Extending knowledge and skills with My Wild Child and Wildlife Watch

(c) Nick Turner

Debbie volunteers for our My Wild Child and Wildlife Watch projects in Bristol, because it provides her with an opportunity to extend her skills and knowledge of delivering learning through nature. Through doing this, she not only gets to see and experience the positive benefits children experience in nature, but those of the parents and carers who accompany them too.

Alongside volunteering with My Wild Child and Wildlife Watch, Debbie is also completing her Level 3 Forest School Leader training. Having previously worked with older children as a secondary school Art teacher, volunteering with My Wild Child and Wildlife Watch allows her to gain experience of working with younger age groups and in a variety of outdoor settings.

I grew up in a small country town where I had access to countryside on my doorstep. I would head off “over the fields” and spend all day playing, along with my siblings and other children from the neighbourhood. We climbed trees, made dens, looked for animal tracks, spotted birds nesting and looked for newts in the pond. I also had a garden where we grew a few veg, fed the birds, chased squirrels and left food out for the hedgehogs. I loved being outside and immersed in nature, it made me feel free and connected all at the same time. As an adult, even though I have only lived in cities, I continue to engage with nature, wildlife and the countryside and feel it is an essential part of how I choose to live.

I count myself fortunate to have a garden and an allotment that provide me with immediate access to nature and wildlife. I have created a wildlife garden by planting a native hedge and digging a wildlife pond etc… and delight in spotting all the different birds, mammals, amphibians and insects that visit. On the allotment I enjoy planting, tending and harvesting the veg and fruit we grow. Eating food you have grown yourself, apart from being tasty, gives you a real connection with the soil, the seasons and the weather. Living in East Bristol I use the cycle path to travel into the centre or in the opposite direction to the shops. I live close to Eastville Park and enjoy going for short walks around the lakes or more extended walks along the Frome to Snuff Mills and beyond. I feel that children should have the opportunity to connect with nature on a daily basis. There are countless health benefits such as breathing non- polluted air, physical exercise and mental well-being. They can experience the changing seasons and observe our natural flora and fauna first hand. Hopefully they will start to cherish the natural environment and improve their health and well-being.

I like being outside and in a green space myself. The sessions are always different not least because of changing weather conditions. I enjoy interacting with the children and their parents. The sessions are extremely friendly and everyone conspires to have a fun time. I particularly enjoy the fact that the activities are child led, with the children making their own decisions as to how they participate. The enthusiasm of the children can be quite infectious when they get excited about finding a worm or making a clay and twig spider.

It doesn’t take much to motivate the children as they all like being outside and in the fresh air. Even if they arrive feeling shy or grumpy their mood quickly brightens and they become eager to join in. Children who are initially worried about dirty hands or taking a tumble soon forget such concerns as they engage in the outdoor fun. It is interesting to see the relationship between the child and their adult. Often the adults will intervene in how their child approaches an activity. After a while you see the adults relax as they recognise that their child wants to lead their own play and that the activities/ basic equipment provided is designed to facilitate this. It feels as though being outside in nature helps the adults’ mood too which in turn has a positive affect on the children. More than just playing outdoors the My Wild Child sessions provide a real focus on exploring nature. It is interesting to see how innately curious children are of the natural world. During the sessions I see children discovering things for themselves, increasing their vocabularies, collaborating with others, building resilience, and feeling a sense of achievement when they make a piece of craft work.

I look forward to my volunteering sessions each week. They have provided me with an opportunity to engage with younger children and to explore ideas for activities appropriate to this age group. I also enjoy collaborating with the AWT staff who lead the sessions and feel very much part of a team. Each week I look forward to meeting people and spending time outside in nature. It doesn’t feel like work!

It is my view that outdoor learning is vital for all children. Outdoor learning is holistic providing a child with opportunities to develop not just their academic ability but their social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional abilities too. Learning outdoors can provide a safe space in which children can take risks and build resilience making a child feel more self-confident. They can use all their senses to explore, discover and observe the natural world around them which will enrich the learning that takes place in the classroom. Children are more inclined to co-operate and learn from each other in an outdoor setting and being in nature has a positive impact on their mental health.

I would (and have) recommended My Wild Child to a friend. I think the benefits for the child are everything I have previously talked about but also there are benefits for the adult too. Attending a session gets you out of the house and enjoying nature and wildlife yourself. You can meet other families with children of a similar age and get some ideas for child led play to use at home. You can give your child attention without all of the usual distractions but also relax as your child enjoys the freedom of playing outdoors in a safe environment.

Don’t hesitate to volunteer for My Wild Child. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and it’s really good fun. You will be treated as part of a team and encouraged to fully participate in the sessions.

We are all still wild children at heart!

If you are interested in volunteering with My Wild Child or Wildlife watch, get in touch!