Woodsman (Unabridged)

I finished listening to Woodsman (Unabridged) by Ben Law  narrated by Ben Law on my Audible app.

Ben Law became known to the world through channel 4’s TV show grand designs. For readers who don’t know the show a film crew follow someone trying to build their dream home. They usually have more money than sense. Horrifically complicated designs. And it seems to be pretty much compulsary to have a baby on the way. Its presented by a smug presenter who stands back reviling in the setbacks. Ben’s was very different from the vast majority in that it was low budget, largely built from local materials and was completed within a reasonable time frame, though his partner did have a baby on the way.

Ben lives within a wood. He built his house from materials within the wood and has developed a level of self sufficiency through woodland skills.

He details some of these such as foraging and coppicing. Ben outlines issues for the future. He sees the coming oil crisis as oil runs out could lead to a return to a more rural life complete with folk songs. He outlines a future horrific to people who love city life (and polo horses), but wonderful to fans of Tom and Barbara on the good life.

Ben Law narrates the audiobook himself. He isn’t a natural reading it and it is a bit wooden at times (pun intended), buts it’s nice hearing it in the authors voice. An enjoyable quick listen. Interesting to people who would like a more environmentaly friendly vision of the future.

National Gardening Week

This Easter weekend marks National Gardening Week. As its been the school holiday for me I’ve made some good steps forward with sorting out the garden. I’ve had a bit of help from parents over the week.

My dad has been working on greening the lawn and it’s now looking a lot better for it. WhenI moved in last Summer it was a sea of dandelions. While I appreciate that dandelions make a great early food source for bees they aren’t nice to walk on. We also have a path behind the garden where I’ve left them to grow. There also appears to be some wild bluebells emerging.

Some of the flowers put in earlier in the year are doing well. The patch of forget me nots I planted in Autumn are doing well and a few have seeded in other spots.

The foxgloves and hollyhocks are doing well. They got eaten to pieces initially but are now growing better.

These bulbs I planted in Autumn are shooting up. I can’t remember what they were, but lovely leaves. Be a nice surprise seeing what flowers.

My mum turned the apple tree after we cut it back to encourage shaping and growth. It had been a bit neglected but seems to be doing well now.


We got in two varieties of rosemary and silver mist lavender in the back. With some gravel in the soil for drainage I’m hopeful they’ll take well. A few gardens along the street have good patches of rosemary and lavender, so hopefully do well. There good for both bees and butterflies, which I’d like to attract in. I’ve got quite a lot of plants for bees, but less for butterflies.


My parents bought me two hardy fuschias which should look nice when flowering.

On the patio I’ve knocked out one of the unused stone wall planters. Now we’ve got the log burning stove fitted we want to turn this into a seating area and wood store.

The daffodils in the pots on the patio are up to dead heading point so looking to plant up a few other pots with some Summer flowers. I’ve got some night scented flowers recommended for moths and to attract bats. Some poppy seed has gone in the flowerbed.

The seed packet that came from grow wild had grown beyond its pot so my mum split them over the flowerbeds in the front and back garden. There is also some more lavender in the front garden.

The RHS guide to urban gardens was a kindle deal of the day earlier in the week so possibly get some more ideas for the patio there.

And I’ll finish with a few wildlife visitors over the last week.




I’ve moved a bird feeder to the front garden which is seeing plenty of visitors.



The nature principle-Richard Louv

I have just finished listening to Richard Louv-The nature principle on audible. Since Alice came along my reading time dropped, so I like listening to audio books on my journey to work. I’ve worked through a lot of nature books over the last year, so even with lack of time I’m still learning new things. I’ve reviewed Last child in the wood, Richard’s previous book. Last child is something of a modern classic for educators wanting to get children outside. The nature principle has more of a focus on adults and how connecting to nature can benefit us in many ways.


It covered a lot of similar ground as last child in the woods, sometimes even falling back on the same research or giving further details of events mentioned in last child. So I wouldn’t recommend this without reading last child first, as you may find some of these references annoying. Unlike many nature writers covering the same topic I like Richard Louv as he concentrates on positive steps that can be taken to find a space in nature. Many nature books currently get stuck on the doom and gloom and stating that much of what has happened to the environment is irreversible. But Louv, while he does talk about places that have gone wrong, spends more time discussing what can be done to move forwards to create a better world. He has ideas for embracing both nature and technology. His work isn’t about just reclaiming a past we can’t go back to.

Louv argues for the benefits of time in nature. He covers research showing how recovery time in hospital is shortened in patients look out onto green space. Time in nature can boost creativity, increase immunity and help de-stress. While I’m already sold on the benefits of nature time it’s still nice to hear.

The narration is good. Rick Adamson, who narrates, has a clear voice. Many of the non-fiction audible books have narrators with no intonation suitable for putting you to sleep. Not suitable for me driving, but this was done well.

Having enjoyed this second book I’m now tempted with Louv’s more recent book Vitamin N. May be a future purchase.


50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ 

One third of children have never climbed a tree by the age of 15. Half have never made a daisy chain. Similar numbers show for experiencing a game of conkers. All of these were common childhood experiences for me. Many went with the changing of the seasons. These worrying trends are not only bad for children’s health, the benefits of outdoor play being well documented, but it is also sad to see such simple joys missed out on. A child is now more likely to be treated for repetitive strain injuries from playing consoles than for falling out a tree.

50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ is a lovely little book aiming to address this imbalance. As the title cunningly suggests it lists 50 nature activities. It was put out by the National Trust. I originally bought it for some ideas for my work as a teacher, it’ll be a few years until Alice is ready to do most of them. But it is a lovely book for a child and would make a good present for a nature living child of about 4-7 years old. After that I think they might see it as a bit babyish.

The book gives advice and tips on outdoor adventures. Beginning with advice on getting ready, kit and the countryside code. The book is a good quality hardback with elastic to keep it sealed as you add in pictures and a nice size for carrying. 

Each of the 50 activities entries has a description and a place to sign off. Many have spaces to draw pictures and tick lists. For example what animal sounds you heard outside. There are facts and advice for grown ups alongside the details. So the whole book ends up personalised by the child. 

The activities are mainly things that were common childhood pleasures 30 years ago for me, but increasingly are not experienced by children. Things like rolling down a hill, picking blackberries and flying kites. Others are activities requiring planning and booking, such as rock climbing and horse riding.

At the end of the book there are some puzzles, doodle pages and other parts to keep a child busy if they find themselves stuck waiting for their adventure.

The National Trust also made a nifty little app to go alongside it for the more technology living child. The app suggests activities for the season and keeps track of what they have done. There are also additional challenges to unlock and certificates to earn for the completist. 

There are other books in the series such as even messier adventures and night time adventures. The National Trust have done an excellent job encouraging children to get outside. It’s had a good amount of success and hope it continues to 


Taking the story out: two fire stories

Continuing on from my blog on stories outside and Little Red I plan to dedicate this blog to two fire stories with good school links. Making fire forms a central part of most forest school programs, a scouts staple and adventure holidays. Teaching fire skills has numerous advantages for children. It teaches self control, patience, and gives a great sense of satisfaction when they can admire their fire. I’m not going to go into how to make fires or teach fire making here as there are plenty of sources on this and I’d inevitably miss out vital safety advice. My instructions would be no substitute for experiencing it through physically through a course. In both stories fire is central to the plots making them ideal to tell around the fire.

The tiger child


This traditional Indian tale tells the story of a tiger who wants fire. He sends his young nephew off to the village to collect fire as the villagers won’t be scared of the little tiger. However the young tiger is seduced by the villages comforts and becomes a kitten to the dismay of his uncle.

The story itself is simple, but it makes a good starting point to develop understanding of the world. The illustrations show aspects of a more traditional Indian village life. Apart from the obvious forest school link to fire making it provides good geography, art and music links.

This is part of a puffin series of books telling tales from round the world. In the same series is how rabbit stole fire. This is a Native American fire origin story. While I know the tale I don’t own this one so won’t comment on the quality or recommend.

The fire children


The second fire story I’m recommending is a West African tale. The fire children tells the story of how the first people were made and baked from the clay of the earth. Within my current work in year one I teach the Christian story of Genesis and the Hindu creation story. The fire children firms an interesting contrast to these. The picture book has beautiful illustrations and brings about many questions from inquisitive minds.

The story makes a good starting point to look at West Africa. Within key stage 2 we currently opted for the history topic on Benin. Within KS1 it gives another reason to look at the continents ticking the KS1 geography targets. For foundation stage another chance to understand the world.

As with the tiger child the fire children has good opportunities to create art. The most obvious being to look at work with clay. This blog: practical primitive has an explanation of how to extract clay from soil. Alternatively air drying clay can be bought to allow children a more permanent souvenir of the story. Or else just encourage some sculpting in the mud kitchen.  At a stretch if nether are available provide playdough to make figures.

And that’s it for this blog. Finish with a picture of my tiger child enjoying the roaring tiger.

Taking the story out-Little Red Riding Hood

Having written previously about taking story books out I’m now going to look at one that I particularly enjoy using in the outdoor provision: Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood is an all round good story for Foundation Stage and year one. It can be done quite dark, it’s got a good villain, a brave hero to come along and rescue the heroine or their are alternate versions with Little Red saving herself. While it has lots of less than suitable interpretations for the younger years it still has a basic moral about listening to parents and not talking to strangers that still has as good a place today as when it was written.

Three of my favourite versions are:

Little Red Riding Hood-Lari Don


This version tells the traditional version with granny and Little Red getting eaten by the wolf. No messing about with wolves putting granny in cupboards this wolf does what fairy tale wolves are meant to do, eat people. Then the huntsman comes along to find a snoring wolf in the bed. While the wolf is asleep the huntsman opens up the wolfs belly and releases Little Red and Granny then sews the stomach back up filled with rocks. The wolf then drowns at the end. I’m not a fan of the many toned down modern versions of fairy tales as they generally lose something in the telling. This one engages children well. It has lovely illustrations and details the children remember.

The wolf’s story-Toby Forward


This version of the story comes from the wolf himself. It’s delivered in a Del Boy style tall story with the wolf explaining unconvincingly what he was doing at Grannies cottage. Better towards the end of F2 and year one as the children understand the story more and get the jokes. There are quite a few alternative versions of Little Red, but this remains one of my favourites. It provides lots of good opportunities in the class for further development of the story. For follow up work this story really helps with hot seating with the children playing the part of the wolf and getting into the characters head. It has good possibilities for PSHE and writing. I’ve used it as a lead in to the children writing letters as the wolf apologising to Little Red and trying to explain to her what happened.

Revolting Rhymes-Roald Dahl


Roald Dahl’s version is full of humour with Little Red as the heroine. She later turns up in the three little pigs to take on another wolf. It has wonderful rhymes that stick in the children’s heads.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

Little Red makes an ideal story for telling outside as much of the story takes place outside. The parts in grandmas cottage are easy enough to set up a role play area for outside. Reading a story outside and practicalities around this were discussed previously. Once the children know the story it is one they have no problem finding areas outside to roleplay the story. if you are lucky enough to be working in forest schools you have a perfect setting for Little Red to meet the wolf. If you are within school hopefully you have at least one tree to be your wood, but even if you don’t a hedge or fence is enough for most children’s imaginations. For parents a trip to the park maybe with Little red’s basket seems a good excuse for a picnic. Children are good at assigning settings that look nothing like the actual ones. Within my school playground. They assigned three small trees as the forest, a stump as the woodcutters spot and the stage as they cottage. In small groups they successfully acted out the different parts of the story. Role playing and acting out stories makes up an important part of learning to make their own stories. By becoming familiar enough with lots of stories they can then draw on the different elements to make their own stories or change existing ones.

Extending it beyond the role play back at one of my previous schools we had a mud kitchen where the children were encouraged to make cakes for Little Red to take to granny. We had a fairy tale post office with the children writing letters to different characters from stories. The example from the wolfs tale given earlier was the starting point done as a lesson with the class, but they quickly started to expand to do their own ideas. The wolf sidetracks Little Red sending her off the path to pick flowers, so it is an easy step from the story to explore wild flowers. While I’m not in favour of sending classes off to find and pick wild flowers I have taken them around the school field to look and see what we can identify. It’s usually little more than daisies, buttercups and dandelions, but they enjoy it and it does form part of Year Ones science curriculum. We have also planted small pots of wild flowers to sell at our school fairs. Den building is a good way to set up granny’s cottage. Many units have a home corner outside already or one that is wheeled out each day, but often these are ignored much of the time. Building a new cottage each day sustains interest over longer periods than the same home corner day in day out. Story mapping is nice for an outdoor activity in warmer weather. Some large scrap card some pencils, felt tips and crayons and you’ll find many children will enjoy mapping out, drawing the different events of the story.

So ideas summary for outdoor play with Little Red:

  • role playing.
  • Letter writing to characters.
  • Cake baking (mud kitchen, playdough).
  • Wild flowers (planting and exploring).
  • Den building (making granny’s cottage).
  • Story mapping.

Props are good for telling stories, although not necessary it does add to the story telling. My Little Red contains:

  • A basket
  • Little Red’s hood
  • Wolf ears
  • Wooden food
  • A wooden axe
  • A shower cap (for granny’s night wear)

Cheap enough items that add an extra level of interest to acting out the story. The children particularly like putting the cap over the top of the wolf’s ears. _dsc0984

I won’t be going into my park though to tell Alice this one though at the moment as the trees have become a duck pond with all the rain.


I’m sure there are many other ideas that can be done with Little Red. If you do anything else with it, please share in the comments.


In the last few days managed to finish off, Mark Cocker’s-crow country, ready before I go back to work.


Mark Cocker takes us through his obsession with crows. He examines the variety of birds within the crow family. The crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, jays, jackdaws and choughs. He takes us on trips out rooking following the birds to their rookeries. Mark tries to come up with explanations for the social behaviour of rooks and why they form in large groups of mingled species. There was an examination of the crow within literature.

Finally he examines why his own motivation for becoming obsessed by the crows. He looks at other bird enthusiasts who became fixated on single species. Concluding that this biophilia is a way of engaging all your faculties. A way of seeing the interconnectedness of all things. It elevates your view of life.

I am rather fond of crows. They may not be fancy colours or bright, but they have a style about them. Even though there common in the park and on the journey to work I do enjoy when they visit the garden. I enjoyed learning a bit more about them through crow country, although I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.

A rook heading off at dusk tonight.


Buddhist advice for turbulent times

Yesterday I finished reading Pema Chodron’s book when things fall apart. This has been sitting in my kindle library for a while as a cheap purchase a while back.

Her writing had been recommended a number of times but I’d never given it a go. As life has been pretty good I hadn’t seen much need to read it, but came across it in my library having just finished one book. As a quick read I thought I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did.

Much of the focus of the book was on dealing with fears and difficult times through the Buddhist concept of loving kindness. First through love for yourself then widening to love everyone.

There was one passage that stood out as relevant to our current turbulent times. With uncertainty in America under Trump, Teresa May threatening to abolish the human rights act and more threats to the environment than anyone can track this stood out:

Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.


Pema Chodron-when things fall apart (1997)

Though written a decade back this advice has only become more poignant. The book was a good read going beyond the premise of the book with how to enlarge your own loving kindness and many interesting meditation techniques. It will be a book I’ll return too.

There has been some excellent advice on dealing with events of the last year from a Buddhist perspective but I hadn’t quite worked out my own way of moving on.

Jack Cornfield article

Buddhist responses to Trump

For me sitting back isn’t an option. I will continue trying to be a positive force within this world, pushing back against negativity and trying to do what I can to make a difference. Through loving kindness to myself and others around me, through my efforts to help the environment, through my work as a teacher.

I will finish with a favourite quote:

Be the change you wish to see in the world

Mahatma Gandhi.