Guest blog by Hannah Jones, Learning Assistant
It's oh, so quiet...
Now that summer has well and truly passed - rather too quickly for my liking - I now find myself reflecting on the busy season just gone.
Because as well as being a rather brilliant nature reserve, Minsmere has been the place of mud, magic and memories for myself and many other (marginally younger!) nature enthusiasts this year.
For the last 8 months I've been a part of a wonderful learning team who, along with some outstanding volunteers have helped deliver some of the most memorable days out for visiting groups. And if you're a regular to Minsmere, you may well have glimpsed us leading an enthusiastic rabble* in the wellies & school jumpers!
(*the collective noun for a group of children is an ingratitude or a chaos, but neither of these accurately describes our lovely school children)
Muddy school children by Rahul Thanki (rspb-images.com)
Nature is the greatest teaching resource we have, and hey, it's got to beat sitting in a classroom, right?
Pond dipping (aka: 'are we going swimming?!')
Pond dipping has been one of my favourite activities to run, and certainly one of the most exciting and hands-on for the children. Where better to learn about life cycles than to witness a damselfly emerging out of its exoskeleton in front of you? Or to spot the amazing adaptations of creatures making up freshwater food chains.
Damselfly by Hannah Jones
At the pond children encounter completely alien species - dragonfly nymphs that can extend their jaws, water beetles who breathe through their bums (well, sort of...) and the architectural brilliance of a caddisfly nymph case.
Usually after a few dips, a class is completely mesmerised by their new found underwater world. Reckon young people are too easily distracted? Watch the concentration as one tries to count the dozens of whirligigs spiralling around their tray.
Newts and other pond life by Hannah Jones
It's a similar story above the water too. Bird sightings from Wildlife Lookout go through the roof when Year 4 come to visit - evidently there are bitterns and kingfishers flying all over the place! It must be their young keen eyes.
Escape to the country
The Countryside Trust visits have been particularly eye-opening for me. These are kids who have little means of experiencing nature in their everyday lives, living in communities from some of the most deprived areas of London. For some, their day at Minsmere will be the first time they've seen the coastline, let alone stepped foot on a nature reserve. No pressure there then...
Luckily for us though, the wilderness speaks for itself. When you're used to tower blocks and concrete jungles, it can be the simplest of encounters that can hold a lasting memory:
It's these encounters - common as they may be to us - which can ignite a spark of curiosity, enough to inspire someone to discover more about our world and how it's all connected. And isn't that brilliant?!
Kids having fun in the woods by Nick Cunard (rspb-images.com)
And so in the winter months - much like other small furry things - the school children go into hibernation. As for me, I look forward to the day when visits happen all year round (there's no reason why they shouldn't, just pack a woolly hat instead of sun cream).
In the meantime, if anybody does have any influence over a small person, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to join them in turning off the computer (- in a minute!), donning your finest waterproof pants, and popping outside for a bit.
Build a den, look for bugs, get muddy, have a camp fire, climb trees.
Nature is exciting - all year round. And, let's face it, Christmas telly is not what it used to be.