struggled to grip the apparatus for long enough to give a good reading. This did lead to an interesting observation over the period that more students were able to get a good reading from the apparatus as the weeks went on than were able at the beginning (see figure 1 below). However this may have had more to do with the fact that they were getting used to using the dynamometer rather than any real increase in strength. 

Figure 1; Graph showing the number of effective readings produced through proper use of hand strength dynamometer over time in the intervention group.

This might indicate that a small improvement in strength was occurring but it also may just be down to the fact the children were getting used to using the dynamometer. Without further investigation it would be impossible to say conclusively.

There is more literature available that I could have used to determine which type of dynamometer was most suitable for the group in question such as Amaral, Mancini and Novo Júnior’s 2012 paper comparing different types of dynamometer and identifying factors which influence the reliability of results when using dynamometers. Had I considered this fully before I commenced with the research I may have been able to select more suitable apparatus. However another limiting factor in this research was the expense of equipment so even if I had spent time selecting a more appropriate design of dynamometer before the commencement of the research there is no guarantee that I would have been able to afford the equipment.

Ethical Issues

Most of the ethical issues associated with this project were addressed before the commencement of the intervention and were largely associated with health and safety issues and parental permission for their children to participate in the research. The school dealt with parental permission forms both to gain permission for the children to participate in the activities I proposed and also to allow me to gather data on their participation.
I had anticipated more resistance from parents to the idea of letting their children use knives as part of my sessions but in fact no child was excluded from the sessions due to a lack of parental permission.
Some further ethical issues which arose during the project included;
One child had early onset arthritis and who was unable to kneel or sit on the ground for extended periods, this was not disclosed to me prior to the commencement of the sessions, although the school were of course aware of it. This meant that in the first session I had not differentiated the activity to take her specific needs into account. This was not a problem in future sessions as I have dealt with students with similar needs before and have strategies for dealing with them but in the first session she did struggle and we had to use a chair from one of the classrooms for her to sit on. As the sessions progressed though I was able to differentiate the activities slightly and provide specialised apparatus for her to use to allow her to take part fully.
A couple of the sessions included camp fire cooking which I had not anticipated being a problem as all relevant information on children’s allergies had been given me by the school. However there were several children who did not want to eat what we cooked on the camp fire This proved a problem as those who didn’t want to eat felt left out that there were not additional options for them. I would normally be inclined to consider this as an opportunity to improve children’s confidence and provide novel experiences and get them out of their comfort zone. However in this instance, as the children involved were so young they may have felt excluded from the activity. This is not really something I could do anything about and I still feel that children should be encouraged to try new things, campfire cooking for example.

Implications for Practice
Whatever the criticisms I can make of the rational, choice of method and execution of this piece of research the lessons I have learned which I will be able to apply to my future practice have been enormously valuable: Both in terms of my practice as an educator but also in my academic practice as I progress to further study and hopefully also pursue more research opportunities in the future.
Although the findings of this research did not allow me to reject my null-hypothesis that very fact has encouraged me to be more thorough as I prepare for future research projects. It has also helped me realise the value of a thorough literature review and the need to use that literature review to determine where there are gaps in existing knowledge which could be filled by new research. 
Another key impact on my practice is that I have a new regard for qualitative research methods, as I have explained I felt before that quantitative research was more significant than qualitative. Now that I have conducted this experiment and seen no support for my hypothesis using quantitative methods, although as I explained above I think that was down to flaws in the execution of the research, primarily that it was too short. I did notice a lot of things while delivering the sessions with the children which, if I had been using qualitative analyses methods such as narrative enquiry, questionnaires or similar I could have made some meaning of. So I will not automatically favour a quantitative approach to research in the future.
One of the key impacts that this project will have on my future academic practice is that I have decided that my interests lie firmly within the realm of environmental education, nature awareness, traditional countryside skills and 'bushcraft' rather than on the physical, performance and sport element of outdoor education. This is a very valuable lesson for me that I may not have learned any other way than through conducting this research. I have harboured an interest for a while in whether or not practising practical knife and tool skills with children will help them develop strength and dexterity but found through doing this project that when I was actually working with the children I was far more interested in their reaction to learning about the different types of wood they were working with and their awareness, or lack thereof, of the materials we were taking from nature. This is going to be important as I prepare to undertake future projects and choose subjects I wish to study and research over a long period of time.
As for how I can apply my experiences of conducting this project to my future practice and delivery of educational programmes of learning; I will separate those lessons into a number of categories;
By this I mean the environment where the activities take place rather than the wider concept of 'the environment' in the sense that it is used when we are talking about environmental education. These activities were delivered to school children outside but in a largely man made environment, on a piece of artificial turf surrounded by a tarmac playing surface and a metal fence. Although there were some trees in the school grounds which we could see and talk about. This kind of programme of learning would have benefited enormously from taking place in a more natural area.
I have been involved in teaching bushcraft and environmental education for several years including at secondary and primary schools but in the past my approach has always been to ensure that I could use local nature reserves, woodlands or farms as a location, I didn’t do that this time and think the children would have gained more from the sessions had I done so.
As my original question related to the physical development of the children the setting or environment in which the sessions took place was not as crucial as it would have been had my goal been to develop some kind of appreciation of nature or the environment. However in terms of the overall benefit of the programme I delivered to the children I think they would have learned a lot more from the sessions if they had been able to harvest their own materials for their craft projects and learn to recognise the trees and plants they were using first hand rather than just being able to talk about where the wood they were using came from. This would have allowed the experiences they were gaining to be situated (Lave & Wenger 1991) in the appropriate environment rather then delivered at a distance and in a very different setting from the things we were talking about. In the future I will ensure that I can always deliver this kind of activity in the appropriate environment as I agree strongly with (references) that the environment in which education takes place is key to the success of that education.
It was clear from some of the questions that the children were asking during sessions that they would have benefited from being in a woodland environment. All the materials they were using in the activities I was delivering came from a managed woodland and when they asked what a certain tree looked like it would have been much easier to be able to take them to that tree and show it to them rather than try and describe it. Although the descriptions they went away with were not entirely without value as I heard one comment from a child to a parent after one session along the lines of; “we need to look out for a tree with catkins because that's a hazel tree and that’s what nutella's made from”. So what they were learning was obviously sinking in. But the woodland environment would have made those experiences all the more real.

Having decided that this programme would not have been any better than any number of other's which involved the use of practical hand tools at developing children’s strength and dexterity what could the programme offer?
If this programme of activities was carried out in the right environment as I explained above it would be an excellent way to connect children with nature; the twenty children who took part in the sessions could all by the end of the six weeks name at least three tree species, some five, and recognise them from their bark or the texture and patterns of their wood. This is impressive from a generation of children who statistically have less opportunities to play outside and in 'the woods' than any other generation before them (Louv 2010).
During the sessions I was able to talk to the students about all sorts of nature and environmental topics such as woodland management, plant, tree and bird ID, food chains, pollution and agriculture to name just a few.
What this programme provided which most nature engagement programmes don't is that the children gained an understanding of how nature could provide resources for them. If the programme was extended it would be strait forward to include sustainability as a key theme and touch on how wood can be sustainably sourced and harvested. Some environmental education programmes, perhaps the more radical ones, base their approach to sustainability on principles of non-intervention being the appropriate way for humans to interact with nature. This is an irresponsible attitude to have and even more irresponsible to foster it in younger generations. If children can learn about sustainable management of woodlands and permaculture through programmes like this then maybe they can not only gain a greater appreciation for nature and the natural environment and wildlife of the places they live in but also develop an understanding of how to get what they need from those environments without harming them.

Parental Engagement;
Over the last year or so I have become convinced that if real changes are going to be seen in children’s attitudes, and the attitude of society as a whole to nature and the environment, then those changes will begin with parents. It’s all down to exposure to those things, the hour and a half a week for six weeks that I had with these children was not enough to see a change in their physical grip strength and as much as I think they learned more about trees, wood and the environment than they developed their grip strength I doubt that the distance travelled from the start of the programme to the finish in terms of their environmental knowledge and connection with nature would be considered significant. Long term exposure to these subjects is the key and although some programmes exist which try and provide this kind of exposure to nature and the natural environment, Forest Schools for example, the optimal length of a forest school programme is deemed to be the length of a schools year, thirty to forty weeks (Forest School Training, n.d), that only accounts to a few hours a week of a child's time. Surely children would benefit from even more exposure than that and in a setting that they are entirely comfortable with and which forms part of their recreation rather than 'school'. If parents and carers can become engaged with these sorts of outdoor nature based activities then they are much more likely to share it with their children.
While the school where I delivered this programme were very accommodating and the teacher of the class in question was very supportive and willing to allow the children to participate I can imagine that this would not be the case at all schools. We operated on a 2:10 staff student ratio while they were using knives and tools and I can imagine that at this young age that would not be considered acceptable by every organisation. Although it did work very successfully with this group and the ratio seemed entirely appropriate; as I discussed earlier in the implementation and ethics section. This issue with staff:student ratios and supervision is another reason to involve parents, as when parents are involved with delivering these kinds of activities to their children is that they are in a better position to give close supervision to activities which involve knives, tools and fire.
I had several comments from parents or teachers over the course of this project about the items the children took home with them. Some comments to the effect that they looked forward to seeing what their child brought home each week and others asking what they could do at home to keep the children entertained/engaged at home with the kind of activities I had been doing with them at school.
The interest from parents was a surprise as I suppose I had convinced myself that most people were not interested or even considered what I was doing with the children irresponsible or dangerous. It was really encouraging to hear these comments and since the conclusion of the sessions at Wyche Primary School I have put some thought into how I could facilitate some sort of parent and child woodland/nature experience.


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