Isobel Mary Champion
"99 Eco-Activities" with author and Forest School leader Sarah Watkins
Earlier this year I was very excited to be asked to provide an official review (and get a sneak peek at the proof copy!) for a beautiful new book, promoting eco-activities for children. The book, 99 Eco-Activities for Your Primary School (Routledge, 2022) is written by former teacher and Forest School Leader Sarah Watkins, and to tell you the truth I have been slightly obsessed with the idea of forest schools since reading an article about them around 15 years ago, and learning about their arrival in the UK from Scandinavia, and their growing popularity in the 2000s (although the UK has a significant outdoor play heritage of it's own, stemming back to the Macmillan sisters, Scouting, and the Woodcraft Folk in the early 1900s).
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has apparently caused a boom in demand for forest school places, as both adults and children were pushed into the outdoors both by the necessity of social distancing, and by the desire to improve our mental health. I myself am truly fascinated by the way that spending time outdoors can impact children's (and our own) mental health and wellbeing, and by the numerous benefits of unstructured outdoor play, risk taking, and exploration for little minds.
I am delighted to be able to introduce this fabulous book to you now, and speak to its author! Officially, Sarah Watkins is a is a Forest School leader on a journey of climate change action (follow her on twitter: @mini_lebowski) - an ex-primary school teacher and Head of School, Sarah has led eco-clubs and supported schools to apply for eco accreditation. Sarah has also worked as an Arts Officer, and as a project manager national media charity. Sarah currently lectures at her local university, writes, and presents nationally on ways to involve children in environmental conversations.
I will be sharing Sarah's brand new book, 99 Eco-Activities for Your Primary School (Routledge, 2022) with you here, and while you are with me I can't resist also sharing Sarah's first book, Outdoor Play for Healthy Little Minds (Routledge, 2021) with you as well, because I absolutely ADORE it! But first, a little bit more about Sarah herself..
So, unofficially, Sarah is a Mum of two, who has spent most of her life outdoors, keeps hens, and loves travelling with her family. Sarah tells me: "...I was Head of School at my old primary school, one of the tiniest in the UK. There were 40 children in total. I was born in London but my parents wanted me to bring myself and my two sisters up in the countryside so they bought some land and built a house. I spent the majority of my childhood outside. I have two boys, one is studying economics at uni and one would like to be a primary teacher. We have two hens called Salt and Pepper! As a family, we love travelling on a low budget and we have house swapped for 15 years, visiting Canada, America, Sweden, Holland, France, Italy and other locations..."
The latest project to combine her extensive knowledge of children, and her deep connection with nature, is Sarah's latest book, 99 Eco Activities, and it is packed with innovative ideas and practical projects for children which are all designed to raise environmental awareness and inspire discussion about climate change. The activities range from creating recycled kites and garden decorations, to upcycling old t-shirts, and building minibeast hotels, plus designing campaigns to eliminate single-use plastics from schools. The book includes both outdoor and indoor activities, with helpful photos and a step-by-step guide (and an optional extension) for each activity.
The activities are all tried-and-tested by real kids, and are grouped into three main areas:
• Eco-friendly practice
• Recycling and up-cycling
• Connecting with the natural world
Whether you are a teacher, club-leader, or just a parent who wants a fabulous eco-activity book to inspire you at home (or during the holidays!) Sarah's book will promote discussion around sustainability and environmental issues in an honest and fun way – and many of the activities will save you money too!
As I state in my quote on the back of the book, I absolutely LOVED this book (I loved it as soon as I received the proof copy!), mainly because the activities are all so simple and easy to follow, and they make use of ordinary, everyday materials (you won't find yourself having order a bunch of random items online that will be quickly relegated to the back of your craft cupboard!). Plus, I love the fact that the activities all promote eco-conscious thinking, and that each activity comes with a "Why" (as in "Why should we be doing this activity?") - kids love to ask "WHY?", which is extremely helpful, especially if your child seems reluctant to join in!
Having worked hard to entertain children after school and in the holidays for over a decade myself, I have come across a fair few activity books (and skimmed through dozens more in the bookshop, and this is by far the most inspiring activity book I have come across - not only with the best intentions, but also with the most do-able activities! My own personal favourite activity is number 36, "Recycling Old Books" (specifically Project 1 "Greetings Cards", and Project 5 "Bookmarks made from Books!"), both for its simplicity, and for its innovative eco-creativity!
I have to add that I also absolutely love Sarah's first book, Outdoor Play for Healthy Little Minds (Routledge, 2021), for different reasons! This book has children's mental health and wellbeing as its focus, and is designed to help those working with and caring for children to support the mental health of young children through outdoor play. Outdoor play is a really vital tool to build resilience, develop healthy relationships, and boost self-esteem. The book is full of practical advice and strategies, relatable case studies, and guidance for exploring the landscapes around us.
The book empowers adults to provide outdoor play opportunities that allow young children to explore who they are, what they can do, think critically, take risks, and form a true sense of belonging with their peers and the wider community.
I particularly enjoyed the section on outdoor play as sensory play (a worrying amount of the "sensory play" I see pictured on social media involves man-made, single-use, plastic or silicon materials that are usually cheaply manufactured on the other side of the world!). Sarah describes the numerous benefits of sensory play for child development, while linking it to activities such as digging in sand and dirt, describing mud kitchens as a real "crowd pleaser" which simply by their popularity among children will stimulate communication and help to develop social skills.
I was also fascinated to learn about "Attention Restoration Theory" - which suggests that time in nature helps our brains recover from stress, and I loved how "time" was a recurring theme in the book - time is such a scarce resource in the adult world (we never have enough time!) - and how important it is that our own attitudes towards things like time do not become a barrier to supporting children's wellbeing.
Thank you so much for sharing your books with us Sarah! Find Sarah on Twitter: @mini_lebowski plus check out her new venture Dandy Lions on Instagram! Dandy Lions run outdoor play sessions in which children experience forest school skills such as campfire cooking and whittling.
Sarah's books are right up my street, I am extremely interested in all things eco-friendly (for those of you who didn't already know, I was an early Greta Thunberg - I studied Geography at King's College London, and interned at Belu water during their promotion of the UK's first corn based (PLA) bio bottle), and am now proud to be a an official sustainable partner of the Big Blue Ocean Cleanup!
If you have an eco-friendly product, practice, or story to share with other parents, let me know!
While you are here why not read my Definitive Gift Guide for New Parents, and some more great tips from some of my other favourite specialists: Midwife and Lactation Consultant Shelley Wilson, Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness and Nutrition expert, Emma West, The Step-In-Mum Veronika Durham, and Declutterer and Organiser Joanne Forde.
Check out my other posts for more info and advice on screen time, dinner times, fussy eaters, planning a babymoon, why your child needs a pet, and more! And visit the rest of my website to find out more about my parenting coaching services, child development, child behaviour, and positive parenting!
Get in touch for more information on any of the topics mentioned here or elsewhere on my site, I would love to hear from you!