Thursday, 26 March 2015

Daily Dose of Nature Dr Bird

My thoughts on the fascinating and persuasive presentation by Dr William Bird, more information about William and Intelligent Health can be found here.

Dr Bird pointed out that we have moved a long way in the last 20 years, green gym was thought to be crazy now accepted - results are not aways immediate but keeping the momentum going is important. Initiatives often attract those who are already interested, the problem is igniting interested in those who are not. Primary school children are an engine to drive change in communities, start young the children will become marketeers.

I have worked in / with a fair few primary schools over the last 30 years, there have always been teachers with an interest in learning outside the classroom and residential / day trips to natural and built outdoor places have featured since when I was at school in 60s-70s. It does feel like there is more acknowledgement and more funding being directed at developing school grounds and doing nature walks or similar. I have seen school grounds transformed from fairly bland grassed areas to well planted mixes of wild adventure areas and sensory gardens and with meeting places and areas for Forest School type activities. I now teach undergraduate modules that focus on outdoor play, there is clearly a growing momentum.

Compared with the many millions of years of evolution that built our bodies to survive and excel in the outdoors the dawn of built 'civilisation' is a tiny space of time. Through most of civilised time we had a significant proportion of outdoor time and hard labour it is only a tiny proportion of our evolution where outdoors has not dominated life. Do we want to head towards a Wall-e future?

Some urban landscapes can be very stark, bleak places. 

On my way to the event I met this large shiny sphere and it was quite impressive, cities are improving but can still feel like uninviting and slightly scary alien landscapes. Perfect squares and sharp edges making parallel lines are not common in nature but are very much so in architecture. Cubes or cuboids are very easy shapes to use, they lock together well and make good stable structures but the end result can be rather brutal compared to the huge diversity of shapes in the natural world. Architecture has evolved considerably over the last 50 years or so largely enabled by advances in construction techniques freeing the imaginers to widen their horizons. There are some fantastical buildings but even in recently constructed areas there can still be hints of brutalist architecture. A living green bridge in London will cost a fortune to build and maintain but could impact positively on many lives. Vertical gardening and roof gardens are transforming the look of some urban areas and cleaning the air at the same time. The slide below shoes a positive impact just from vegetation, hopefully the greening cities will improve life for millions.

Whatever form it is in green space reduces stress.

One of the things that I really appreciated about this presentation was the links to research papers. Evans is here.

High income families can afford more stimulating lifestyles and to escape to green places. The impact of living in very green areas seems clear, again its a paper to read.

Green things are mitochondria once free living - I found a little more on this via Welcome trust :
Mitochondria were not always resident within another cell; they were once organisms in their own right. When survival became tough they formed a relationship with another organism and they both benefitted. One gained the ability to use oxygen to produce energy, while the other gained protection against predators.  This relationship has lasted for billions of years and has allowed multi-celled life forms to become bigger and more complex. We call this the endosymbiotic theory, which comes from the Ancient Greek words  for ‘to live within together’.

When stressed cells release free radicals...

...these damage chromosomes... Paper is here.

...this accelerates cellular ageing and...  Paper is here

...leads to senescence a process that is linked to non-communicable diseases. Book is here

This was the big sit up and take notice slide of the whole day IMO. I missed photographing an excellent composite slide showing communicable and non-communicable disease. We have made huge progress towards eliminating communicable disease. Non communicable diseases are often lifestyle related, the NHS can not afford to treat the outcomes. It is more effective, cheaper and more desirable to treat the root causes. It is not always easy to do as evidenced by smokers who feel making tobacco illegal would impinge on their right to personal freedom.

I must look into this project in more detail.

Richard Louv provided a keynote via a video link he discussed the US park initiative and tweeted a link to the information
Let’s hope the 'Every Kid in a Park' initiative seeds the idea that public parks should be free to all children.

There was a lot of discussion about prescribing the outdoors, changing the mindsets of medical practitioners.

I agree that public parks offer good opportunities, however they need to be safe places where parents are not put off by stranger danger risks, untethered dogs or the detritus of society in the form of discarded needles, broken glass etc.

The experience and benefits need to be lived to be believed, it is hard to convince others via sharing experiential knowledge and anecdotal evidence. Personal stories are very important evidence but is not enough to feel you know that getting people outdoors is a good thing even though to advocates it just seems blindingly obvious common sense.

For me this presentation showed that there is convincing and credible research underpinning ideas that outdoor experiences are a good thing, an essential element of a healthy, fulfilling and long life. This is what we should be pushing forwards with.

Dr Bird and others indicated that promoting these ideas in the media is problematic, there is no perceived immediate benefit to those who are already chronically ill. The NHS is in crisis and very short of money already, Cornish hospitals in black alert state should not happen. Advocating investment in preventative solutions during a time of crisis when many are facing delayed operations and other treatment issues does not go down well. Solutions that prevent illness have relatively intangible outcomes, remaining well is an expectation. Many people are fairly optimistic, that childhood feeling of 'I'm going to live forever' may fade as we experience people getting ill and dying but conceptually not getting ill is less noticeable than being cured from illness. The proof that a healthy lifestyle was a good idea really only arrives when we make it to old age in good condition. This was clearly illustrated to my by my granny who, on reaching 103, declared she must have done the right things to live long and prosper. Communicable diseases hit us on that journey and may well mitigate the potential to believe in lifestyle impact.

Pharmaceutical companies needs ill patients if they are to make profit, it was suggested that some health trusts feel the same about maintaining their own income. This is an appalling situation but profit / money drives many initiatives. perhaps if the Every Kid in a Park linked from Richard Louv's Tweet above works out well that is something we could build on in the UK.

A bit off the focus but I have always loved this poster, a fair bit of shape tweeking was needed to make this match.

I think there are other problems with promoting outdoor experiences. I  have spent my whole life loving the outdoors, I am not a spiritual person, I lost faith in adults as truth givers when I found that faeries and 'Father Christmas' were deceptions. How weird it is that parents tell children they must always tell the truth then promote untruths themselves. I feel that some aspects of some outdoor movements can decrease the credibility and lead to perceptions of outdoor advocates as just people filling the heads of children with some hippy nonsense. I am sure that is not going to go down well with a lot of people but that is how I feel and I have met many parents and teachers who have been put off by that aspect. I don't see anything spiritual in meditation but tranquil time does seem good for calming and clearing the mind so I do meditate although a lot less so recently. I felt reassured by seeing this linked to research on one of Dr Bird's slides.

Not all outdoor time is calm tranquil in a physical sense, some activities such as surfing or rock climbing are intense but also imbue deep inner tranquillity, a sense of being in tune and intensely stoked at the same time with an associated sense of sense of timelessness very akin to the experiences in deep meditation. Mihaly and Isabella Csikszentmihalyi identified this as a state of mind present in optimal experiences. Below is a quick explanation of Flow from one of my EdD papers.
When I have promoted some aspects of what I love about the outdoors I have been aware of agreement from people already into the same but a bit of a stand back from some who are not. I talked about outdoor activity and states of flow or optimal learning in a primary school when I was a governor in the 90s the response was not great. It felt like they were responding to me from the same mind-space I am in when cold called by religious evangelists knocking at my door. Two different worlds with an impassable gulf between. We need to be careful how we promote, we need to adapt how we promote to suit different audiences but must keep the momentum going. Evidence based on good science, like that presented by Dr Bird, is compelling and helps legitimise what outdoor advocates have been promoting for a long time, I am less inclined towards buzz phrases such as 'vitamin N' (Nature). My son aged 12 came home a few months ago asking me if there really was a vitamin N, he couldn't really get the rather wooly catch phrase concept - "Vitamins are vitamins, they should just say nature is good for you" he said.

Wildtribe 2015 Upton Cross

Wow what a venue for an opening keynote - the SERTS Theatre at Upton Cross.

A bit TARDIS like inside no shortage of room.  Having given my Djembe and N American flute a go at lunch time I found the acoustics to be wonderful. 

The first Workshop I attended was by Jenny Nash on PE/Orienteering, below is one of many punches that all have different patterns to prove which control points children have visited. 

Another approach is to colour code control points - below is a crayon tied to a bottle that would be tied to something at the control point. Children may well forget to leave the crayon or punch behind if it is not tied down. 

Basic map skills, this laminated map shows the marked areas on the ground - see next photo.

Part of the blue square is off camera below. Suggested activities:

Can you line the map up with the marked area? Helps understand use of symbols to represent real world objects and to understand orientation. 

Partner stands in the area and map holder has to point to where that is on map. Also works in reverse with one pointing at the map the other going to the spot.

One walks around inside the area while the other follows the trail with their finger on the map. 

In a group, but still working in pairs, one of each pair stands with their back to the area so they can not see it, the other places an object in the area, we used identical small balls. Once all objects are in the area those who could not see it have to find which was their partner's object with their partner indicating the place on the map - this reinforces the need for accuracy especially if several objects are close to each other. 

Netball numbers - a netball court marked out with objects.

Cones all have different numbers on.

One map of the court - there were 6, each with a different set of cones indicated.  The triangle is the start point. The aim is to work in pairs locating and visiting each cone remembering and adding the numbers, the total is then checked with the teacher. There are all sorts of strategies and repeating the exercise with different maps may well lead to them refining their approach - one way is to follow A - B - C... in sequence, it may be faster to look for shortest distances to the next cone or to split up and do half each or...?????  Cones are not labelled A B C etc. so control point A on Map 2 might be on one of the semi-circles. Cones could also be off the lines, numbers on the cones could be sums, word puzzles etc. 

 Cardinal Cones
Cones are set out in a grid, there were 9 in our course, 3 rows of 3 all equally spaced. 
Route card, there should be several of these each one with different directions on it. 

Each cone has a letter and the cardinal points marked on it - all cones are aligned with cardinal directions - the N indicator is to the north. Children follow the directions on their route card using the cone they are at to work out where to go next. They note each cone letter sequentially in the circles on the route card.  Checking the letter sequences lets teacher know whether they have understood the task.

Larger scale orienteering A hand drawn map of the school, there are various ways to achieve this including paying for a proper map to be made. Symbol cards were also used - interpretation of features is important, for example the CP square has a low fence symbol. Control points are marked with circles. 

Another map building activity, the map is cut into squares and laminated it is then a jigsaw puzzle the children have to assemble.

I worked with Steve who was over from America visiting Natural Connections schools to take back inspiration to his school.  We started off OK only getting a little bit distracted by the on site resources..

...and the chickens.

Then we found a control point on the gate to the forest schools area and had to abandon orienteering temporarily and take a look. First up a very muddy mud kitchen.

Fire circle and tyre swing. 

Rainproof den.

Splatter path - no idea about the aim but clearly a work in progress by one of the other workshop groups and rather pretty. 

A place to be! So much more adaptable than fit trails and research shows places like this get far more play hours than fit trails.

Another place to do stuff, again some splattery art was underway.

Protected pond, not quite so pretty but a lot safer than an open pond and a great haven for wildlife. Good to have a bridge to look into the water from.

More shelter fun.

A hanging things on it tree reminded me of the many clootie trees found near 'holy wells' and other sacred sites. Also is good to hang up noise making things and make a Singing Ringing Tree. 

Graffiti Art? 

My favourite productive activity - gardening, well designed raised beds ready for planting lots of compost bins as well mostly out of shot though.

Nice gaming room.

Wonderful stone, cob and timber round house. Living roofs are not easy I hope lots of wild meadow flowers grow as the year progresses. They can be great locations for alpines, hardy succulents, mosses etc. 

Wonderful interior I wonder if that was real ox blood wash! 

 Workshop 2 was natural music from natural things by Chris Holland check out his web site and book lovely chap, great photographer and musician.

I got so engrossed in what we were doing that I forgot to take many photos, we played twigs and stones and leaves and all sorts of stuff. We wandered through the woods noticing things then sang a song each taking turns to add a line about what we had seen. 

The photo below is of musical notation each object representing a different sound or movement; claps, body percussion, vocalisation, whatever goes. I found this remarkably difficult. Since 1968 I have been playing a load of instruments I started with bagpipes but that didn't last long then guitar, all sorts of drums, balafon, mbira, saxophone, didgeridoo, and many more. Unfortunately I have never managed to be fluid with notation, I can decode but not well enough to play from it. I think I am better working from memory than images I enjoyed the challenge though and am sure children would enjoy developing and using such codes themselves. We discussed variations - varying the spacing to indicate rhythm, varying placement to indicate pitch, putting several notations next to or above each other to be played together. 

Sue Pybus at the Marine Award session, Sue and Matt Nott run an award bearing after school club at the St Nicolas school in Downderry. There is a good video about their work here. We had to sort the things into ones that came from the sea or had ingredients from the sea. There were natural things like salt and samphire, along with cosmetics tooth paste and manufactured food.

More sorting, this time of shells based on morphology.

There were subtle differences within the groups that needed further separation - top shells have their point on top and there are similar looking species that have their point more laterally positioned.

Choosing one shell we had to record as scientist then as artist, I didn't have much time for either as I got talking during the activity but at least my mussel propeller and boat were authentically child like. I went for ratios and found my mussel length (x), width (y) and height (z) were x= 2y  y=4z so clearly x=8z no time to check against other shells though. I was about to start measuring growth lines when we had to stop.

 Antony Jinman, described by Sue Waite as 'explorer in residence' at Plymouth University, talked us through his trips to the N and S poles. It sounded like he did a great project with daily interaction from the ice with school children via internet. Inspired at an early age by Scott's adventures he aims to plant inspirational seeds in todays children.

Sue closed with some interesting thoughts about spaces and places. Steve from America was keen to see the moors so we headed up to Minions with Sue and her husband, has a quick walk through the Hurlers stone circles then up to the cheesewring and the sun gave us an excellent finale to the day.