Blooms of Hope: Nurturing Children in Nature

Rachel exploring Dandelion Times woodland

Written by Rachel Rodwell, Family Case Worker at Dandelion Time

At Dandelion Time, working with traumatised children and their families, in a wholly natural setting, planting Spring bulbs in the woods is always a joy. Spring is coming.

If you follow the winding, grassy path through the willow coppice, keeping the steep, wooded bank to your left, negotiating the occasional wayward bramble, hawthorn and dog rose branch, studded with lonely hips; you will emerge into an established, woodland gem.

Heedless of the light rain, it’s a place where children run ahead and with sticks aloft, to bounce, leap and stumble their way to the nearest climbable tree, latticed with conveniently sturdy ivy branches, making the tallest of trees accessible, much to the sharp intake of breath from any accompanying adult.

When we finally manage to lure them away from the trees, stick dens and fox holes, with the promise of their own spade, the task in hand becomes almost irresistible. The digging begins.

Our task is to plant spring bulbs in the damp earth at the foot of the trees, and up the banks strewn with leaf-litter. The rich, acidic soil following days of rainfall, gives up its treasures atthe slightest pressure. The heady aroma of the pale and newly sprouting ransom bulbs uncovered with every spadeful, fills the air, as does the rich earth and wet beech leaves.

Earthworms and red centipedes roll off the spades to a cornucopia of squeals, screams and expressions of disgust. Closer inspection and the careful modelling of empathic response to these creatures, provides an opportunity to marvel at their pivotal role within this unique environment and to promote a conversation about our earlier visit to the compost heap (with it’s plethora of wriggly things amidst the rotting carrots)…and finally, when the new bulbs are

planted and the earth pressed back by hand, caking fingernails and blackening knees, something magical happens…a calm and purposeful energy surrounds us as we fully connect with this rich and living resource.

It’s as if this immersion, this baptism of our senses within an environment so alive and rich, is connecting us to something intrinsically rooted within our psyche, long-lost in a world of technology, which births a disconnect between humankind, whether it be in the context of our families, our communities or our nations. We perceive ourselves to be somehow set apart from our natural world, it is a ‘losing touch’ of each other, our environment and ultimately, ourselves.

So here we are, in the woods literally ‘earthed’…finger-deep in the stuff, in a place that can be filled with the echo of excited whoops and the sharp cracks of branches under footfall. It is also a place of unbelievable stillness, punctuated only by the half-melodic utterances of the first, inexperienced male blackbird, emboldened by the prospect of spring courtship and the patter of rain-song, high up in the branches.

As all that nature embodies is given ‘voice’ through the sweet song of a single bird, I reflect upon what it is within our natural world, that imbues such healing in young lives, torn asunder by trauma. The plethora of scientific research tells us that being within the cradle of nature, restores cognitive attention, lowers stress-related hypertension and ‘softens’ the perception of others through that sharp lens of hyperarousal so that those vital attachment relationships can be reframed and rebuilt from a place of internal-safety, self-awareness and authenticity. From the  bed of those ‘core conditions’ for growth, confidence emerges, self-esteem grows and new and more positive relationships begin to flourish. That’s the science…but what is the magic?

The magic is planting that spring bulb in the woods, in good soil, with sunshine, shade and nutrients. It is about tender care, gentle support and above all to be given the time and the space and trust that it will grow. That is what Dandelion Time is all about. We plant, we grow, we nurture, we create, we sing, we share, we laugh, we cry and above all, we allow space and time to do what all magic does, if allowed.

Awoken from my reverie by a shriek of laughter, I notice a clump of rain-saturated swan’s-neck thyme moss under my feet, fringing the edge of a hollow tree-stump. I bend to gather some and drink the moisture contained within… just because our distant ancestors used to do this as a convenient source of replenishment…It tastes of nothing, really, but the process was to reach out and make tangible something lost to everyday experience.

Maybe that’s it…maybe we are all lost in some way and wanting to reconnect with the source which runs through everything that lives, like a thread… so give me a shovelful of wet earth any day and the chance to work at Dandelion Time for ever.