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From my roots as a primary drama teacher I gained a strong foundation in ‘dramarama’ in empty gym halls with random groups of 30+ children. Together our aim was to create ‘magic’, although I confess that at the time I had no appreciation that this is what we were doing. It’s the looking back with a different insight that connects with the reality of what happened on a daily basis: one class after another streamed in and then out again, more children lined up waiting at the door to have their 35 minute slot with the ‘drama wifee’.

I believe that this formative training in developing, intuiting and supporting the child’s mind to open in a creative and expressive way to the full realms of the imagination has led me to where I am now: in the woods with pre-school children, supporting the creation of their own magic. We have no toys, limited practical resources of useful tools but plenty of space and opportunity to go where the imagination may take us.

"One of the capacities which children have naturally and in abundance is imagination. It should be our most cherished heritage, our most carefully cultivated natural energy. . . We refuse to listen to poets who tell us that facts are important only to those who have never really lived . . . there is more to life than science; there is more to science than technology. That more is the inner garden of the imagination to which we should be given access, in which we should be allowed to cultivate, and where we should be actively encouraged to dwell for at least some part of our days and lives." Mark Patrick Hederman

Out in the woods - away from the hustle and bustle of speedy life and the enticing shapes and colours of manufactured toys that call out ‘I am Buzz Lightyear’, ‘I am a train’, ‘I am a square’ or circle or triangle, ‘I am red’ or blue or yellow – we can relax in the knowledge that we can be anyone, able to create anything, the environment and elements heightening our senses rather than invading them.

We see the dappled shades of sunlight through the trees that create a mysterious light of opportunity to imagine . . . we hear rustles in the undergrowth that make us think of creatures that may creep up on us, or small animals rushing to their homes underground. With a leap of faith we too rush underground to meet our friends, demons, tunnels of adventures. We can close our eyes and hear the trees leaning and creaking against one another as they’re rocked by the wind, and we too lean against the trunk becoming one with the wind and tree. We feel the sun, the rain, the breeze, the gales rush over our exposed skin, nippy fingers, joyful face. As we crawl, run, quietly walk we become aware of the forest smells: dark and dank, light and ferny, gentle and sweet, each smell transporting us into a different scene: a battle with pirates, a meeting with the fairy queen, a hunt for a tiger, a sleep of a hundred years.

Within the spaciousness of the outdoor environment, particularly in woodland with no glaring boundaries to hem in the spirit, there is a freedom for each child. This freedom allows the individual to make choices: play within a group; run, climb, jump together . . . or alone; walk idly where the spirit leads; lie still on the forest floor, nose pressed into the moss or eyes gazing at tree tops and the clouds; build a den to invite others into; create a nest solely for the self; sit at the foot of a tree, watch, wait, ponder.

"Other important realities have been allowed to crowd imagination out. Children are afforded no time for pondering, no space for inner or outer exploration, no opportunity for dreaming." Mark Patrick Hederman

A familiarity of the woodland grows for the child as their own sense of being in the natural environment develops; an ‘appreciation of nature, a rootedness and a sense of place’. The year is cyclical, a following of the seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn yet no year or moment is ever the same again. Each encounter is fresh, new, expanding to the possibilities of the imagination, creation and dynamics of the group. With the development of this sense of being with nature comes the deeper, stronger sense of being of the self.

"A child feels that he can be alone in himself because someone else is there who asks ‘nothing but to be there functioning and protecting at the border of the invisible’ (Rilke). Only the individual who has developed the capacity to be alone in this way, by internalising or creating such a “protective environment,” “is constantly able to rediscover the personal impulse . . ." David Kleinbard

Resilience develops: initially to support the self in those first moments of stepping from the security of the family into a world of new adults and an excited mass of new peers. Then there’s the resilience needed to not be downhearted by weather that often we run indoors to escape from.

"Storm clouds, rain, hail, when we have survived these we seem to have taken on some of the solidity of rocks and trees." Thomas A Clark

Physical resilience is gently nurtured; there’s a longing to climb as high as another but it takes time to build up the muscles to pull up and hold on, it takes time to run the whole way up the lane without losing breath, it takes time to build up the strength to be able to saw a log rather than a branch.

Imperceptibly the child changes as emotional and physical strength develops.

There’s a confidence and assurance about stepping out into the wild world and knowing that you can be safe and secure because you have learnt the lie of the land, the way through the woods, the direction of your own home from the woods, even if it’s too far to walk to. You can lead the way to a certain point with confidence that you will reach there and your friends will follow in your steps. Each child has a preferred location, and route to that location; a preferred game, story, adventure and location for the adventure to unfold.

As you make your way there’s the awareness of who and what else inhabits this world: the remnants of cones left on the tree stumps evidence the squirrels’ ‘picnics’. The squirrels rain down their leftovers from the tree tops to land at our feet, on our head. Deep in the woods there’s the slightest of movements:

"Neither here nor there, always elsewhere, something wild and shy hesitates between presence and absence." Thomas A Clark

Rabbit? Deer? Pheasant? Or even ‘peasant’! Above the buzzard glides in the upwind, calls and cries, often unseen but we know that call. Below we find the tiny creatures under the leaf mould layer, and between the earth and sky the ladybirds resting for the winter in the gorse bush that soaks up the winter sun.

There are trees and leaves, flowers and ‘stingers’, there’s the opportunity to become familiar with the bark and the branches; the buds, the fruits and then the seeds, and when the seeds take root the tiny saplings that will grow to be the mighty oak, sycamore, beech, larch. As the child takes root into this outdoor environment they watch closely at other forms of life doing the same: watch, wait, and ponder.

Growth takes time as does discovery of the unique self, and the wider world.

"Within each of us there are unique ways that we can strengthen harmony between people and nature. We must discover our own unique gifts and destiny . . . open the doors of perception so we can utilize nature to help us discover our own unique path." James A. Swan