Outdoor play & learning
Adult role in outdoor play
Imaginative play & natural narratives
An inter-disciplinary artist, educator and writer with eighteen years experience, I specialise in creative eco-social participatory projects. These are often in outdoor play and learning, participatory arts or environmental education. From 2009-2013 I have been engaged in PhD research which has informed my practice and given me the research bug. Alongside my academic work I have been developing Feralism as a form of creative response and provocative art form.
I work with non-profit organisations delivering training, facilitation, lectures, performance and writing projects. I have a strong background in collaboration and project management within participatory arts and education. I am interested in progressively democratic and innovative group processes which I apply in my group work and networking.
I blog about my work and the usual related rambles.
Here’s some more on the themes in my work:
Currently, outdoor play and learning is exploding in popularity and interest in the UK and beyond, perhaps because it compensates for something temporarily lost in the pell-mell of our twenty-first century lives. It’s nothing new and is basic common sense, but has value and importance for all children, especially those who don’t have much access to free time outside, for whatever reasons (and there are many). Forest Schools is currently the fastest growing educational movement in the UK. My work centres on how we facilitate playing outdoors, for children and for ourselves.
The role of the adult in outdoor play
We all have an innate drive to play and to get outdoors and simply be. Yet our lives are often driven by demands, social norms and schedules that can take precedence. Children are experts at play and given the chance will show us the infinite possibilities that a stick or a piece of string can contain. Sometimes us adults get in the way of this process. Some adults are very good at supporting children, by giving them the opportunity to do what comes naturally. My current research examines this peculiar conundrum, with case studies of adults working as Forest School leaders.
Imaginative play & natural narratives
Making stories is hard wired into our genes, like the connection we have with the land for survival (see E.O.Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis). I love helping people to leap into the imagination to have immediate and creative experiences connecting to the world. Over the last decade, I have developed a body of creative work within early years and primary settings. In particular I’ve worked outside using the environment to stimulate imaginative narrative and relationship, co-creating story, fantasy and symbolic language. Child-centred outdoor play and creativity allows children to be, and to be viewed as, whole, strong individuals, able to lead their own learning and growth.
Being a music therapist for young children I felt the power of their imaginations and perceptions up close and was privileged enough to be allowed by the children to enter and share their worlds. As a performer, I’ve made and held worlds for people to play in. As a writer, playworker and play-maker, I’ve developed new games for free imaginative outdoor play, written plays with children about the creatures they observe, explored sites and magical worlds, hunted dragons, built dens for role play and co-composed audio story trails. Further residencies within schools have taught me much about the importance of imagination and fantasy to enliven the learning experience, engaging children in areas such as problem-solving, social skills, literacy, numeracy and self-esteem.
Environmental and social justice
Luckily for me I work outdoors with people trying to do good things. I view the people and the environment around me as equals and try to act upon that. I have enjoyed working alongside food growing, conservation, community development and social justice projects, balancing the creative with the practical and the constructive in response to the destructive. My initial theatre work in the 90s centred around the global food industry and embryonic local food networks in the UK and beyond. For me art is happiest when deeply nested in community action, transforming our view of what is possible, where creativity starts to happen in an infectious, viral way. Action breeds character, as any writer knows. I have always had a broad definition of art and creativity, along with a strong sense of where I feel it can come in useful. If we can have Tracy Emin’s tent, then pulling up a GMO contaminated test crop and replacing it with heritage seedlings is also conceptual art.
As a volunteer I co-founded a co-operative permaculture land project with a linked training programme. I have trained internationally for arts-in-development and education projects, such as food & health projects in India, urban community agriculture in Cuba and restorative arts education in Bosnia. I focus on applying imagination, creative skills and strategies for interaction as a springboard to social change.
I lead an improvising feral choir (with the blessing of the concept author, Phil Minton) and with artist Itta Howie, other creative workshops in going feral. The term has taken on great resonance for me, as I explore what it means to be feral and what it might mean to be a feral artist. By definition, feral means to be liberated from our domestic habitats into the wild. For most domesticated modern human beings, re-wilding is not something that can happen overnight, no matter how many bugs and beasties crawl into your tent with you. I believe we carry a lot of our civilisation within us. Further, nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’, therefore going feral is not such a socially acceptable state. The wild is not virginal, it is mixed up in our landscapes, often found in edgelands and spaces inbetween our built environment. The wild and the tame is mixed up in us as well, as part of nature yet often feeling separate from it. Working creatively with people going feral is a fascinating process; an antidote as much to the nicey-nicey view of nature as to industrial overkill.
Somehow improvisation is the glue that holds it all together for me. Along with writing, it’s my constant practice as an artist. Developing our improvisation skills and attitudes can help in so many ways. Maybe this whole universe was/is improvised into being? In my definition of the verb, it is. My theory is that we all improvise, 24/7. If a natural state of life is flow, not stasis, then improvisation is fairly useful as a skillset.
I’m lucky enough to have worked with some wonderful teachers that use improvisation and that help me in my own teaching and performance. The late Augusto Boal and the late Scott Kelman, Adrian Jackson, Goat Island Performance Co, Keith Tippet and Julie Tippets, Maggie Nicholls, Phil Minton, John Rudlin and David Eskenazy. Some of my other favourite impro lessons in life have been outdoor performance, protest, creating alongside children, filing my tax return and simply going for a walk.
Play: a broad church
* I consider play to be a lot of things, more than what it is normally framed as play. Some contexts for play are healthier than others. For instance:
Cooking, daydreaming, screenstaring, being in nature, being anywhere, gardening, listening to music, any form of art, coming up with ideas, governing, organising, crime, banking, shopping, going down the pub, sex, meditation, painting the house, spending time with family and friends…..