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We had an e-mail from a young man recently, traveling through France to Spain. Hitchiking actually. He wanted a quiet spot to rest up for a few days or up to a week, and wanted to know the costs etc. So, I mailed him back with a proposition. Given that the cost of a tent per night in low season isn’t very much, why didn’t he think about perhaps giving us some of his time each day to help us out here with some chores in exchange for a pitch and a few meals? He readily agreed, and when the time came, we picked him up from Saumur and brought him to Le Chant. His degree course dictated that he made his way from Ambleside in the English Lake District (a place we know well) to the area of Bilbao in Northern Spain, for a fortnight of related coursework there from the 1st of May. They’d all been given a month to get there by whatever means. This course is under threat of being removed, along with the very small college/university in Ambleside where it’s taught. It’s a degree course in ‘Outdoor Philosophy’. I know, you’re thinking the same as I initially did when Harry (for that’s his name) told me all about it. “What kind of a bloody idiot course is that then?” Simply put, Harry’s ambition is to teach kids about their surroundings in as natural a way as possible. There are schools in Canada, and indeed in France as it happens where kids do their normal, boring curriculum based studies for say, three days per week. Then, for the remainder of the week, they’re taken to some place, be it a wood, clearing, riverside or lakeside situation to be taught their lessons but with particular relevance to their natural surroundings. By someone like Harry. This gives the kids an insight into how nature works, how it should have our respect, and how we should be protecting it. Now, the qualification Harry gains doesn’t mean he’s qualified ‘properly’ to teach in schools, he’d have to take a Teacher’s Qualification Course for that. But the more I thought about it, the more I think “What a brilliant idea!”

Shouldn’t there be something like this on the curriculum anyway? I’m sure there used to be in the days before Risk Assessments. I always remember our school nature walks down to a local meadow, perhaps 2 miles from the school gates. We’d all troop down there, two-by-two, holding hands, picking up buttercups and holding them under our hand-holding buddies’ chin to see if they liked butter! (The yellow of the flower reflected on the skin was a big yes!)

I’ve seen similar things here in the local villages. One particularly nice sight was a troupe of small children, all dressed up in costume as insects or small animals. They were being led around the village by a volunteer squad of protective teachers and parents. Lovely to see. The gendarmes were also there, to slow down the traffic, and make sure no-one got hurt. Would that happen in the UK? Would the school be charged for the police time? Our local policemen did this as a part of their daily work. De rien!

Anyway, Harry’s possibly now halfway up a mountain in Northern Spain, the second part of his seminar involved spending time alone up there, coming down at the close of play with something they’d made, wrote, painted to represent their time there. I don’t know why, possibly just to make them think about their surroundings, and possibly appreciate them a bit more. A brilliant idea, and one I wish more kids could have access to. So, Harry, if you read this when you return to the beautiful village of Ambleside in the English Lake District, we all hope it went well, good luck and please keep in touch!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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