My Life My Way – Danny English
Danny English is an outdoor education specialist and the founder of CommuniTree. He talks to Saffia Farr about why nature inspiration is key to our health and wellbeing.
What do you love about the outdoors? I love how it can offer you everything you need regardless of your mood. When I’m feeling adventurous I run over the mountains, climb rock faces, paddle in rivers and swim in the sea; but nature offers something else too: I love to sit in a quiet woodland glade and listen to the birds, swing in a hammock, stare up at a starry night sky, and use leaves, petals and twigs to conjure up some nature art. In my work I do all of these things, sometimes alone but more often with other people. Nature has a way of drawing people together, and gathering in the outdoors is something we’ve been doing since the dawn of time.
Why do you think this is important for everyone to experience? We live in an age where society is dealing with a rapid decline in health and wellbeing. Children in particular are suffering. I believe it’s no coincidence that the amount of time people, especially children, spend in the outdoors is at an all-time low. I believe there are three key ingredients to positive health and wellbeing: connection with nature, connection with community, and connection to a ‘craft’ – to focus on being a ‘maker’ or a ‘shaper’, not just as an artist but as an individual: somebody who creates opportunities for growth and development.
What’s different about learning in the outdoors? When you head out into the outdoors you are entering a perpetually evolving environment, a malleable place that is constantly changing, as we are. You relate and identify holistically with your surroundings, and you feel inspired to explore and learn: I have yet to meet a child who could withstand the pull of nature as a teacher. Children are naturally inquisitive and want to learn, but they have not evolved to sit in concrete boxes filled with artificial heat and air to read, remember and regurgitate facts and ideas. When children are taken into the outdoors with a skilled practitioner who knows how to meet their basic needs, learning becomes ‘real’, all of their senses engage, and a part of the child that can’t be accessed indoors comes to life.
You also have a passion for bringing people together, reconnecting people with themselves, each other and the world around them. What have you found is the best way to do this? First and foremost we must reconnect through joyful, memorable and positive experiences! At CommuniTree we create an environment that is warm, welcoming and meaningful; we hold our core values of Fun, Kindness, Fairness, Creativity and Courage at the centre of what we do. We gather around a campfire, cook, eat, play, make, run, climb – and we do so with a sense of love for the world. We will not inspire the next generation of nature lovers just by getting them to pick up litter week after week: they are inspired to care by first of all falling in love.
What inspired you to write The Happiness Tree? I wanted to communicate to children the positive impact the outdoors can have on our wellbeing. I wanted them to discover magical places and trees that they could visit in times of sadness and create a connection between time spent in nature and feelings of happiness and joy. There is also the idea that lots of pollution and rubbish can lead to sadness and poor health.
It’s a wonderful story full of hope. That was the intention!There is an activity where the young girl gathers together with others to make willow crowns; this is a significant part of the story, as we know that spending time in the outdoors, gathering with others and crafting things from natural materials can significantly improve our mental health.
I love the simplicity of the world being saved by a worm found under a stone. Many children come to our sessions in the woods and don’t know what to do. They are so used to being entertained that they have forgotten how to play. The story provides inspiration for them get involved with nature crafts but then play: to take on the character of the girl, the witch or even the cat.
Or just feel curious enough to pick up a stone? Yes. There is a part in the story where the young girl is exploring her environment, picking up rocks, looking at trees and leaves and flowers. This has inspired children to look more carefully at the world and pay close attention to the smaller beautiful components of the woodland that often go unnoticed.
It’s so important for all of us to remember to stop and notice the tiny bits of beauty around us. I agree. The Happiness Tree is written in a way that will help children understand that we must care for our world and in doing so protect the magical places that bring us a wealth of educational opportunities, health and wellbeing benefits, and a great deal of beauty and positivity. If we connect with nature and each other, happiness is sure to spread around the world.
The Happiness Tree by Danny English, illustrated by Miriam Hull, is published by Hygge Media. www.communitree.co.uk