Children Need To Play In Nature
I went to boarding school, but not because I was posh. I went because my Dad was in the army. And the army payed. It costs £37,543 to send a person to prison for a year. Eton, the poshest school in Britain costs £40,700 a year. How weird is that? Prison and Britain's poshest school are more or less the same price.
My first boarding school was in Sussex, near Haywards heath. It was called Great-Walstead. At night we slept on old metal beds- you could feel the springs through your thin mattress. We had porridge for breakfast, we wore shorts, blazers and ties, even in winter- and we learnt Latin in cold dusty classrooms. We lived in fear of 'the slipper'. The deputy headmaster had the power to spank our naked bottoms. But the fear of this punishment was somehow worse than the physical pain. I dreaded 'the slipper'. The idea of entering the unknown territory of the deputy headmaster's forbidden office- far from the safety of the tribe- filled me with terror.
But freedom was never far way. It was waiting for us in the woods. I loved the Sussex woods- the trees, the river Ouse that stank of wild garlic and impossible freshness. The old quarry where we rolled massive tyres up and down the hill. Ponds where we made rafts out of old barrels. Those woods were heaven and earth rolled into one. My soul was shaped by those woods- I breathed in their wild scent- and have never breathed out. They offered freedom, exploration, power. I tasted wildness in those woods. It tasted good.
In the dormitories where we slept we would chat for hours. Drifting off to sleep somebody would tell a joke- or fart and we'd be off. It was comforting, surrounded by all those voices. But the best bit was when Mr Lockwood read us bedtime stories twice a week. He read us all the Narnia books, every Tuesday and Thursday night. I loved story-time- it was cosy, warm, and exciting. We listened with reverence and soaked up the words like sunshine. Fully absorbed in the stories we were safe- together, under the spell of a story, there was nowhere else we'd rather be.
These two loves- the woods, and story-time made a big impression. They both offered freedom- in the woods we could run, hide and play. We built dens, we caught fish, we swam in the river. We felt wild and alive. In story-time, our imaginations ran free. We drifted in and out of the stories- like clouds in the sunlight. We journeyed far and wide in our minds and hearts. I became a Steiner Teacher in the hope of keeping alive that wild freedom. In Ringwood- on hot summer days we closed our books and ran to the river Avon. I watched as the children leapt into the river- for a moment they were wild and free. And I told them thousands of stories- by heart, over 8 long years. This was amazing.
But eventually, teaching in a school lost its wildness. The rules, regulations and meetings, after 15 years sucked the life out of me. School felt life a prison. That's when I created Tigerspeaks. I had a dream, and in the dream a voice said: "The Tiger speaks to you." Very strange, what on earth does that mean? I thought.
As I chewed on these words, a vision of combining my love of music, nature and story came together. My first book 'King of the Birds' was created with Liam Callebout. I was Liam's teacher for 8 years, and we share mutual respect. We've now created 5 books together- and worked on numerous other projects. The motto for Tigerspeaks is: "Tales from the wild imagination." I want children to taste the wildness and freedom I knew as a boy. It is a tremendous source of strength. Children need this strength and connection- it's vital.