50 ways to inspire and engage
Ranger, Brecon Beacons
Today I work as a Ranger in the Brecon Beacons, looking after three sites, which I absolutely love. But like many people who work outdoors, I didn’t go straight into this kind of work.
As a child, all I wanted to do was help Dad on the family farm. Mum says it was a struggle getting me to go to school, I hated leaving the animals behind.
Lambing season was the best. If I was out with Dad and he needed to do something, he’d leave me with a lamb to cuddle. I’d still be there happily holding the lamb an hour later.
I thought I wanted a career in media
When I hit my teens I thought I wanted something different. I did a degree in TV & Media Studies and moved to Birmingham to work. But I wasn’t happy, and realised I missed the countryside and being outdoors.
I left my job, did lots of volunteering, then completed a master’s degree in Wildlife Management & Conservation.
Now I do wildlife surveys, engage with farmers and one of the things I love the best, organise Wild Wednesdays – the school holiday activity days.
The children who come along are all ages, from 2 year-old-toddlers to 15 year-olds who’d rather be playing computer games, so the activities need to span and interest all age ranges.
I use natural materials to create fun challenges, so they’re not just playing, they’re also learning about nature and wildlife, and how to respect it.
Crazy woodland art installations
On the last Wild Wednesday, we made nature frames from sticks, which the children filled with things they found – an ash leaf, a piece of moss, something beautiful or interesting.
We also made a hazel archway, which they decorated with mobiles of things gathered in the woods. It looked like a crazy woodland art installation. We had an opening ceremony and the children all walked through it with the things they’d made. Both they and their parents love it.
We also do den-building (No.4), lighting fires and making breadsticks, climbing trees (No.1), tracking animals (No.34), bug hunting (No.31), stream-dipping (No.35), creating wild art (No.18)… loads of activities.
I give out 50 things booklets and stickers, so they can sticker what they’ve achieved.
Inspiration for parents too
Some of the parents haven’t taken their children to the woods before, because they didn’t know what to do with them once they’re there. The 50 things activities gives them inspiration and confidence to start their own adventures.
Getting children engaged
I believe you need to get children engaged in nature and the outdoors before they’re 12. They’re super-interested when they’re little, but then as teenagers they often step back from nature.
Every time they climb a tree, find an interesting bug or make a discovery, they’re forging a relationship with the outdoors that will come back to them when they’re older. Like it did with me.