Mentoring play in nature, for our sustainable future
written by Chris Holland, published by Wholeland Press, 2009
This is a hands-on activity book for people who want to explore nature and being outside with children. Chris is an environmental educator and storyteller who is much influenced by indigenous cultures and their skills, such as tracking and survival. I reviewed this book as someone who works creatively outdoors with children and adults, so I gave it a good road-test.
This book is packed full of practical activities and philosophical reflections on outdoor play and learning, from a holistic environmental education perspective. If you have children, know children or work with children then it is a useful book, so that covers pretty much everyone.
I like the personal style in Chris' writing. This is a home-produced book, so you get a sense of the author's personality and passion coming through on each page. Chris' childhood in Kenya and his support for indigenous tribes adds a wider global dimension to his outlook.
This differs from a lot of other outdoor education styles, say the more Outward Bound, or survival focused, or science based methods. What is encouraged is a sense of belonging with and within the earth, yet done through good clean fun. Chris links many of the activities and experiences to tribal practices, or reminds us of how these things would have been useful to our ancestors.
There is a great variety of unique things to try. Some of the activities are ones you would find elsewhere, but here they are given a different spin in how they are presented and explained. I tried out some of these with children to great success. My style is slightly different but it was great to include things I would not normally, such as preambles that encourage deeper connection and eccentric things like browsing leaves like a giraffe! I really enjoyed the emphasis on the senses. The emphasis on a form of survival and nature awareness that stays close to the earth, acknowledging all living beings as having spirit, is consistent throughout. Linked with the value of play and child-led discovery, this is a potent mix and an ethos I can really support.
My constructive criticism is that the print quality is poor so the photos aren't clear. Some further proofreading and editing would have really helped to improve the appearance and accessibility of the text. I would suggest these changes for the second edition.Yet if you read it as an informal conversation with Chris it works nicely. This may be how Chris has intended it. Sometimes Chris sounds a little too earnest, which may be off-putting for some, but his passion for his subject is forgivable. One more thing, if you work or live in an urban setting, you would need to adapt some of the activities, or would be hard pressed to do some. All the more reason for getting those urban children on a bus or train out into some countryside or finding the city farm or greenbelt to really get the benefit from this book. Many special days out to remember are within these lovely covers.
Overall I'd say buy it, for for inspiration and the great activities that you won't find elsewhere, with some interesting reflections on why this work is important at this time.
review by Mel McCree, June 2010
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