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IC Blog: Book Review: Earthwalks: an alternative nature experience by Steve van Matre

17 Dec 2020 11:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Book Review by Bill Reynolds

The book is published by Institute for Earth Education and is available through Amazon. Find out about the not-for-profit & other resources when you delve into a treasure trove by searching their sourcebook on www.ieetree.org.

“Structured fun, not unstructured play!” 

Cover courtesy of Institute for Earth Education

Read on if you want to discover how to carefully craft an outcome-driven, impactful Earthwalk for your participants. In-depth practical notes are shared on how best to choreograph a different kind of nature walk.

Earthwalk structured fun involves doing like:

  • looking for pieces of a melted rainbow,
  • framing snow scenes,
  • composing a song of spring,
  • smelling a pine split sundae,
  • creating canvases with magic paintbrushes
  • using a treasure finding homing device
  • hatching out of a nest and
  • helping earth relatives

Photo credit Mike Mayer, EID  Song of Season Activity Set-up

Earthwalks are a touch of nature providing a new way of sensing familiar things, sharpening perceptions, nurturing empathy and stilling oneself to let nature in. Earthwalks are fun, but not frivolous. They are a serious educational and interpretive response to our increasing separation from the planet’s natural systems. If you want your visitors to make a deep personal connection with the natural world, this book provides a path through their hearts to the earth.

Carefully Crafted Guidelines

Earthwalks are described as a prelude for people and as an initial contact to stimulate further experiences. They last 45-70 minutes and utilize 4-6 activities that are meant to be carefully chosen and linked together in a seamless flow, where one activity moves purposefully into another. These walks have been workshopped and used by outdoor leaders around the world for decades yet have never been arranged in a book with detailed leadership guidelines before.

After delving into the 100 pages of leadership guidelines you begin to understand how well thought out an Earthwalk needs to be to attain a sense of buoyancy and delight when experiencing a sense of place. Close to 200 pages are dedicated to activities.

A great benefit of the book: In-depth practical notes on how best to choreograph this different kind of nature walk. Refreshing JK Rowling-Tolkienesque like activities, such as Gardens of Lilliput, Shadow Posse, Windancers, and Mysterious Niches (50 in all) abound. Readers will be caught up in the activity descriptions, being composed in a narrative “you-are-there” style.

Earthwalks aim to develop 4 successive feelings “for this incredible planet we share and its amazing natural systems and communities of life.”  Each activity is designed to generate 1 of the 4 key feelings:

  • Joy at being in touch with the elements of life.
  • Kinship with all living things.
  • Reverence for natural communities.
  • Love for the earth.

Photo Credit: Cooper Center for Environmental Learning  Hidden Worlds activity

Keeping Walk Participants Focused and Motivated

Van Matre stresses how structure in an experience keeps the participants focused on the task at hand. Many helpful details are shared on how to prepare and organize Earthwalks and how to perform the leader’s role who:

  • sets the stage and pulls the participants in
  • ensures the small, mechanical details of setting up
  • leads activities to create a feeling of “lightness”
  • achieves fully engaged participation
  • demonstrates desired behaviour
  • nurtures a sense of flow & foreshadowing
  • handles smooth activity transitions & suggests further applications
  • is more of a font of interest than information.

A Pinch of Magic and Pound of Adventure

Readers will unravel how Earthwalks were designed with “a pinch of magic” as a bit of extra stimulus to reach those accustomed to the intensity of the purely artificial and digital special effects. The author explains how the use of props as valuable experiential tools can introduce fun, new perspectives and help make the abstract, concrete. You will find out about subscopes, sky-eyes, scent sacs, touch cartons, and reverence triangles.

Always felt you wanted to be an earth symphony conductor? This book provides a path where visitors can make a deep personal connection with the natural world.

“An Earthwalk leader sets the expectations, the stage, and the tone for this special experience with nature, and then leads the activities, almost like a conductor of a symphony: channeling the participants’ energy, setting the tempo, and assisting them in tuning into what’s being performed.”

If this writing style resonates with you then have a grand time exploring the Earthwalk book as a prelude for future nature engagement.  After reading Earthwalks: an alternative nature experience you are left with the feeling that any natural community will offer up its delights when you travel through it with openness. This, in turn, will make clear which activities you choose and interweave for your participants so you can highlight the land’s special places and passengers, thereby crafting a rewarding journey.

Bill Reynolds is a CEO of Experiential Interpretive Design (EID) in Canada. Reach him at bill.reynolds@eidcoaching.com Get inspired and read the thought-provoking blog at www.eidcoaching.com Discover visitor experience insights from around the world @InterpDesign  

Interpretation Canada c/o Kerry Wood Nature Centre 6300 45th Ave Red Deer, AB, Canada  T4N 3M4

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