It’s Saturday morning and I walk down the hill to the Skip Garden in the crisp of the early morning. I’m wondering what we could make bee wings out of and I look down at my feet. Tiny wings are strewn across the road; the aerodynamic seed pods of sycamore trees. They are perfect for making bee shaped clay seed bombs with the children in our Space and Nature club.
Saturday mornings over the last few months have been my favourite time of the week. We light the fire in the yurt, arrange seats in a circle and set out activities in the garden. A group of up to fifteen, 5 to 10 year olds burst through the gates and their enthusiasm is infectious. We are all on a journey of discovery into our shared history with the earth and the ways we can contribute to the future. We do this by getting hands into the soil along with looking at incredible videos of space made possible by the Hubble telescope. “We are on a vortex to the future” Bronwyn suddenly exclaims as she watches a simulation of the helical pattern of earth and the other planets moving around the sun. Caused by the fact that earth is travelling through space at 70,000 kilometres an hour. Out in the garden on a scavenger hunt, the children begin to notice the repetition of patterns. They see the spiral pattern of the milky way which seems to be emblazoned everywhere; on the shells of snails and the arrangement of petals and seeds.
As the weather gets colder we make stick bread over the fire. We also think about the seasons. We think about the need for sleep as we bury bulbs in pots of soil which we call tulip Alarm Clocks. The name of the season we are preparing for, grows with meaning as we notice the way many things die back in the Autumn ready to ‘Spring’ up again.
"I think the Skip Gardens is a fun and interesting way to learn. My favourite part was when we made Tulip alarm clocks and learned about seasons" - Alexander, 8 years
Planting in our wetland dining area the children become fascinated by the many delicate filament roots of the flag irises, “they look like galaxies” says Matilda. In our specialised world it is all too easy to separate out ecology and cosmology. When really it is all part of one vast evolving story; the story of nature and this is our story. It’s exciting to see children make leaps between their immediate surroundings and the farthest reaches of space. In this way working in the garden is seen as caring for our corner of the cosmos.
If they are lucky the children will find a couple of eggs laid by our two chickens, Rita and Whale. They eagerly bring them to the chefs in the Skip Garden Cafe in exchange for some food scraps to feed the Ridan Composter. They clamber up to put their hands inside the huge opening at the top; that is where you can feel the heat from the breath of the dragon that lives inside. The same dragon that cried huge tears that formed the rivers and the seas. Sessions often start or finish with Indigenous creation stories. The children find their own meanings and connections as they weave together mythic and scientific understandings. They move seamlessly from exploding supernovas which created the iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones to Sky Woman who according to the Haudenosaunee people brought the first seeds to earth. Like many early peoples who lived close to the land, Space and Nature club now has its own talking stick, carved and held with reverence by the children. Here are a few things parents have said about their children’s experience:
"Zoe and George loved the variety and hands-on nature of the Skip Garden projects. Planting their own herbs, blasting into space and sculpting clay insects were highlights. What a great way to introduce children to gardening, science and sustainability. It is a holistic way that engages all their senses" - Anna Baillie-Karas
"The Space and Nature Club has become a key feature of each week for my son, who literally cannot wait to enter the Skip Gardens each Saturday morning. He draws new insight about nature, the cosmos or himself from each experience … and is often the case, all three. He takes delight in experiencing things which he cannot do in day to day life in London while learning important values about sustainability and working together – a sense of place and community" – David Martin
Space and Nature Club will start again in the summer term. For more information, see here.