Kids need Nature…

Today saw us returning to Pinkston for another session on the water. We had a different coach this week, but Phil carried on where Fraser had left off last week, delivering another another positive, fun experience for the young people.

Watersports isn’t my forte, so my role for this session is really just organiser, driver, photographer and general dogsbody. However, it gives me a great opportunity to observe the young people I’m usually more directly involved with, and it’s not hard to spot the development in the young people over the last few weeks, seeing confidence, resilience and self-belief grow alongside flourishing technical skills in the various  activities they’ve been involved in. Today, I was looking a young people who were nervous about getting on the water three weeks ago, now standing in their canoes laughing as Phil worked on their balance with a rendition of ‘hands, shoulders, knees and toes’. Other, perhaps more subtle, differences are emerging as well; at the start of the summer I challenged them about the tone of disparaging competitiveness in the group and today I noted how much support and encouragement was being offered to people who were struggling, or still a bit unsure. For sure, the ‘snark’ is still strong in the bus there and back, but there are clear signs of a different way of relating to other emerging that can be nurtured along in the coming weeks, months and years.

A professional acquaintance of many years observed recently that it had been a bold move for me to switch careers at fifty years of age. I was a bit taken aback by the suggestion that what I was doing now represented any kind of move away from the nurturing of young people through informal educational activities that’s been my consuming passion for the last thirty years. In my own thinking, there’s a clear and coherent journey that I’ve been on to explore that central question of “how best to live”, with my professional interest in education slowly converging with my personal love of the outdoors. The catalyst for their final merging was my reading of Richard Louv’s ‘The Last Child in the Woods’, which pushed me towards a more thorough exploration of why residentials in remote settings were always the most effective aspect of our work with young people from urban Glasgow. The widely held perception that getting into nature is good for us has a long history, but it’s been fascinating to discover that modern science is confirming the value of time spent in natural settings for both our physical and mental health. A Japanese university has even researched the optimum density of trees in a forest that gives the most benefit; unsurprisingly, naturally occurring woodland has a far more beneficial impact than densely packed plantation forestry. More recently, I’ve been reading about the Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv and reflecting on whether some aspects of this worldview might translate to Scotland in some meaningful way. I’ll write more on this as I dare, but for the moment, I’ll leave you with this inspiring short film I came across recently…