A year or so ago, I was about to greet the gathered audiences to perform a Forest Fairy show, at Sewerby Hall – one of our regular venues –when a little boy came running up to me with a stick. He was waving it around excitedly and talking about whistling for the birds in his garden. As his grandparents joined him, I recognised him – he’d been on my previous Forest Fairy show a month or two previously at the same venue – a show in which we’d heard the story of how the birds make their nests – the thrushes always in a hurry, the messy sparrows – and we’d made nests of our own to leave as presents for the birds, whistling to them as they were hidden in the trees. His grandparents told me that he still loved his stick and he’d been out regularly in the garden to whistle to the blackbirds.
There’s a rather positive growing trend in the US for nature camps – where, for a price, kids can spend their school holidays in the woods – getting their hands and feet dirty, smelling the smells, identifying the plants, and in some cases taking part in outdoor scientific experiments or arts experiences such as puppet shows.
We really need to catch up in this country. In other parts of the world, a certain percentage of a child’s education, in some cases up to 20%, has to take place outdoors – by law. Increasingly, we have the Scandinavian-inspired Forest Schools and Forest School nurseries springing up in this country – which are terrific. But it’s not yet in our culture. The majority of teachers I meet, see the outside spaces of school as somewhere to go when children are not learning, rather than seeing the opportunities they present for children to understand maths or science or writing. Or just simply, as a place to have memorable experiences.
In a climate, when it’s so hard to tear everyone away from their screens – grown ups included – going outside with no clear idea of what we’re going to ‘do’ when we get there, is no great enticement. Therefore, when Rusticus create a show for the outdoors – one of our aims is to ensure that our audiences never look at that place in the same way again. So that they have positive associations and memories with that patch of woodland or field, and are more likely to want to return on their own and enjoy it for themselves. Quite often, audiences take something away from the show, which can count as a physical reminder – a sword made from a stick, a precious stone, a story wand. We like nothing better than when we’ve been told that our shows have endured past the moment in which they were experienced. Such as that lovely little boy and his blackbird whistle. We’re looking forward to creating lots more memorable experiences for families in 2016 – we hope you can join us.