A woodland is rich with a million different shades of greens, all different sorts of textures - from rough like the bark of an oak tree, to smooth like a polished rock or soft like a bit of moss. And then there are smells: the smell of rain, of wet leaves, of freshly cut wood. What about sounds, are there any sounds?
Plenty, from scrabbling squirrels, to mewing buzzards and creaking crows. And, singing children!
That's right, the woodlands we visit on our days out are sometimes filled with song. Why? Because we're making it happen!
We are Wild Things, an ecological education collective, and we've been visiting the woods with children for over 20 years. We are based in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and we work with groups of children, providing immersive and direct experiences with the natural world.
While we mostly focus on facilitating woodland activities like lighting fires, exploring the woods, using tools to make things out of woodland materials and many more activities that enable children to engage with the natural world, we have also incorporated music making into our days out in the woods.
With the help of Youth Music, we have been running our project Wild Sounds: Getting Louder! over this autumn term. Getting Louder! is a sequel to a project we first ran in 2018, a pilot project of exploring how music can fit within children's engagement with the woodland world.
In the autumn school term of 2020 we worked with over 40 children who have come out in smaller groups for a number of weeks and had a chance to explore the sounds in the woods, the sounds they can make and a way to express themselves in rhythm. To be able to bring the most out of the children, we have been working with local artists who have come to the woods and given children opportunities to find their musical selves, in whatever shape that might be.
The woods have been transformed on those days: there was so much song and music heard in the woods! We discovered some real hidden talent, some children discovered how much they enjoy music and for some children musical warm up games and singing together with their classmates was another fun way of being part of a group.
We find all of these changes to be real achievements: we are working with school groups from deprived areas and we know that a lot of the children who we work with don't get any opportunities to explore music, play an instrument or don't live in an environment where they can be supported or heard.
Music and singing that we’ve been able to facilitate in the woods is so much more important in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as schools have had to cancel choir and all singing activities due to the risks involved. Music is such a large part of the support that primary schools can give children in need. It is usually one of the most effective ways that schools can help support children express themselves and process their emotions, feel part of something unified and share their talents and culture. Making music helps the most isolated children in schools, some of whom are newly arrived and may have very little, or no English, begin to bond and share with their class mates. It crosses language barriers. All this has been missing due to Covid, but due to the space in the woods we have been safely able to let children find their voices again! Watching the transformed faces of a group as they have sung together with talented musicians and their teachers - all grinning, lost in the joy of the moment and with all anxiety forgotten for the length of a song, was an enlivening tonic for everyone!
We have seen shy kids transform into amazing singers, giggles and humming coming even from the most quiet ones and children who might be really struggling have managed to enjoy themselves a bit. And hopefully can take their song and musicality back and make it a bigger part of their lives.
We are amazed at the power of music in the woods. It can really support children who, at this moment in history, have a lot to carry. And maybe for a few hours a week were able to forget about what's going on back there, back home.