Mud and Culture – Outdoor Learning and Play

Aim: To create a child led outdoor group which supports participants to explore and enjoy a range of outdoor spaces using the Permaculture Ethics as a foundation for exploration.

Date: September 2020 – ongoing.

Client: Personal project involving local families who are home educating their children.

Principles: Starhawk

Framework: The Simplest Design Process – James Chapman

Tools: Holistic Decision Making Tool, Principles Analysis, Word Sift Tool, Ethics Analysis – Whole Design, Ethics Analysis – Learning, Boundaries, Apply Patterns, Risk Analysis, Yields Analysis, Input Output Analysis, Walk Structure Outline, Action Plan, Evaluation Form, PNI.

How does the design reflect the Permaculture Ethics?

People CareLocal History
Doing things together
Heritage
Connecting to others
Earth Care Exploring Nature
Ecosystems
Environmental protection
Parks and Public Spaces
Fair SharePeople’s rights
Social change
Exploring the bigger picture
Politics

How does the design meet my personal learning objectives?

Permaculture design as underlying foundation to the work that I do.– Exploring how Permaculture can be used in participatory creative work with children.
Build links to the Permaculture community.– Learning more about the Children in Permaculture programme, and other work engaging children and young people in Permaculture.

– Share with Diploma Guild and with community on social media.
Develop learning within the structure of the diploma.– Applying Permaculture to socially engaged projects.

– Exploring different ways to use tools that are more commonly used on landscape focussed projects.

Resources / Support

  • “Play The Forest School Way” by Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton
  • “Last Child In The Woods” by Richard Louv
  • “How To Raise A Wild Child” by Scott D Sampson
  • “Home Grown” by Ben Hewitt
  • www.wilderchild.com – Nicolette Sowder
  • Design Forum
  • Permaculture Guild
  • Diplomas Group on Facebook
  • Permaculture Association – Knowledge Base
  • www.nonstuff.co.uk – James Chapman
  • “Retrosuburbia” – David Holmgren
  • Children in Permaculture Website
  • Wordsift Website

Context

As a home educating family a significant proportion of our time is spent meeting other families so that our children can play and learn together. However, the opportunities to do this were curtailed significantly after the first Covid-19 lockdown when people were no longer allowed to meet socially in groups of larger than 6 people. Furthermore, apart from a couple of weeks during the summer, Greater Manchester has been under some sort of restrictions since March 2020. This includes restrictions that mean we have been unable to visit friends in their homes or gardens. All of these things have had a massive impact upon the opportunities for children to come together and play.

This design was developed as a response to this context. It was something that I felt was particularly important as my son is an only child so the opportunities provided by this group would be the only way that he would be able to socialise and play in groups with other children. The intention was to create a space for children to come together and play and explore in a way which was compliant with current COVID guidelines. In addition to this I was interested in the way that the Permaculture Ethics could be used as a foundation to structure the walks and visits that would be developed through the group – not just as a tool to explore nature and the natural world but also to learn more about the wider stories of the different places that we visited.

First and foremost the design was created to meet the needs of my own family, but once the group began it has been developed in reflection of feedback from the families who take part.

I decided to use James Chapman’s “Simplest Design Process” to create this design. The image below outlines the structure of this process. It is worth noting that the process has no specific order so the items that are presented below are not necessarily presented in the order that they were undertaken! I moved between the Brief, Survey and Ideas areas very much during the process.

Brief

I began by thinking in more detail about the brief for the design. I did this by using the Holistic Decision Making tool which has been developed by Dan Palmer and which is outlined in its most basic form in “Retrosuburbia”. I used this to define a Statement of Purpose for the design. This was supported by Quailty of Life Statements, Enabling Actions and Indicators. It also helped me to identify the Future Resource Base that was available to support the design.

Survey

I began the survey by researching the Legislation around social restrictions that were in place at the time that the design was being created. At that point (September 2020) home educated children were able to meet in groups of up to 15 for educational purposes. This number did not include children under 5, or parents that supported the activity. The intention was that the legislation would be revisited after each walk / visit to ensure that the group was still compliant and able to run. It is worth noting that at the time of writing (January 2021) the group is unable to meet due to the latest lockdown.

I went on to explore the Boundaries that may exist that could hinder the progress and development of the group, as well as exploring the way that these possible challenges could be overcome.

Finally I thought about the different patterns that exist within nature and the way that they could influence or shape the design.

Ideas / Research

To begin my research I used the Permaculture Principles as a starting point to explore my aspirations for the design. I used the principles developed by Starhawk to do this.

Next I took the text from this activity to create a Word Sift which highlights the frequency of the words within my writing. I like the way that this tool gives clarity to the ideas that are developing as a result of the process that is being undertaken.

I then went on to gather a selection of quotes from the books that I had been reading as research for the project and used these to create a second Word Sift. Again I was interested in the elements of thinking which may stand out as a result of this.

Finally within this section of the design I turned to the Permaculture Ethics. I used them as a starting point to think about two different things. First I thought about the way that the ethics could underpin the purpose of the design as a whole. This pointed to the idea of the design being something about exploration of the “essence of place” and “community”.

Then I thought about the way that they could be used to shape and direct the themes and ideas that we may explore on the different walks and visits that the group did. I loved the way that this started to shape the seemingly infinite ways that a single landscape could be used as a springboard for learning in the widest sense.

Design

I created a Yields Analysis to identify more clearly what the elements of the design were and what yields the would provice. Alongside this I created an Input Output Analysis to detail how each element would be serviced within the design and to think about the yields it would provide.

I created a structure for the walks. This was as simple as possible with the idea being that it could be applied to all locations, alongside the Permaculture Ethics.

This planning tool would be supported by a closed Facebook group which is only accessible to participating families the number of which was limited to 7 to meet Covid restrictions. A screengrab from the group is provided below.

The original intention was that the group would meet once every two weeks, with walks alternating between a Wednesday and Friday in order to make it accessible to the other commitments of the families that wished to get involved. At times when walks could not take place as a group it was my intention that my own family would continue to use the structure that had been created. Alongside this I created a simple Google Form to gather contact details of participating families which was necessary in order to comply with Track and Trace obligations.

I created a simple Risk Assessment for the group which all participating families would be asked to agree to. A copy of this can be downloaded below. This was to be reviewed regularly to ensure that it met the most recent legislation.

Finally I created a simple action plan to detail what would happen in order to plan the walks. The actions in blue were carried out by me as the co-ordinator and the ones in red involved other members of the group.

Evaluation

To date we have organised eight walks. Four were with other families and four were on our own. In total seven families have attended with a core of four families attending regularly. We have visited:

  • Clifton Country Park
  • Nob End and Prestolee
  • Entwistle Reservoir
  • Rivington Pike and Terraced Gardens
  • Wayoh Reservoir
  • Springwater Park
  • Manchester City Centre
  • Tandle Hill

Here are a selection of pictures from our walks.

  1. Exploring the Wet Earth Colliery at Clifton Country Park.
  2. The staircase locks at Nob End.
  3. Pine plantation at Entwistle.
  4. Exploring the Wet Earth Colliery at Clifton Country Park.
  5. The terraced gardens at Rivington.
  6. Art inspired walk in Manchester City Centre.
  7. Playing at Tandle Hill.

For each walk I documented where we went, what we did, and how the Permaculture Ethics were used as a starting point to talk, explore and learn. I have shared examples of these notes from three different walks below.

Tandle Hill Country ParkWe had another fantastic walk with our Mud and Culture gang on Friday. This time we explored Tandle Hill Country Park in Oldham. It’s a place I haven’t visited before so it was exciting to explore somewhere new. It was also fantastic to see how the children are bonding and building friendships with each other.

The name Tandle Hill means Fire Hill because it was used as a Beacon during the Battle of Flooden Field in 1513.

Later it was used as a meeting place for radicals in the 19th century. In the period leading up to the Peterloo Massacre it was said that it had been used by radicals for practising marching and drilling. The beech woodland was planted to prevent this happening again and the hill became a hunting park and private game reserve as part of the Thornham Estate.

In 1919 it was gifted to the people of Royton as a peace offering at the end of the First World War. A war memorial was unveiled at the highest point of the park in October 1921.

It was formally designated a country park in 1971 making it one of the first in Britain.
PEOPLE CARE: Peterloo, World War One, negotiating with friends, role play with various characters, coming up with ideas and plans together, woodland inspired ghost and elf stories.

EARTH CARE: Fungi, rivers and streams, mud, dead wood, hills, sunsets, woodlands, rolling down hills (gravity!), graffiti on trees.

FAIRSHARE: Wind turbines, Peterloo, World War One, parks, taking turns and sharing, rope swings (how different people use parks).
Manchester City Centre
Yesterday we headed into town for a Mud and Culture walk to explore a fantastic art trail which places 50 artworks is shop windows around the city. We really enjoyed using a map to discover artworks and have decided to go back to find more before the trail ends next week.

As ever with these walks I used the Permaculture Ethics as a starting point to shape our initial route and to reflect upon what we talked about and learned. Here are some highlights of our day.

PEOPLE CARE – the lives of different artists, Medieval life, the Town Hall and what councils do, public libraries, Peterloo, homelessness, famous people who visited the Town Hall (most notably for us Yuri Gagarin!)
EARTH CARE – wildlife in cities, pigeons, fungi (we saw fantastic fungi outside the cathedral), retrofitting buildings, how trams are powered, sustainable heating, bees, rivers.
FAIR SHARE – Peterloo (again), public services, access to green space, co-operatives, maps, public art.
Clifton Country ParkWe made the most of the sunshine this morning to explore the Wet Earth Colliery Trail at Clifton Country Park. This was one of the first deep pits in the world, and is also the place where engineer James Brinkley made water run uphill.

We downloaded a trail map from Salford Council website as well as some lovely resources for children created by local schools as part of a heritage project a couple of years ago. We really enjoyed exploring the woodland to find the different elements of the colliery that remain. We also loved the sculptures that brilliantly bring different aspects of the site to life. R particularly loved the Gal Pit pony sculpture that inspired a great discussion about what life must have been like for the people and animals working in the pit.
PEOPLE CARE: workers rights, poverty, childhood through history.

EARTH CARE: industry and the landscape, coal mining, canals, the water table.

FAIR SHARE: Workers Rights, equality, environmental protection, heritage and local stories – whose are they? Self sufficiency.

I created a simple form to document how participating families felt about the walks.

What has been your favourite thing about the walks you have attended?Socialising with everyone.

Meeting the same people friendships can be formed.

Scenery and fresh air.
What hasn’t worked so well for you?Only that my son is shy so takes time to settle into a group. And we weren’t able to make many walks.

Low turnout.

Unpredictabilty of the timings of meet ups.

Rainy or wet weather.
What has been your highlight of the walks?Seeing the kids play together.

Visiting new places.

Socialising.
What has been your favourite location?We only went to Tandle hill but it was great!

Tandle Hill.

Rivington.

Finally from my own perspective I evaluated the design against the Aims and Objectives which I had set out at the beginning of the design.

To create a child led outdoor group which supports participants to explore and enjoy a range of outdoor spaces using the Permaculture Principles as a foundation for exploration.A group has been created as set out within this aim. There have been eight different walks exploring a range of location using the Permaculture Ethics as a foundation. These have proved a really rich starting point to guide exploration, conversation and learning.
Encourages families to come together and build connections.In total seven families have attended the group with four families attending more regularly. It has been a good way to get to know people and spend time together – this was noted as being a positive aspect within the participant feedback form.
A place for children to play and have fun.Families who attended have fedback that they love the opportunity for the children to play together that the group affords. This feedback has been in the feedback form and also as verbal feedback. This aspect of the walks is something that I have particularly valued for my own son, especially over recent months when the opporunities to play with others have been limited.

I have noticed how the unhurried nature of each meet up allows real space for play to materialise in organic ways.
Sense of sharing, togetherness and respect.Within the sessions a nice sense of doing things together has developed between the children, particularly when the group is smaller. It is harder to maintain this when a larger group attends.

There is a sense of adults sharing in terms of ideas of where to visit, experiences of home education, and from time to time physical sharing of things like books, DVDs or clothes for the children.

I am sure these aspects would develop more over time but the opportunity to meet has been limited by COVID.
A place that cultivates curiosity and exploration.The different locations have worked well as places to explore. Rivington Gardens was particularly rich in this respect as there is so much to explore there. The same is true of Tandle Hill, and and walk to Clifton Country Park that I did with my son during lockdown in January.
Support children to connect to place, community and nature in the widest sense. I can speak less for other families about this, but from the perspective of my own family the walks have stimulated a huge amount of conversation and learning. Using the Permaculture Ethics is a really good starting point that works just as well on urban strolls as they do for long strolls in the country. For example the walk around Manchester raised conversation about Peterloo that took us to Tandle Hill that we had visited and then back to our own street when we discovered that one of the people who died at Peterloo had lived within minutes from where we live.

Old industrial sites have been particularly rich places to explore which is good as there are many of them local to us!

Furthermore, appying the ethics to walks makes them feel so present and relevant in a way that I have struggled to achieve before.
Accessible to home ed children aged four to eight and their adults.My own commitments have made running a “regular” slot difficult. In feedback this has been a frustration for some families, but for others the irregular meet ups work as it makes it easier to fit in around other things. This has impacted upon accessibility for some, as has the location and timing of sessions. Allowing for the diverse needs of the group I am not sure that it would be possible to improve upon this in any easy way!

The weather has also been unpredictable and changing COVID restrictions have made planning hard.

Finally my own work commitments have had an impact too. Unfortunately this can’t really be avoided! Once solution going forward could be for others to “lead” walks in the future but prior to the latest lockdown we hadn’t really reached a point where that would have been possible.

Reflection

I used PNI (Positive, Negative, Interesting) to reflect upon the design and its creation.

Positive– Great to focus on a personal project and to work on something for the benefit of my son.

– I really felt that the way that I used the Ethics within the design – it brought richness to them here but will also do so within future designs.

– I liked using Starhawk’s principles. They worked really well due to their social focus.

– I feel that the final “plan” is accessible and would be easy for others to try and use if they wanted to set up their own group. This sense of accessibility is important to me.

– I really liked using the Holistic Decision Making framework as a starting point. It brought real focus and depth to that aspect of the process.

– I liked using the framework – it is flexible and open and I can see that it would work well for a wide range of projects.
Negative– Covid restrictions have made planning and developing the group tricky – especially as they change all the time, and as the home education guidance has often been unclear.

– Although the project was a group project the voices of others are not as clear as they should be within the design. This is something that I will focus on more in future designs.

– Sometimes it is clumsy to try and attached some tools to more socially focussed projects. Some work better than others, but despite that it is something that I will continue to try as the results can be surprising and interesting!

– People should clearly have been included as an ELEMENT within th Yields Analysis.
Interesting– It was noted in conversation that I had placed Climate Change between Earthcare and Fairshare within my Ethics Analysis when really it should sit at the heart of all three in the centre of the chart. I decided not to change this as I feel that I probably did this subconciously for a reason – although it is something my son and I talk about alot and think about alot I did not want it to be the direct focus of the project. In putting at the heart of the chart this is what I would have done, so maybe it would have been better not to mention it at all! Though again that is not something I would have felt comfortable with!

– I like the observation within the process that the design should be easy and may be quite brief if the other sections of the process had been given rnough focus. This idea really resonates for me.

– I really like the way that the design engages with landscape beyond nature. I find this multifaceted narrative really rich and interesting.

– The design really made the Ethics feel much more live for me through the way they are used. I would like to thing about using them more actively in future designs.

– I feel this project is rich in its creativity and the idea of my Diploma as a creative space appeals to me greatly.

– As I head towards the end of my diploma journey I feel that this design has stepped into a different area of design in terms of challenge and creativity and it is something I would like to explore more deeply in my final three diploma designs.