Hinchingbrooke Country Park

Hinchingbrooke County Park is 170 acres of meadow, woodland and marsh, 2 km west of Huntingdon. This diarys documents elements of two projects with the reception class from Cromwell Park Primary School in Hinchingbrooke, Cambridgeshire.

In the spring term of 2013, artists Caroline Wendling and Deb Wilenski supported Ben Wilson and his colleagues Karen Lewin and Kelly Smith to establish an approach to outdoor exploration that involved spending one morning a week out in the park with the afternoon back in the classroom creatively exploring their fascinations. The project was commissioned by the Early Years Service at Cambridgeshire County Council.

Throughout 2013/14 Ben has continued to take his reception class out each week when possible and has been inviting his class to lead other classes in the school into the County Park to share their discoveries and help build new classes confidence in establishing their own outdoor learning projects. CCI's ongoing work with the school through the Early Years team at the County is documented in Cambridgeshire Footprints.

Caroline returned to work with Ben and his class in Spring 2014 for five weeks supporting them to complete their Arts Award Discover.

Our fantastical guide Ways into Hinchingbrooke Country Park offers another way to experience the place. Visitors information on the park can be found here. 

All the way to the A14

27/06/14

They will help people find some places where we go to…the signs will stay here forever  (William)

Taking their own signs they had made for the woods, the reception class led their year 3 colleagues and a group of parents on an detailed tour of the woods on this sunny morning. Their knowledge of this extensive park – both real and fantastical – was amazing. Our group began at Slippery Mountain, but then went all the way to the A14 and the secret pond via Angel Grass, coming back via Harry Hill.

Ariana (year 3), who had never been before, said  it’s so far – if you tried to ride a horse this far, we wouldn’t get there. I really want to measure it.

Between the Split Path and the Button Tree, we gathered around Jessica from year 3 to hear a story her Dad had told her of the wild man in the wood:

A man was sick of city life and ran away to the woods. He ate bugs. He had no contact with human beings. If it’s shaky around the woods, it could be him. He could be anywhere. If you get lost, he could help you.

The signs were made using rice paper and clay paint so that they could disintegrate naturally and the park management had agreed these could be left there for other visitors to discover. The children were very thoughtful about where to place their signs and seemed eager to share their stories and discoveries, sometimes inviting the year 3s to add their observations too. Louis wanted to hang his high up beside the Slippery Mountain whilst Jim wondered if his sign of a scarey monster might be frightening for people and decided that under the A14 was good because it tells you where the monster of the lake is.

Back in the circle with all the other groups, we heard that a new place had been discoved plus a special branch that seemed to map the park on its bark. This was carried back to school by a group of the year 3s to be part of their afternoon activities.

Oskar’s sign for all the way to the A14

Jessica and Kelsey add to Kelsey’s sign for Slippery Mountain

Jim’s monster of the lake sign

Louis hanging his sign for Slippery Mountain

A story in a pouch

23/06/14

The content of Jim’s pouch

Sneha and Louis holding their pouches

(By Caroline Wendling)

Today the children where given little pouches to collect small things from the wild. On our way back from the woods, Jim held my hand. He was very excited about his morning’s visit and told me about the vortex and the skull.

Back at school he told the whole class his story too, asking Oliver and Jaymon to join him in the centre of the circle. First of all the boys walked round the inside of the circle showing us their rabbit skull and explaining that the two front teeth were the clues.

Jim continued -  we went to Power Ranger Land. There was a robot, a big one and a medium onewe found all of that (as he emptied his pouch), all out of the robot’s tummy. We found a little door - a gate. We thought we were going away from it but it swallowed us. We killed it. That is how we got out of it. We had to destroy lots of good things to get out. He showed us the gold of the robot’s tummy - we climbed over his ribcage and we saw his blood.

Jim’s Cyclops

Aditya’s Vortex

This was an extraordinary story. Jim drew the vortex and wrote we got swallowed by a killer robot and he was a Cyclops. I thought how Homer would have liked the illustration of this very scary monster. Aditya drew it too.

The children are working towards their Discovery Art Award, gathering evidence in their woodland book by entering drawings and stories. One aspect of the award is ‘finding out’ so I showed the children some images of my own art. I explained that my work is linked to the act of walking and that I walk in the landscape near my studio. I projected a few images of the things I do on the classroom wall.

Caroline Wendling, Suspended Forest

Caroline Wendling, Red Berry, Green world, Blue Field

We talked about what artists do, and the difference between sculptures and paintings and films. As I ended my presentation Jim declared when I am big, I want to be an artist. There is more about my work here.

Observing details and drawing stories

10/06/14

By Caroline Wendling

Olivia’s flower drawing

Amy’s buttercups

The children’s skills at observing and drawing on this visit were extraordinary.

In the woods Kelsey showed me a pea for the army fairy lunches. Now I had a better idea of their eating habits. She said - we have to wash it first and then cook it. Kiri, acrobat by nature, and at ease in the wild led the children to a pea tree and they spent a long time picking peas. Back in the classroom Jayman noticed them on the table and said that ‘they looked like eggs and parrots could come out soon.

Kiri’s drawing of how the peas were found on the tree

Natasha’s drawing of the Halloween tree

Natasha and Teigan carried a Halloween tree with long bits at the top and springy branches to the living room in the woods and then on to the classroom. Many others carried their treasures back to school with great care and then drew them in their working books, used as part of the Arts Award Discover process. Everyone in the classroom was absorbed.

In Amy’s drawings of the buttercups you can see that she drew each one with its particular characteristics. The segments are represented just how they were. Olivia’s drawings are precise; they remind me of botanical drawings. I wonder where young Albrecht Dürer worked on his observational skills as a boy, years before he drew and painted Great Piece of Turf (1503).

Complex drawings telling the children’s stories came alive in the books too. That morning a timid fairy village was found and Scarlett saw a timid fairy having a bath.

Scarlet’s journey

Emma M’s leeches

Scarlet said that the arrows are our journey. The timid fairy is having a bath on the leaf. There are muddy footprints and a gate at the bottom. Emma M shared a different story - I went to the pond and I dropped buttercups in the water and jumped up and down and I saw two leeches. Elsa searched for a tree so she could climb to the clouds and included Charlie’s tadpoles in her afternoon drawing:

I went to Harry Hill with Rhys, Olivia and William. We went up and down, then to a pond and we saw little black things swimming, they were tadpoles.
Charlie

Elsa drawing her story

Elsa’s drawing

The children’s investigation into the world of fairies appears scientific; in the wild they are looking for clues and collecting samples. The drawings, just like Durer’s are the tangible things that can be shared. It was amazing to witness such application and seriousness - a lesson in learning to look and learning to observe using drawing for story telling.

Mebin’s timid fairy hat and timid fairy

Great Piece of Turf (1503), Albrecht Dürer

A Surreal World

02/06/14

By Caroline Wendling

In the living room, Ben Wilson was holding his catapult up high. This was not an ordinary catapult it was a story catapult. It seemed to come with magic powers. Ben told us, as we looked fascinated, that all we needed to do was tell our story, pull the elastic back and send it to the wood. This dramatic start shaped in many ways our day.

I had promised Louis to find out about his skills on Harry Hill. Elsie came with us. He said, ‘When you can see the yellow arrow, you are close. On the way to Harry Hill there are timid fairies on the grass and that’s why dogs must stay on leads.’ We arrived at the place Louis called ‘the crossroad’. Could it be William’s split path? As soon as Louis could see the hill he announced running across the field, ‘I am going to make super one and ultra one’. The skills were so well demonstrated that soon Elsie mastered them. It was about running as fast as possible down the hill using a special method called a ‘trick’ to avoid falling.

On the foot of Harry Hill, we met Oskar holding a fairy stick, a fairy hat and a fairy log. Alice was wearing a Captain Blackbird necklace. As Oscar told us that, ‘sixteen wolves were chasing Captain Blackbird’, the sky fell on us. Already rather wet, Oscar’s Mum, Mrs Lewin, Aliss, Anna, Louis, Elsie and I ran towards the nearest tree trying to shelter from the bucketing rain. We paused and watched the landscape appearing and disappearing in between heavy showers of rain and hail. The floor was covered with white pearls. The leaves shone pure gold, the sound of the water in the ditch was compared to a waterfall. The natural world had shifted and was about to stir the children’s imagination.

Aliss with golden leaves

White pearls on the floor

Oskar, Louis and Elsie under the tree

The morning’s powerful experiences led to representations in the form of paintings, coloured drawings and clay works back in the classroom that afternoon.

Oscar painted ‘waiting under the tree’, Rhys used brush strokes to depict the rain and hail stones and Olivia placed a ‘fairy in the rain and the grass’ on her black paper.

Jim and Emma T.’s timid fairies

Olivia’s fairy in the rain and grass (detail)

Rhys’ rain and hail and stones

The world of fairies seemed closer; Amy and Sienna found the timid fairy forest, Jim had seen the real timid fairies. On A5 pieces of paper the timid fairies and the army fairies appeared. Emma T. cut out a two-sided fairy; on one side of the paper the timid fairy (pictured) on the other side the army fairy. Elsa made the tiniest timid fairy of all using clay and Kiri made the largest one. It was so large that her legs were falling off the table. This extraordinary embodiment reminded me of artist Juan Miro’s creatures; half constellations, half beings floating in space. Except that here it felt real - a real timid fairy had entered the classroom.

Kiri’s very large timid fairy (detail)

Juan Miro’s Woman in front of the sun (www.abcgallery.com)

Telling, writing and drawing the stories

28/05/14

(By Caroline Wendling)

With such amazing encounters in the morning, such as the magic forest, the timid fairies, the key and the toad, I wondered how much the children would remember of their stories. Ben knew how to unlock them. He told the class to ‘remember the morning stories by imagining the rain on your face’. By inviting a willing child to tell his story in the centre of a circle, the story was acted, voiced and locked in the communal memory of the group.

Here is Jim’s account of the keyhole story - There was a little stump still in the ground. I put my stick in it and twisted my arm, nothing happened. Then a toad arrived. I gave it a little plant, the toad ate it. I was holding the stick; it was gold, it was gold bright mud, goldy colour, a bit yellow brown.’During his account Jim was mimicking his magic gesture that got the toad to appear.

Olivia telling the story of the magic forest

Emma T’s picture of Jim and the key hole

Louis’s drawing of the key hole (detail)

Jim’s key hole story

In the afternoon the children also made large drawings of individual journeys on A1 sheets. Ben offered special awards and sparkles for writing. The children wrote of ‘toad and the tree hole’, ‘this is the story of the toad’, ‘we start our journey’ and ‘there is a magic tree and we attack the slippery mountain’.

Sneha’s journey. The ‘orng’ is where the timid fairy is living

Jim’s journey (detail)

Jim’s drawing of the throne and golden rod (detail)

The children’s drawings were expressive and detailed. William, for example, took me on his journey by moving his finger along his drawing explaining the sequence of events as we followed a line interrupted by a series of vignettes - a tree, Harry Hill, lots of stones, up and down, representing memorable events along his morning walk. He explained in great detail what the split path was and he wrote it down too -  beside it was orange island.

Olivia discovered the magic forest in the morning. On the carpet, Olivia had told us that the trees were all lined up to make the magic forest. She found timid fairies in two different places there. The drawing below on the right shows a single tree because Olivia told me that you can’t see the other one because they are behind. They were arranged in lines. Olivia drew two fairies floating in the sky in the rain and at the bottom left she drew herself and her friend Sienna. Could they be the real timid fairies? The photograph on the left is of Amy drawing the magic forest.

Olivia’s magic forest

Olivia’s toad made with play dough

Amy’s drawing of the magic forest

The experiences of the morning and the story-telling after lunch gave plenty of subjects for the children to explore. Through manipulation of materials in the form of drawings, play dough and light, the children brought their imagination to life, creating exquisite pieces of artwork. The children not only expressed their own stories but the stories of other children. The centre image above is by Olivia of the toad found in the keyhole although she didn’t see the toad herself. 

Elsa not only drew her story, she arranged her precious objects on the overhead projector, her fairy relics that she had collected in the morning and placed with great care in her coat pocket. She positioned them carefully giving us clues on how to identify the timid fairies.

Once the children had left for home. Ben told me that he still isn’t sure what the fairies look like. I know he really does want to know. I think, like me, his eyes don’t quite see the fast moving things in the woods…

From routine to royal visit

22/05/14

(By Caroline Wendling)

More than a year after my first visit, I returned to Ben Wilson’s class. A new group of reception children were waiting for me. Ben had already taken them to the woods several times. The children were sitting on the carpet, excited about the day to come. He asked them to ‘remember what you saw in the woods, a place, a character or an object’. After talking in pairs, one at a time they told the class about a myriad of characters, things and places they had seen in the woods -  the Timid Fairies, the Army Fairies, Captain Blackbeard, Slippery Mountain, Non Slippery Mountain, Harry Hill, Ghost Ship, the A14, etc… Very quickly, I understood that the children had organised the wild in their minds and had encountered many things.

I was very impressed by the speed at which the children got ready and marched to the woods - hassle free. Ben had mastered the wood expedition to perfection. The children felt safe, in control and at ease with the wild. Ben had made the passage from the classroom to the woods part of the children’s routine. He ‘welcomed’ them ‘home in our living room’ to Fareeda’s named place. Before we parted in little groups for our journeys Ben invited the children to look for small things -  the wings in the wood, the golden treasure, the little tree, the snow tree… So many things the children knew about. I needed to do a lot of catching up.

With this in mind, I found myself still in the living room after the class, teacher and helpers had vanished in the wild except for Elsa, Emma T and Amy. With their help, I was initiated to the world of small things. Elsa showed me a broken bit of the wand and told me that there are ‘lots of timid fairies about, army fairies are bad...army fairies are found in stingy nettles and timid fairies in flowers’.

A timid fairy clue

A timid fairy bed cover

Broken bits of the fairy wings 2

Emma T. showed me a few leaves, saying ‘ These are the timid fairy’s bed covers’. The girls were using sticks to find things, scraping the surface of the earth. They asked me to look up. The arrow on the tree pointed up but I could only see raindrops and leaves. At times one needs children eyes to see things, as an adult it is more difficult to catch signs of things. Emma T. continued saying ‘if you look up you might see fairies - white feathers are queen fairies’. Louis joined our group and he offered to take us to Harry Hill. He was going to show us the way, ‘the safe way’. He wanted to practice his speed skills. ‘We might find a few dogs on the way. It’s safe because army fairies only come out at night.’ With Louis also came Jim, Oskar, Teigan, Anna and Mrs Louwing. We opened a door that Louis called ’humongous journey’ and followed Louis to Harry Hill. On the way Jim found a seat called throne.

King Oskar and the golden throne

King Jim and the golden throne

The throne

In turn, the children sat on it pretending to be queens and kings. King Oscar was holding the golden rod pointing to the many little jewels in it. A few paces from the throne Jim noticed a keyhole. He put the golden rod in it. ‘What will you see’ I asked. ‘We don’t know’ Jim replied. Then a toad appeared looking rather royal peeping out, looking straight into our faces.  It was a magic toad in the keyhole. After a long time the toad retired to its apartments. Oliver was the only child from the group who had seen a toad before, for the rest it was, as they said, ’their first live toad’.

The speed of technology

The royal visit

The key hole

With modern technology at hand Mrs Lewin informed Mr Wilson about the royal visit. We met in front of the crocodile pond. The toad story became the story of the day. Ben decided to shorten the visit to the woods by half an hour and we never made it to Harry Hill.  

I forgot to tell you that it never stopped raining that morning. The children didn’t seem to mind the wet. They were busy with their journeys of discovery and adventures. In the rain, we walked back to school.

Looking for clues and the Secret Forest

06/05/14

(By Deb Wilenski) Travelling through the woods now the snow has gone, familiar places are visible and calling – lots of children go fast and far, alive with a feeling of adventure, knowing where they are and where they want to go next.

I think it’s a baby baby dinosaur…

Follow Joe…

We have to kill a rabbit somehow, don’t we?

Maybe there was a snow leopard…

This is our first clue…

Kian, Edward and Bryony are travelling together.  Clues might be anywhere – holes in the ground, a bit of fur we find, marks on the trees.  Edward finds ‘doors’ through trees where a frame is made from two trees meeting, or through a split tree that is still growing and strong.  He likes to go through them and the others follow.  This is yellow zone, he says.  It means we’re not in red zone and we’re not on fire.  That’s a good spot Bryony.  Be careful of that door.  Get through this door.  

Kian has been through the first door Edward found but now his mind is pursuing other things: No, let’s go…let’s get some more clues.  There is a lot of movement and I don’t see Kian and Edward and Bryony for a while, but when I do Edward is still wanting to drive the adventuring, saying to Kian I’ve got a plan as they make their way further into the woods.

Back in the classroom in the afternoon we hear from Ben that there were other important journeys made in the morning.  Mikaela had begun a search for the ‘secret woods’ and others had joined.  Jake said they would know they were in the secret woods when Caroline and Kerensa couldn’t see them.  When we went to the woods  in the deep snow Harvey had said we’re in the secret forest  - and back in school we had shared this sense of going somewhere unknown, but I am still amazed at how deeply children receive and respond to each other’s language and interpretation of place.  The secret forest is spreading through the class, and an exploration of things that aren’t ‘obvious’ – hidden doorways, tunnels, clues… 

The Magic Rat House

06/05/14

(By Caroline Wendling) 

Looking for magic

Crystal:  ‘Look at my magic rock! If I take it back to school, it’s going to make trees in the school.’

Kerensa is pointing to the ‘white stuff’ she had been noticing on our previous visit.

The children are walking with excitement under the tall trees.

Crystal: ‘I am not scared’

Aniyah: ‘I am not scared’

Kerensa: ‘I am definitely not scared’

Crystal: ‘I saw the magic rat. Need to find the house where he lives.’

Kerensa finds a little hole in the ground and tells me that this is where her pet rat used to live.

Layna: ‘He is asleep’.

At this point Layna followed other children into the woods.

Kerensa: ’I live in there.’

She leads the way through low branches asking the children to come through the gate

‘He is very big’

Now the children are actively listening for magic. No noises are detected.

More magic stones are discovered and carried along as they search for the magic rat house.

The children enter a long and narrow space defined by low green bushes and a tall tree at its centre. A magic sponge becomes part of the collection of magic things. They are all now carrying a piece of magic. Crystal talks of finding two magic swimming pools. She carries on saying: ’this is a quiet wood.’

The children put down the stones and sponge at the foot of the tall tree as if they are performing a magic trick.

Crystal: ’We need to see the magic.’

The children move from one side to the other, from the top to the bottom of the space, animated, busy searching, a little like dancers on stage in a choreographed act.

Suddenly Crystal announces: ’We saw some witch in that bush. We don’t need the stones any more.’

The children are now covering up the magic stones and sponge with leaves leaving the space and their magic objects behind.

They enter another den-like space.

Aniyah: ‘This is the rabbit house’

Crystal: ‘I saw a can’

Aniyah: ‘It’s a witch’s can’

Crystal: ‘It’s a boy’s can’

Aniyah: ‘Witches drink frog drinks’

Crystal: ‘I want to say goodbye to my friend rabbit’

They left the den through the back door.

It was not only a discovery of magic; I witnessed how together they created a story. Children became actors in the woods. They looked and listened for magic. Each new sentence fitted with the previous one but also added to it. Each new space was the décor for an act. Each child had his role. The children embraced each other’s ideas and thoughts. They acted magic and found magic. They were accomplices in a story enacted  in the woods. The children reminded me that we never found the magic rat house but back at school all the children took the story to hart. The story of a few children had become the story of many. And some children still now look for the magic rat house in the woods…

Let us know if you find it.

Ben explains the journey to under-tunnel land

06/05/14

(By Ruth Sapsed with Ben Wilson) It was our last day with Ben and the children yesterday. During our lunchtime meeting Ben talked with great sensitivity and excitement about the children’s storying during the project and his experience of being able to give them generous amounts of time to explore both in the park in the mornings and back in the classrooms in the afternoon.  He reflected on the importance of listening to all their observations and his pleasure in working with these –  connecting them up and opening up a shared imaginary world they were exploring altogether. There was a real sense of a community of storytellers.

Nine times out of ten now they don’t choose a book at story time but want to share their own stories.

That morning a group of children had led Ben on a long long journey that had ended up under the A14. He invited them to join him in mapping it in the afternoon. Several others joined their own stories in too.

Here is Ben’s account of the journey they made together:

'The big city' in Hinchingbrooke woods

14/04/14

(By Deb Wilenski) It is the penultimate week of our project and the children from Cromwell Park are totally settled into their explorations.   They have clearly articulated intents, sometimes encapsulating whole stories in a single sentence.  In our beginning circle when the talking stick reaches Fareeda she moves her arms in a wide circle, smiling, and tells us she is going to find the big city.

We have never heard of the city before.  I wonder how long these worlds live in the children before we glimpse them, and notice how some of the other children pick up the idea of the city instantly – of course there would be a hidden city in the woods, just like there are doors and houses and other worlds, visible and invisible.

Fareeda sets off and is joined by Michaela – who is a great journey maker, and Georgia – who leapt first across the stream but who is often much quieter in her bravery.   There is a discussion over who will lead the way.  The girls decide to take it in turns but Fareeda will begin, and she guides us with her hands and by calling left or right.

As we travel through the woods, which are slick with wet mud this week, I wonder about the city in our different imaginations.  It is a generic word; like town, sea, woods, people.  But for each of us is it something different?  In an attempt to find out I ask how we will know when we are getting near.

Fareeda: We’ll find a little bit of sticks and a big bit of mud, and then we’ll find a little puddle.

Georgia:  If you find a red tree and a green tree, and an orange tree and a yellow tree and pink flowers and a puddle.  Some yellow dots and some white dots.

Fareeda:  We’ll find a little bit of fire and a house side.  Full stop!

The signs that we are getting near to the city are a mixture of readily available features of the land – sticks, mud, puddles, which we have in abundance – and the magical; coloured trees, fire, pink flowers (the first white blossoms have just begun to appear in the woods).  Again I think of Filip in the very first week, asking Caroline can you see the colours? in the whole white world of snow.  Georgia is very keen to find clues and points out tiny patches of colour caught in a leaf, a piece of lichen, bird pooh, a flash of buried rubbish…

   

The search for the city started very quickly but with this looking for clues it has slowed down.  We go a little way at a time, speeding up only when we pass through a new gate into the wildlife area where we need to stay on the path.  There are new and bolder signs that we are going the right way.#

Fareeda tells us more about the city:  the city is like houses and a great big castle and a lot of little houses.  And a little boss and a great big boss.  Of course there are a hundred and ten people.  There’s a hot sun and a cold sun.  And there’s a hot moon and a cold moon.  There’s hills made of paint.  There’s a shop that buys anything and anything, everything and anything, it’s called ‘Anyboots’.

The city seems to represent wholeness and scale, maybe even surprise.   It stretches into the universal – the two suns, the two moons, everything that is possible – a hot sun a cold sun, a hot moon a cold moon.  Fareeda’s description is beautiful and precise.   It seems to grow straight out of  her gradual discovery of the woods as a place of unfolding possibilities, where any idea or story can take root.    Fareeda found and named the Living Room which we now use as our base.  She introduced the search for the Mud Princess.  She has drawn precise magical maps of the woods, and evocative lands in chalk on our dark paper.

Back in school in the afternoon we offer several ways for children to explore their lands further; working outside between the two ‘doorways’ Caroline and the children have made in previous weeks, the city begins to appear.

Looking for the Mud Princess

14/04/14

(By Caroline Wendling) Down in the woods, as the talking stick went round, the children sitting in the living room expressed their wishes for that morning.  In the living room that fifth morning, Fareeda said that she wanted to look for the Mud Princess. I was intrigued by the idea of a Mud Princess and followed Fareeda into the woods.

Fareeda said “The princess went up there, in the tree. Let’s go and find the Mud Princess over there. The princess might be hiding inside it – come on” (addressing the Mud Princess) “We won’t scare you, we just want to say hello.”

Georgia had joined Fareeda in her quest. The two children looked up the tree, stood still and Georgia said, “There can’t be anything inside that tree”

Fareeda replied “Let’s find some trails for the little princess. Look for light green and pink!”

Fareeda seemed to have some idea where to look but at the same time she was agitated and on a mission, determined to find the princess. “She is not here now. I can’t wait to find her – we need some help.”

Georgia said, “Let’s calm down!”

Fareeda, giving out more leads, said “Mud Princess has white at the top, white at the bottom, light green and pink in the middle.”

Georgia pointed to a tree and said, “Look at her arms!”

The children stopped and looked up at the tree, which resembled a person stretching both arms up into the sky and Fareeda said, “She can’t be in that tree”

Georgia left us to follow other children through the wood.

Fareeda said, “Look, a feather! We have found a clue – lets follow it!”

On our journey we met Joseph, who came along with us. He too was looking for the Mud Princess and said, “I have seen her. Go over there and turn – you will see her.”

Arnab joined us and Joseph said, “Guys, we are creeping.” The children entered a den.

Arnab, said to me, “She is there. You can’t go inside because you are big.”

“We’ve found her!” cried Joseph

The children came out of the den.

In the den looking for the Mud Princess

Fareeda said “I don’t think it’s the real one. She is the baddie. We are looking for the nice princess.”

Joseph said, “Guys, don’t worry I have my sword.”

Arnab, totally convinced, said “That is a lion!”

We could now hear voices approaching. A large group of children with Mr Wilson had been trying to find Fareeda for a very long time all over the wood. They were looking for Fareeda because they had found the Mud Princess’ belt. Jasmine and Eve held the large leather belt between them; they presented it to Fareeda like a trophy. The children hugged each other. There was a sense of victory. Extreme joy filled the forest. Then Jasmine asked, “Is the Mud Princess a scary princess?”

To this Fareeda replied, “We found a white feather. She has a little white bit in her footprint. Maybe it was in her hat.”

Fareeda thanked all the children for finding the Mud Princess. The children marched with true happiness to the living room for a snack.

There had been such mutual respect in the quest for the Mud Princess. The children had listened to each other and, in separate groups, they set out to find her. It became very important for all of them to find her. The belt was an unexpected find, Fareeda was sure that it belonged to the Princess and was proof that she existed. . She brought the other children into her world. As Vivian Gussin Paley would say in The Kindness of Children talking about children’s stories, “Their stories depend on the interference, which is to say, on the kindness of children’. This is exactly what the children around Fareeda did. They were kind to her; they looked with her for the Mud Princess and even found her belt! Paley says that: “the children’s ideas take wing in the company of their peers. “

In the afternoon, back in the classroom, the children were asked to imagine, eyes closed, where they had been and then to draw the journey they had been on. Jasmine drew a picture of herself and Eve with the magic belt for Fareeda’s Mud Princess. Jasmine said that she found it first ‘when we were walking in the Yellow Land – we found it as we were leaving.’ It was of great importance and made total sense to her. Jasmine and Eve played a role in Fareeda’s story and concluded her quest. The Mud Princess story became the story of many children.

Jasmine’s drawing of herself and Eve carrying the Mud Princess belt to Fareeda

The following week, I asked Fareeda if she was going to look for the Mud Princess again and she replied, “But we found the princess, remember!”

It is amazing to see with which determination and seriousness children set themselves tasks, at times impossible tasks, to do in the woods. For example, the following week Charlie wanted to find a beach. Cody drew the seaside, I wonder if he went with Charlie… On week seven, Jake said: I went down there all the way. Walking and walking to the Maneky Island and found the sea. On week eight Kian set himself to jump over the world!

Caroline