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We are Crafty Explorers

Over the last few months I have been working with an outstanding team on Crafty Explorers, an innovative project to improve the health of children aged 5 and below. A response to the Knee High Project design challenge that is run by the Design Council and funded by Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, Crafty Explorers is a friendly and affordable place for families to make clay creatures.

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Other than boogly googly eyes all of the materials we use are natural and could be found for free with a bit of foraging. Acorn tops and pebbles make great eyes too though, so some are 100% natural. After making their crafty creatures we challenge children to complete missions with them in local parks. Challenges include going outside into green spaces to fly, climb, make a nest, find a worm, hide from pigeons and many more.

Crafty Explorers (5)

The pop-up shop that we opened to trial our ideas in Nunhead (Southwark, south London) was a massive success. Parents reported that we were having a positive influence on the physical and mental health of their children, as well as helping them to connect with nature and learn new skills. Many families came back several times over the six weeks that we were open and a few visited us daily for periods. This is high street, popular and engaging “learning outside the classroom” and “fieldwork” that we have linked to local schools, but is independent of them.

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The building was provided by Southwark Council who are doing some great work to lift Nunhead’s village high street. With many central shopping areas in the middle of identity crises, we can see a role for Crafty Explorers not just in helping to improve the health of children, but in being an alternative centre for communities.

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Helen, Carolina, Lesley, Tom, Alan, Pete and Mark are just a few of the excellent people from Explorer HQ, The Geography Collective and City Farmers who have come together to work on Crafty Explorers. A blend of great design, simple ideas, deep thinking and positive energy made the shop the success that it was.

Crafty Explorers (1)

The pilot shop is now closed, but the project lives on. This week we present our research, ideas and plans to the Knee High Project panels. With a blend of skill, hard work and luck we may just get through to the next stage of the design challenge. This will give us some added support to help bring Crafty Explorers to the next level.

Nunhead Cemetery (1)

 


Get ready for Mission:Explore Water

Rain stencil 2.1

I am currently working with the Mission:Explore team on a new Mission:Explore Water eBook. The free download follows our series of outdoor activity books Mission:Explore, Mission:Explore Camping, Mission:Explore on the Road and Mission:Explore Food and numerous free publications including Mission:Explore John Muir (which is available in English, Welsh and Gaelic) and Mission:Explore RSPB Big Wild Sleepout.   The water book includes over 50 illustrated missions that playfully challenge children to think about water in curious, creative and critical ways. Alan Parkinson has been working on a set of supporting resources for schools, Helen Steer has been producing the book and the illustrations are by Tom Morgan-Jones. Made in partnership with some fantastic organisations, we’ll be making full announcements about how to download the book soon(ish).

I love this mission illustration as it gives you a great idea of what guerrilla geography and the book is all about. It’s also a great and affordable mission to do on your own, with children or with friends. Do you recognise the artist that we are giving a nod to?


Join The Great Nature Project – See an #animal or #plant > take a picture > share it with #GreatNature

GNP puffin big 015

The Great Nature Project is a truly awesome project to explore nature and to share our discoveries, may they be microscopic or massive.

“The Great Nature Project is a worldwide celebration of the planet and its wonders. People of all ages are invited to appreciate nature by taking pictures of plants and animals in their worlds, and then sharing those pictures with the whole world. Together we’ll create a global snapshot of the Earth’s incredible biodiversity—and try for a Guinness World Records® Title for the largest-ever online album of animal photos!

The Great Nature Project is one of the largest initiatives National Geographic has ever created, but we need your help to pull it off. So get outside, explore, and connect, and join us for a project as big as the world itself.” The Great Nature Project 

In my last post I described how “tech time” and “wild time” do not have to conflict, but can compliment and converge with each other. For parents, teachers and carers wanting to excite and enthuse young people about the natural world, The Great Nature Project is an incredible opportunity to inspire outdoor exploration and learning through technology. The project is not just about finding and photographing wildlife, but coming together with thousands of other people in a collaborative and social exploration of our planet that is bringing us together within a common cause. As a National Geographic ambassador for the project, I will be delighted if you decide to take part and share it with your friends and community.

Taking part is very easy.

  1. Spot an animal or plant
  2. Photograph it
  3. Upload and share it on a photo-sharing site with the hashtag #GreatNature

I have just uploaded a bunch of pictures that I have taken while on Route 125 to my Instagram and will be sharing lots more over coming days. I am looking forward to sharing lots of pigeons, crows and more familiar wildlife that sometimes get a little less love but are just as wild as some of the more charismatic of creatures.

To find out more about the project visit The Great Nature Project website.

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Tech Time vs. Wild Time for Kids

I have just returned from an 18-day trip with my 10 year old son in which we completed nearly 30 adventures. From Cumbria to the Shetland Islands, we have climbed mountains, jumped down gorges, slept on wild beaches and rescued a stranded sheep by sea kayak – all part of our Route 125 project with National Geographic and Toyota. Despite the wild nature of our explorations technology played a significant role in shaping our experiences – for both good and bad.

Tent iPad

As a parent and educator (I make the distinction, but all parents are educators) I always struggled with finding the right balance between my son’s screen time vs other activities. While some children are deprived of ‘wild time’ connected to nature, so too are some children deprived of important ‘screen time’ to technology. Wild and screen time are often pitched against each other in a simplistic and dichotomised way, but the reality is far more complex.

Seals

Nature and technology can conflict, complement, supplement and/or converge in a multitude of different ways. During our micro-expedition, Minecraft on our iPad definitely distracted Seb to his detriment on a number of occasions. He had to be asked not to play while on ferries between Scottish islands in order to be forced to notice castles and wildlife, something he enjoyed but needed help to experience. While I am a great supporter of Minecraft and can see a wide range of creative possibilities for its use in the wild, my experience was that it often conflicted with the many alternative opportunities around us.

On Slieve Donnard

We also took a laptop with us that included a range of software. Seb used it to write stories, many of which were influenced by the people we met and places we visited. When we climbed Slieve Donnard (the highest mountain in Northern Ireland) we loaded up GarageBand, a piece of software for composing music. Inspired by the cold winds, menacing clouds and deep quarries we collaboratively created a piece of dark dance music. Both storytelling and musical composition have helped Seb to tune into places in a deeper way, helping him to think through, sense and make sense of the places we have explored. Without a doubt, these complimentary uses of technology have been highly rewarding.

We have also used technology to supplement our time in the wild. WhatsApp is an application for sending messages, holding group conversations, sharing locations, photos and videos. Being able to communicate with friends and family may not be essential to have a ‘wild time’ but being connected helped us to feel secure and grounded in place, helping us take comfort from knowing we could reach out to those close to us. Enjoying nature does not have to mean feeling emotionally remote, even if we are physically remote. SMS and phone calls fit into this category too.

Jump

Finally, we have used technologies that converge with the wild, dovetailing into what I call a kind ‘wildware’ that has inspired or supported our enjoyment of nature and wild places.  GeoCaching, Mission:Explore and Wild Time are just three examples of applications, services and games that not only inspire ways to engage with nature, but also link us to a wider network of users that can offer a sense of community even when we are remote from or do not even know each other. In some cases these technologies can even record data such as wildlife sightings that can help conservation programmes and so nature itself.

Exploring is often boring and gruelling. Waiting for ferries or even climbing a mountain for hours can become dull especially for an active and youthful mind. When Seb and I climbed Ben Nevis we were taking breaks every 20 minutes until we started playing word ‘association’ and ‘listing’ games. Once these games started we walked for 90 minutes uphill without a break. The game may not have been ‘screen time’ but it was definitely a distraction from our surroundings and a myriad of learning opportunities. Playing Minecraft while waiting for a ferry may also have had a distracting effect, but Seb’s overall experience was improved because his boredom had been dealt with.

Going up Ben Nevis

Some of the moments I struggled with most were when camping. Some nights we played cards (traditional use of time when sheltering from rain and wind) and some of the time we played JetPack (a game on the iPhone that involves JetPacking through a maze of mean things that want to hurt you). While the traditionalist in me wanted us to play more cards, feeling that the JetPack screen time was somehow ‘wrong’, we were still engaged in collaborative and shared game-play even if the interface and skills were different.

As a geographer all of these issues fascinate me. How we use technology not only changes how we make sense of and record places but also how we create them, experience them and construct them in our minds. When we pick the technologies to research, navigate and share places this inevitably shapes and filters how we sense and process the places we are discovering. Just like people, places have much to offer us. By thinking about what we want from our relationships with places before we visit them and considering the technologies best suited to facilitate these, we are far more likely to have positive experiences that meet our expectations.

Dartmoor

While nature and technology often compete for attention, the reality is that they can complement, supplement and converge in extremely positive ways. Like sweets though, its the responsibility of adults to moderate how much of different kinds of screen time that children get (until they have learnt do this for themselves). We give Seb 30 minutes screen time a day (if he has done his ‘homework’) unless he earns more (by doing good things) or is doing something creative. In my mind the answer in the wild time vs. screen time debate is clear; it’s all about picking appropriate technologies and using them in moderation. What is appropriate and moderate will be different for every person, place and situation, something I need to continue to remember as we keep exploring as a family.

Follow us on #Route125 here.


Walk with predators

Wolves

I am currently working with Kitson Kazynka and the team at National Geographic Kids to put the final touches to Mission: Wolf Rescue, the second in a news series of books that helps young people to learn about endangered animals. Working with some of the  best wolf experts in the world, the book introduces a range of issues that wolves face and what we can do to help them.

While on Route 125 Seb and I completed an adventure to walk with predators in Cumbria. We were delighted to meet Maska and Kajika, two timber wolf pups, at Predator Experience. We explored a local wood with the young hybrid wolves and their handlers Dee and Daniel. the video above gives you a glimpse into our time with them. You can read the full adventure report here.

 

 


Expeditionary Football

The traditional aim of football is to kick a ball into a goal. The aim of expeditionary football is the use the ball to creatively explore a place, the goal being to discover unexpected things – who knows where the ball will roll…. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of moaning children do when ascending a long hill, so it’s a great parenting tactic too.

When visiting Thrunton Woods in Northumberland we played an epic downhill game, making use of a number of steep mountain bike tracks and avoiding ‘wilder’ and more ‘natural’ places that we did not want to disturb. We did have a couple of tumbles, but they were worth it. Next time you go into the woods, why not take a football?

You can follow all of our #Route125 adventures on the Route 125 blog.


125 UK Adventures in 2013. An A-Z of #Route125.

Last year I was fortunate to be named as one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers. This year National Geographic is celebrating its 125th anniversary so I thought I would do something to say thank you and mark this important year.

I started to think about what my ideal adventure would be… one that would not only allow me to explore in creative ways, but one that my son could join me on. An adventure that would mean us spending quality time together. Time to explore, play in and learn about our country… it did not take that long to come up with a simple idea that would result in massive amount of exploring…

The idea? To create #Route125, a route to adventure across the UK that includes 125 family friendly adventures. 1 adventure to celebrate each year of the National Geographic Society across the UK. It has taken a big effort to plan the adventures, with an average of 10 in each of the 12 UK regions.

Working closely with National Geographic Magazine UK and Toyota RAV4, I’ve already completed 25 of the 125 adventures. Seb and I have driven in our RAV4 around Northern Ireland climbing, swimming, scrambling, hiding and boarding. In England we’ve been hill rolling down ancient downland and searching for medieval graffiti while in Scotland I’ve been down a stunning gorge and fishing for Salmon.

Every adventure includes a different way of exploring and is suitable for most families. This weekend we are going to Northumberland to search for puffins, surfing, tasting ice cream and engaging in some expeditionary football.

The new site for Route 125 (http://www.route125.co.uk/adventure) went live today. You can track our progress on the blog, see our plans on the map and follow us on Twitter on @DanRavenEllison@RAV4UK and #Route125.

Seb and I are both super excited about the journey ahead of us. We have already had an incredible time and can’t wait to hit the road again.

Here is the current draft of 125 adventures that we will be doing. Many will have a little twist to them, like when we climbed Slieve Donard. After climbing the 850m from the sea to the top of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain we took out my MacBook and started to compose track about our adventure. We’re still working on it!

#Route125 A-Z

Angle for fish at sea
Ascend Snowdon
Bag ruined castles
Bodyboarding offshore waves
Boulder jumping in the Peak District
Build a woodland den
Canoe a loop
Cave under Wales
Circumnavigate the centre of Titanic’s dry dock
Climb a coastal cliff
Climb Ben Nevis
Climb Slieve Donard
Collect 60 shades of green
Collect leaf rubbings
Crawl through an abandoned mine
Crawl through the Cotswolds
Create a long-bow
Dance at a festival
Descend into a Neolithic flint mine
Dig for fossils
Discover a shipwreck
Discover Merlin’s Cave
Downhill mountain board
Draw puffins
Drive the Pilgrim’s Way
Expeditionary football
Explore Adventures Fen
Explore extremes
Explore outer-space
Explore remote places for wildlife
Extreme snooker
Find Britain’s 6 reptiles
Find the Loch Ness Monster
Fly a kite in one of the windiest places in Britain
Follow a ghost train
Forage for seafood
Free run through the city
Glide through the air
Glide through the Tomb of Eagles
Go on a wild-goose hunt
Harvest honey
Hide from Badgers
Hideout in the woods
Horse ride in the hills
Hovercraft over land and water
Hunt for weeping angels
Husky Trek through the moors
Image a British castle timeline
Investigate insects
Jump off giant steps
Kayak through the Capital
Launch from a runway
Longboard down an abandoned railway
Make a micro-museum
Make land art
Make our own bread
Map animal sightings
Meet Scotland’s Big 5
Metal detect for treasure
Mountain bike through Cannock Chase
Mushroom forage
Navigate to geocaches
Observe mammals in the Malverns
Off-road scooter 
Paint a landscape (with mud)
Pan for Gold
Patrol Hadrian’s Wall
Photograph British Birds of Prey
Pick Your Own adventure
Potter in the wild
Punt the Cam
Quad bike trek 
Race a pigeon home
Raft down white waters
Rebuild a castle
Ride tandem across a forest
Ride the River Wye
Roll down ancient hills
Run across an entire city
Run through mountains
Sail across a flooded village
Sail the (not so high) seas
Scale Scafell Pike
Scoot across Newcastle
Scramble up scree
Scuba dive into a hidden place
Sea kayak with wildlife
Search for flotsam and jetsom
Search for Medieval graffiti
Segway through forest
Skip stones on the sea
Slackline through the woods
Sleep on a beach
Smell the city
Snorkel through wild waters
Spey cast for Salmon
Spot seal pups
Squeeze through pot holes
Stand behind a waterfall without getting wet
Stand Up Paddle Board through a gorge
Surf along the coast
Swing across a river
Swing through the trees
Take a scary walk
Taste ice creams
Top a volcano
Travel through Shakespeare’s time.
Tree climb in the rainforest
Trek a garden trail
Trek to Britain’s highest waterfall
Uncover hidden dragons
Visit the 4 corners of Britain
Wakeboard across a Loch
Walk across quicksand
Walk in the trees
Walk Wark in the Dark
Walk with predators
Whale spot at sea
White water tube downstream
Wild camp in nature
Wild swim in a waterfall
Winter gorge walk
X-treme pogo stick downhill
Yacht through the sea
Zip across an abandoned quarry

You can explore our plans in more detail on the http://www.route125.co.uk site. We’re looking forward to sharing our adventures with you… maybe we’ll meet you on Route 125?


Ecological Urbanism comes to life…

Ecological Urbanism eBook Anticipate

The latest edition of Ecological Urbanism is terrible doorstop. The first edition is 655 pages, smells good, weighs 2kg and keeps most of my other books in their place. Despite its strengths, it can’t do video… something the latest version on the book can do. The original hardback book by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty features hundreds of photos that I took while walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London for Urban Earth, a project in urban exploration that I started in 2008. Out today, the new version splits the book into digestible chapters and includes over 15,000 photographs within the 3 Urban Earth films that I made by taking pictures every 8 steps while crossing these massive cities. You’ll find the films in volume 2, Anticipate, and are accompanied by a short piece of text that Kye Askins and I wrote. I’m delighted to see the films come to life in the book. I hope you enjoy it.

The Ecological Urbanism project has a Facebook page that you can follow here.


What are the greatest British adventures to have with kids?

I’m currently planning to take Seb (my 9-year-old son) on a series of adventures to explore Britain. I would love to know where you think we should go and what we should do.

Is there a fantastic place that we should discover or an adventurous way of getting away that we should try? Is there a story or a creature that we should find? Where could we have the very best of experiences?

Please do share an idea or two with me. Many thanks.


Rapha Explorers

A good friend, Brendon McConnell, shared The Rapha Continental films with me this morning. We’d been chatting about a small adventure I went on this weekend with Seb (my son) to go hill rolling beside the Uffington White Horse. 110 metres long and around 3000 years old, it’s a great place to roll down ancient hills and to top it off, the landscape itself is called ‘rolling downland’. It was actually a confused conversation because Brendon was thinking about the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire (a baby in comparison at just over 200 years old) that features in this film by Rapha, who make clothing for cyclists.

There is a whole series of poetic and beautifully made videos that manage to record and represent different senses of places. This film of the Icknield Way, including the Westbury White Horse, contrasts country with urban life so strongly that I actually felt a physical reaction when I watched it. These videos are such great examples of the importance of place(s) in our lives, and how exploration can deepen our understanding and enjoyment of them.


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