Recently I have been suffering from Blogger’s Block. Words have not been flowing freely from the keyboard, despite lots of exciting developments in the Scottish outdoor learning world.
In desperation I put a call-out on Twitter and Facebook. To my surprise and delight a number of suggestions came my way. The one that really grabbed my attention was from an American photographer, Chip Etier. Rather than give me a subject, he offered me this photo from his Royal Flamingo website. It’s of some steps on a hiking trail up Mt Pisgah in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I connected with this photo straightaway. If I put this image on a sheet of paper with space all around I would rapidly fill it with anecdotes from my life. As a young child I explored the paths in my gardens. As a teenager I remember anxiously searching for, and sticking to, paths as I walked from hostel to hostel in the Lake District. As a young adult I met my husband whilst on conservation weeks mending paths in the Scottish Borders.
Paths provide connections. Steps help paths go up and down. Bridges help paths cross water. Stones make paths through bogs. Stiles and gates add excitement and new discoveries to paths. Paths represent our physical, spiritual and emotional journeys through life. Ian Hamilton Findlay, the late Scottish artist, understood this intimate connection and his garden Little Sparta demonstrates this beautifully.
In education, the potential of paths has yet to be truly capitalized upon. There are beginnings. In 2002 Joyce Gilbert, the Education Policy Officer with the RSPB, wrote a manual called Second Nature. This took a P.A.T.H.S approach to finding out more about the local area. Children are encouraged to be Poets, Artists, Travellers, Historians and Scientists as they learn, mostly outdoors, about events, ideas and issues in their local area. It’s worth getting hold of a copy, from the Scottish Natural Heritage headquarters at Battleby, Perthshire.
Simon Beames, a lecturer at Edinburgh University has spent a lot of time examining journeys. His Outdoor Journeys project encourages classes to plan and undertake an exploration their local area in a holistic manner. I like the idea that you don’t have to stick to paths or roads. Children are free to wander and explore.
Paths have their uses. They provide us with a route to our destination. But sometimes it’s good to look for alternatives. Rather than follow in the footsteps of others, should we be encouraging new pathways in education? I think so. When I look back at the past 130 years of Scottish education, I’m not so sure that we have been creating fresh pathways of working and being. Essentially school is still an indoor experience almost all the time for almost all pupils. Learning outdoors in ways that connect children to the world around them and other people is the missing part of the learning and teaching jigsaw. Digital technology also has the potential to create real change. Put the two approaches together and potentially we can assist each child in constructing their own learning path that lasts a passionate, fulfilling lifetime in ways we have yet to imagine.
Thanks again Chip, for the photo, thoughts and inspiration. Chip also has a blog that’s worth a look too.