A Samhain Summoning

In times long past, ‘fore any car park,

When only firelight warmed up the dark,

Caledonia sang with the stories of old,

It’s power a wonder for all to behold.

From mountain to ocean, hillside to dell,

Each wild place had a secret to tell.

But these times are long gone now, much wildness lost,

Tales told no longer… but what is the cost?

We must all work together to revision a world

That is wild, that is free – a wonder to behold.

So here’s to adventure, to nature, to play…

Let’s start our wild journey together today!

It’s wonderful to return to the Out to Play project. I’ve spent the summer gearing up excitement to share and learn amongst skilled teachers and inspiring children again. It feels like the conversations about ecology, story and play have moved in such interesting directions since we launched the project in 2015, and i’m looking forward to seeing how this residency will build on those ideas. No doubt i’ll learn loads too!

During the first year of Out to Play, I gave each of the 12 sessions a clear theme to focus my practice as well as to offer a broad palette of sustainability and ecology ideas. Now the residency has been restructured to 5 weeks, it felt important that there was not only a clear flow in each session, but that the whole project felt like one big narrative arc. I’ve therefore structured the project to flow from ‘explore’ to ‘encounter’ to  ‘connect’ to ‘create’, with each class developing nature stories that help to bring their playground to life in the final week. I’m excited to share this new approach and see where the children take it. So far they have already blown me away with their energy, imagination and trust to jump in to the fun!

The realisation that Halloween (or Samhain as it is called in the Celtic tradition) was going to be during the first week was too good an opportunity to miss, so I decided to play a bit of a trick on the children of Riverbank and St Joseph’s. It went something like this…

Children arrive at school. It’s just like any other morning, until they find lava bubbling out of the playground, and some suspicious footprints. Their teacher worriedly consults an old dusty book about magical creatures to see what could be done, coming across a conjuring spell. The class repeat a Gaelic proverb – Innsidh na geòidh as t-fhoghar e – and in a flurry of Autumn leaves I land in the classroom with the tattered pieces of an old treasure map… and the journey begins!

Over the hour that follows we explore the playground in search of these creatures, discovering objects the creatures had left behind as we journey – a horseshoe from a Kelpie, a seashell from the Shellycoat, and finally a huge egg which leads us to sharing stories of the creature it could contain. I found it fascinating the way almost all the children were awakened in their senses when given a dramatic container to walk through. For example, they sat under a tree listening out for the Ghillie Dhu forest fairy with such quiet focus, far more than if they had just been listening to the actual sounds. Overall the week felt like a real success, although at the end of it I went home and slept for 12 hours to recover, so am hoping to tone down the technical for next time!

This new first session for Out to Play was inspired by a strange book I was shown in Iceland this summer, which introduced some of the bizarre and uncanny mythical creatures of the island. Aside from the classic Selkies, dragons and giants, I realised how little I knew about the beasts from my own island. Turns out there are loads!

Ever met a Brownie? A Wulver? A Redcap? (I hope not!) Sightings and stories of these creatures were passed down through generations. They would have been used to change behaviour – what better way to scare children away from the waters edge than to tell them a demon horse lived there?! But there is something else these stories teach us – that those who told them saw their natural environment as fully alive. You could speak to it. Reach out and touch it. Mountains, rivers, animals all with their own will and power. I strongly feel that part of our runaway destruction of the natural world is due to the fact that we see non-human life as something lesser than us, or even worse, not really alive at all.

That feels to me to be at the heart of why I do Out to Play. To connect children to the wonder of the natural world that is all around them, even in the most concrete playground. It’s a message many indigenous peoples of the world hold close, and one it feels an increasing number of people are waking up to. 

I ended the first week’s sessions with the realisation that rather than capturing the magical creatures we had discovered, we should set them free, and take closer care of their home, our planet. As I embark on week 2 now, many of the children have been checking in on the creatures of the playground. No more sightings… not yet anyway!

1 thought on “A Samhain Summoning”

  1. Wow I wish I had this type of play when I was at school. Thank you for spending time at Riverbank Primary and look forward to hearing about your next visit.

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