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Meet your feathered neighbours…

While we collectively remain tucked up safely in our homes, spring is bursting into life all around us. These past couple of weeks, Fiona, Vickii and I would ordinarily have been bursting into a flurry of activity ourselves; through organising, overseeing and delivering aspects of the Ullapool High School S1 Isle Martin residential with various partner groups and individuals. The amended gap in our calendar is another reminder of how we are thoroughly missing exploring the great outdoors with the young residents of the Coigach & Assynt community.   So, as we cannot currently connect directly, I am here typing away from my kitchen table to share one of my favourite subjects of the season; that of birds and their singing antics. I hope you enjoy.   At this time of year, one of nature’s wonders is the abrupt increase in vocal activity from the resident birds, particularly through their joint orchestration of the dawn chorus as the sun rises on a new day. This music signals the rapid increase of activity in nature’s suddenly busy schedule, and – throughout

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Sharing the OWL project with Scourie School

Since March this year the OWL project staff team has been working with Scourie Primary School pupils and teachers to assist with their expanding outdoor learning plans. When we were first asked to visit Scourie school the whole school and nursery had embarked upon a weekly morning outdoor session. The school was extremely lucky to have been offered the use of a small, local woodland for their outdoor space – it’s a beautiful mixed woodland within walking distance, just perfect for everyone. The staff had been learning a lot about how to run outdoor sessions and were very keen for new ideas that can be used to deliver the curriculum outdoors. We first focussed on maths as this is traditionally seen as a subject that needs to be taught in a classroom using textbooks and jotters. The maths mud kitchen is a great way to engage with maths in a practical sense but with the fun of getting muddy and creative – weighing and measuring amounts, adding and subtracting, estimating, counting. One of the subjects that the staff were keen

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Going Wild in the Woods

Last week our 7 day Woodland Activity Leader Training came to an end. This is a little sum up of the week! What are the benefits of outdoor education?: exercise, resilience, learning coping strategies, risk awareness, sustainability, build immune system, develop skills such as problem solving, confidence, suits different learning styles, love and respect for natural world, knowledge, personal development, social, motor skills, coordination, stress reduction, balance, wonder and imagination, awaken the senses, wider context understanding, fresh air, muscle development, help sleep, reduce depression, reduce anxiety, economic benefits (free learning, reduce pollution and better education) and most importantly its FUN!!! What are the worlds needs for it: biodiversity loss, pollution, climate change, loss of natural spaces, fragmentation of habitats, natural resource depletions, increase in loneliness, depression, anxiety, stress – ‘epidemic’, disconnection to environment, diabetes, obesity and an increase in health issues. And there are many more for both! Outdoor learning’s value is constantly growing and is supported by many government bodies, charities and legislation, giving children every chance to experience their environment and love it while learning. Many have heard

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Sounds around Suilven

The crunch of gravel underfoot… leaves rustling in the breeze… birds singing… the odd giggle (or scuffle!). And the quiet stillness in between. If you happened to be down at Glencanisp yesterday afternoon, you may have been surprised to suddenly happen across eleven mostly-silent 8-10 year-olds. It was certainly a surprise for us to discover how quiet they could be, and how absorbed they became in listening and recording sounds during a workshop delivered by CALLP’s Artist in Residence, Alex Mackay. Alex has spent the last few months popping up and down between Glasgow and Assynt to collect recordings as he interprets Suilven through the medium of sound (more here), and he’s spent his latest visit sharing his passion with others. We began inside where we listened to some of Alex’s creations, guessing the subjects of his musical compositions, along with a couple of BBC Planet Earth recordings. Imagine 11 facial expressions after discovering one of these turned out to be the noises of vultures tearing at a zebra carcass, in which the sound recorder had been strategically placed! Alex

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A Beautiful Day for a Beach Clean!

A big thank you to those that turned out for our Badentarbert Beach clean on the 20th with High Life Highland Ranger Jenny. We couldn’t of asked for a better day! The sun was shining, and we had beautiful views across to Tanera Mor. Achiltiebuie Primary School even joined us in the morning and picked 2 bags full of rubbish to start off the beach clean and learnt about marine waste and its consequences. This was a different challenge for us as the beach was mostly tiny bits of rope, string and plastic amongst the washed in kelp and seaweed. A lot of hard work and patience was needed to remove this type of litter. One day is not enough to finish the beach but we made a good start and removed 154kg of marine litter. Thank you again for coming along and helping as well as a big thank you to those who clean up the beaches when they visit.

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The challenges and joys of Outdoor learning in the North West highlands.

It can be challenging matching the weather with a suitable location and delivering the theme that schools are currently working on – here’s why? We had an interesting time last week at the Outdoor and Woodland Learning Project here in the CALL corner of the North West Highlands.  Working with Achiltibuie Nursery and Primary Schools on their woodland life cycles topic, a session was planned in Culag Woods, Lochinver.  Culag Woods is a small 40 hectare (100 acre) mixed woodland which is managed by the local community for amenity, education and conservation purposes.  Its varied species of trees, beach areas, network of paths and interesting features, such as a dragon egg, giant spiders and a slug makes it a fun and ideal location to run outdoor learning sessions.  But the current weather patterns tried to do their best to disrupt our day! Last Monday the forecast was for rain from 10am to 2pm, exactly the time we were planning to be in the woodland, so we headed out all kitted up in full waterproofs, woolly hats and wellies (#scotlandinjune). The

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Mindfulness in the Woods

Mindfulness is a word that is becoming more common to hear and a practice that is growing and benefitting many people from all walks of life in our society. Simply put, it is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. We recently concluded an 8-week Mindfulness in the Woods programme* with P4s, 5s and 6s from Lochinver Primary School. The sessions offered an experiential, hands-on and progression-based approach to learning about Mindfulness. The aims of the programme included equipping our local young people with tools to nurture happiness and kindness, tend to difficult feelings while developing resilience, and feel empowered to make choices about their life and learning through increasing connection with themselves, others and the environment around them. All of this took place in the woods, with a tepee tent for shelter and the sounds, smells and sensations of nature to enhance our explorations. The subject for each of us was our own mind, and some deep and interesting thoughts and conversations came out as

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A hill walk celebration

The P7 John Muir Award finale involved a hill walk up Quinag today. We were guided safely up the mountain by several mountain leaders, including the head teacher of Ullapool High School, Robbie McFedries who joined us to spend some quality time with next academic year’s S1s. It was wonderful seeing how the P7s from the area’s primary schools have gelled; getting to know each other over the duration of the year with this high school transition programme as we have met up to discover, explore, conserve and share a special place from the locale of each school. Our day together today provided the opportunity to get up high and look over the landscape that incorporates all these locations. We managed to get brief glimpses as clouds shifted and cleared intermittently. There was support all round as we faced the challenges ahead of us. For many it was a first time up a hill, and everybody did extraordinarily well. We are so proud of each and every P7 for going for it and embracing the walk, which wasn’t always easy.

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Twenty-nine teens, four days, and an Island

Early last Tuesday morning, twenty-nine Ullapool High School S1 students arrived on Isle Martin and set up camp for a four-day residential trip. During this time, they took part in various activities including kayaking, den-building, bird-spotting, seashore exploration, woodland immersion, and a mini-expedition to another part of the island. And there was plenty of time in the mornings and evenings to chill out with some art-work, play games around base camp and log experiences in the diary room. In the spirit of limited electricity and enjoying being in the moment of activities and island life, we also incorporated a digital detox into the trip. Aspects surrounding this entered conversation quite naturally with comments including “I’ve enjoyed not thinking about my phone” and “it’s been so nice to sit and chat with friends without phones distracting us”. It was a brilliant week, and we hope the S1s enjoyed themselves as much as we did. We are still recovering from all the planning and implementing, here in the CALL office, and words are not coming easily, so below are a few pictures

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John Muir Award “spring”-ing back into action

As the daffodils bloom, buds emerge on trees and the mornings are increasingly filled with the poetic profanities of birds beginning to stake their claim on nesting sites and seek mates, so too our John Muir Award is springing into action after a brief winter hibernation. Kicking off with a whole year group session on 6th March, the P7s reflected on their Award activity so far and explored further who John Muir was and what he meant when he said, “we all need beauty as well as bread”, with a deeper exploration of what the word “beauty” actually means. The day culminated with walking 1000 steps (in the spirit of Muir’s 1000-mile walk) around the green by Ullapool river, stopping every 200 steps for a pause to notice the beauty around us. We have since led an Explore day with Lochinver P7s, initially splitting into pairs and searching the area for nature objects to match descriptive opposite words, and then trying to guess those words of other group’s findings. Later in the morning we filmed nature documentaries about the wildlife

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