Leaving primary school for secondary is a big change that we all remember, as life changes dramatically at this age. The 27 children in Year 6 at St Mary’s in Timsbury will soon be spreading their wings to secondary and the new horizons this brings. In symbolism of this transition, during their last term they have the chance to set off into the landscape around the school where they have spent the last 7 years and navigate their way to local landmarks. Weekly EcoWild sessions take them along footpaths, up and down hills, learning about wildlife and about the history of the landscape and people. They play games and solve riddles along the way, noticing what grows where and which leaf shapes they can identify. They learn how long it takes to cross this patchwork of fields, and where the hidden paths or delights such as an old railway tunnel lie. They get a real sense of the physical possibilities in their wider surroundings, and the freedom of being out of foot, independent and free.
I asked a child I was walking next to whether he had been on any of these walks before. “No, never,” he said. A few more strides were taken in silence, before he added; “I took my Mum and brothers on the first one last weekend though”. He’s not alone. Other parents have told me that their children from previous year groups have done the same. The children are showing the parents the land! The land that they have walked, that is now within their domain, because they have had fun there and feel capable there, confident to lead the way.
In this odd era of human history where young people don’t habitually roam the landscape, understanding themselves as a part of this physical world around them, this feels fundamentally important to me. Most children are shuttled round by car from one adult led activity to the next, until they collapse in front of a screen, dying to switch off or zone out on a game. Walking the land switches off the critical, anxious, judgmental mind while switching on the spacious, reflective and grounded mind. I think its clear that our world needs more of the latter.