Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to share my latest blog post with you as it's so relevant for C&NN Connect.

In the woods of North East Scotland you may find a wee surprise. Several days a week, Mandy Tulloch, founder of Mud Pies organises family woodland sessions for 2-5yr olds and their parents and carers. These woods echo with the sound of children playing!

All kitted out. Wellies (tick). Jacket (tick). Backpack (tick).

This week I joined a Mud Pie session for some fun in the forest. 15 children and their parents and carers met in the car park. After a brief word of welcome, the session began by looking for some hidden friends tucked away. The children quickly found the soft toys.

Many families attend weekly and make the most of the social opportunity.

Then the walk began. The pace was pleasantly slow so that children could stop to examine anything that took their interest. Muddy puddles were particularly fascinating!

Stomp. Squelch. Shloop!

A fallen down log provided a challenge to walk along. Luckily someone was always around to hold a hand.

All the children wanted a go!

Soon we arrived at the big shelter. Mandy had this set up in advance, with portable seating and snacks ready.

The shelter provided a useful visual meeting point.

Using the bracken and other material collected on the way, the children made camouflage nets for the game of hide-n-seek to follow.

My 13yr old son joined in!

Mandy demonstrating how to put on a camouflage net.

The children wrapped their homemade camouflage nets around themselves and found places to hide.

Can you see me?

These dens were made by older children during a ranger led activity several weeks earlier. Some children found that a tree was big enough to hide behind.

Even the toys were given camouflage nets.

After all this, the children enjoyed exploring and playing in the woods.

One child liked this den because it had a fire place.

This little girl fell over and became engrossed with the world at her feet!

Younger children also came along!

The sessions last 90 minutes. As well an opportunity to meet up, many parents enjoyed the time as it gave them ideas for playing outdoors with their children. But there was general agreement that there was something special about getting together for an activity.

Good byes were said at the car park. Until we meet again!

There is a growing world-wide movement to encourage families to explore local natural spaces and ensure their children spend time exploring and discovering nature. Have a look at the Children and Nature Network site which contains activities and ideas for families in the form of a downloadable toolkit. Some families are getting together to form outdoor playgroups. The Canadian Active Kids Club website gives some good advice for getting one started.

Meanwhile, many thanks to Mandy Tulloch and the families attending the Mud Pies session. If you want to find out more, there's a Facebook page you can visit too as well as the Mud Pies website.

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Comment by Katie Scott on August 4, 2010 at 6:08pm
Thank you Juliet and Mandy for your advice and support. It is precisely due to the challenges of finding and accessing nature in our city, and many urban areas of China, that I'm building a program modeled on the Children & Nature Network. As a mother of two, I just could not bear the cement any longer! Finding safe travel options are also an issue we're working through, but so far we just car pool. I REALLY like the local bus company idea....I also work with my children kindergarten to explore around the school, which has a lovely garden. But due to recent attacks at the schools, the children are no longer allowed to roam outside the confines of the school. Yes, these are the challenges. I suppose we're still at an early stage, and I am literally harvesting all of these wonderful comments and resources to break through this first stage. Thank you! I'll be posting along the way our experiences.
Comment by Mandy Tulloch on August 4, 2010 at 4:25am
Re Katie's comments, it would be wonderful to work with children regularly within walking distance of their homes, but it's often not possible. I don't know if it would work in China, but in Scotland nurseries often have their own minibuses (or access to a community bus) which they use to take children to and from venues. Could you start a community group that could then use a bus or get a local bus company to sponsor you? I've also heard of bus company's giving groups very good rates during their off-peak times. Good luck!
Comment by Carmen Field on August 3, 2010 at 11:55pm
Thanks for sharing, Juliet. We have a less frequent but similar opportunity happening in our town that is organized by the teachers of Raspberry Lane Waldorf Preschool. Each Sunday the lead teacher calls up all the parents of 5-year-olds she knows to tell them where the next day's Summer Adventure Club is going to meet - it's a different spot somewhere around town each week. We parents pay (happily, I might add) $30 US for our kids to spend 6 hours outside each Monday engaged in free play with their friends, listenening to a new chapter of Wind in the Willows while relaxing on a mound of dirt, log, beach, or grassy patch, having a picnic lunch, building fairy houses, or roasting marshmallows (on cool and blustery days). The kids don't retreat to the indoors when weather's bad...they make do with what gear they bring in their backpacks or shelters they can find or make in nature. Yesterday I picked up my daughter at the end of the day and she was wet, caked in mud and sand, and very, very happy.
Comment by Juliet Robertson on August 3, 2010 at 11:02pm
Hi Katie

Thanks for the feedback. I do agree there are challenges to this type of activity. I'm actually really interested to see how you get on. I have a friend who has just returned to China - Beijing I think - who undertook a year long Outdoor Education Masters in Sweden. I've heard very little about nature activities and organisations within China.
Comment by Katie Scott on August 3, 2010 at 8:30pm
I'll follow your lead! We're hoping to do just the same kind of activities you organized. We're working through transport challenges though. Since the majority of families in China (where we reside) do not have cars, and we live in the city, it is difficult to arrive at the Forest Parks on the outskirts of the city. We're finding our way though, and you're right, the families we have gotten together do "feel there's something special" about these gatherings. I look forward to reviewing more of your mud pie blogs, and hope we'll have more to share soon too!

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