Childhood Awaits Every Person – Review
Childhood Awaits Every Person, by Chris Walton. Austin Macauley, 2022. ISBN-13 9781398430952, 102 pages. RRP £6.99
Chris Walton was the editor of this magazine from 2003 to 2015 and also for a time was Green Christian’s chaplain. He led the Ringsfield Hall Trust’s Eco Activity Centre in Suffolk, and many will remember with much affection the retreats he led there. It is a great privilege for me, as Green Christian chaplain now, to commend this wonderful book he has written. The retreats at Ringsfield typically included some sessions outside amongst the trees, and it is what can happen in such “magic spots” that this book is about.
Chris tells how he helped run ecological programmes for 8-11 year olds at the Centre. In a ten-year research programme he reflected in a sustained way on the children’s responses to times spent silently alone in the natural world. “Magic Spots” is the name given to an activity for older children in the Earthkeepers programme promoted by the Institute for Earth Education. This is a non-profit organization set up in 1974 with the aim of “challenging environmental education practitioners to reflect upon their real purpose and practice”. They promote inspirational and carefully crafted programmes for young people.
In the first chapter of his book Chris describes how the children would come on residential school visits. As part of the experience each one would be encouraged to find a special place in the grounds where they felt comfortable and would not be distracted by the sight of others – in the woods, out in the long grass of the meadows, or leaning against a tree in the orchard. The children would go to a chosen “Magic Spot”, first “drawing their curtains of silence”, and then just watching and waiting, opening up to whatever they might experience in these surroundings. They were encouraged to keep a diary too.
During the period of his research Chris returned to see the children in their schools three months later and asked them to share something they had written or drawn. With their permission the book is richly interspersed with quotes from that collection. Chris ends that first chapter with helpful references to some insights from academic research into this area of experience. But, for me, more powerful is his own observation of children: “seeing things differently with new eyes, with a new perspective … and so, thereafter, a new way of responding, being … (emerging) from the experience changed. No one, no life can ever be outside the tangle of the web of life.”
At the heart of this book is a sense of the zest of life, which ought to be there in childhood but which can so easily be obstructed when children are forced by well-meaning adults into rigid patterns of learning and social expectations. We are taken into a beautiful reflection on the nature of childhood and led to see how re-wilding is both about nature and also our relationship with nature. Chris shows how children are born knowing that, but then have their relationship with nature stolen from them through a process of disenchantment. But this is not just a book about childhood; we can all rediscover the child within. In sharp focus is this message: “The adult world is overall in denial about the violence, and destructive power, of the social structures it upholds … due to the self-centred consumerist, narcissistic, adolescent way our culture is structured and enacted”. But Chris opens our eyes by setting a child before us and quoting the prophet Isaiah: “and a little child shall lead them” (Is. 11.6)
Green Christian Chaplain
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