Let's talk about the weather. Our nation's favourite polite topic of conversation.
Your neighbours always know more about the weather than the met office
So, it's February and I have, this winter, spent many more days than usual in the rain. I am outside for at least 5 days out of 7 each week. Knowing what the weather is doing is pretty vital to what I do. My fab next door neighbour Nancy, somehow, always knows what the weather is doing before I do. When it's raining and grotty she says "Alright Nik, 'tis 'orrible weather init" when the sun is out she says "lovely weather init Nik, 'tis gonna be 'orrible 'morra mind, rains comin' in"
I love the weather to the point where I wish I had known when I was a kid that being a meteorologist was a job. I am a cloud watcher and try to learn the classification and identification of clouds-or a cloud nerd my kids would say. I went through a phase of painting cloud diaries. I still do work that I call sky eyes. where you look up at the clouds and the sky but maybe through the trees. I run art workshops called sky eyes where we look at various ways to paint what you see when you look up. My logo is a collection of cumulus clouds............
I even signed up to become a member of the cloud appreciation society, got a car window sticker and everything.
In fact if you want to meet a real cloud nerd, check out Gavin Pretor Pinney, he is the founder of the cloud appreciation Society. He writes books and gives talks on the wonder of clouds and their fascination for people like me and maybe you?
I need to know roughly what to prepare for, weather-wise each day so that I can plan appropriately and dress in the right stuff. Even with a close eye on the forecast, plans change continually as weather prediction is unpredictable and not always right.
In Cornwall. it's pretty mild but it still feels freezing some days and we can't believe how many layers we put on to get through a whole day outdoors.
Kids and weather
layers of clothing seem to be a concept that kids find hard to grasp. Even when sent off by their conscientious parents with many a lovely warm layer on, it's only about five seconds before they are trying to strip off! I am like the coat police sometimes as I find coats on the ground, inside facing upwards to catch the rain nicely! Seriously, though, they don't know how cold and miserable they will be when they are wet on a cold, windy day-even in the mild, mild, south west. I have had a couple of crying cold kids this winter. After the sun goes down particularly, the temperature drops and they sometimes are not ready for it. It is tricky, and obviously we do everything we can do avoid sad outdoor kids but they don't realise what they will feel like until they have experienced it. This I have decided is all part of their learning. If on the whole kids are not spending as much time outside compared to older generations then we cannot expect them to understand the consequences of not respecting the weather. If they have never experienced it they will not know that if it is cold, the absolute worst thing they can do is then get wet when they've got to be outside with no shelter for 3 hours! I read sometimes about parents who are angry because their kids who have forest school sessions don't like it because they get cold. I do think that it's is important to learn about the cold and the rain and the weather by actually experiencing it. We don't do our kids any favours by thinking we are protecting them from it and allowing them to stay indoors on all but the warmest and sunniest of days. They, without a doubt learn resilience and definitely build up a tolerance and hardiness that allows them to access much more fun in even super grotty weather. If anyone avoids the cold and the damp weather then they also miss the joy and comfort of a hot chocolate or warm drink outside in the cold. The feel of a warm enamel mug on your cold hands after playing in the trees and the mud. Even the most stubborn of vegetable avoiding kids will happily and gratefully wolf down a hot soup after a session playing in the cold. You actually can't beat cold days outside, punctuated with hot food and drink.
Don't talk about Climate Change whatever you do
Of course the weather is big news right now. Climate change means that all kinds of new and unusual things are happening across the globe and locally. Lots of organisations are asking for citizen science style feedback so that they can collect data on what is happening to our seasons and growth and wildlife. As the climate changes we are trying to form a picture of what is happening and predict what the future may hold. These projects demonstrate that those best placed to collect data are simply those people who are regularly outside.
As an outdoor educator who spends the majority of my time outside I am not sure why more people in my professional circles are not talking about it. I looked for threads on the forums that I am on and there was no sign of climate change being a concern even amongst people who must be concerned with the weather and climate every day. I tried to write a post but it was mostly misunderstood as there does not seem to be any alarm raised yet amongst my professional peers. I asked if anyone addressed climate change with their groups and in short I felt that sting of forum shunning as there seems to be a consensus that climate change is for many, entirely separate to what we do! I don't get this at all. Climate change is entirely embedded in what we do as outdoor educators whatever particular flavour of outdoor education you choose to offer or cultivate. [In truth, I wanted to write a blog about outdoor learning and climate change but there is so little material out there that it is very much still in progress, so I open it out to the broader more easily digestible topic of the weather-for now.]
On a lighter note, I do love a bit of weather lore don't you? Red sky at night and all that. Lots of it is actually useful and a true general indicator of what will come in weather terms. It's a no-brainer really, that generations before us would have seen enough changes in conditions around them to be able to at least have a stab at predicting the weather to come, particularly before satellite images and the more accurate tools for weather forecasting that we have now. Weather lore would have of course been based on direct observation and experience and necessity. Check out Tristan Gooley for some meteorological evidence to back up some of those old wives tales.
The book, Thunder and Lightning is really exciting. Visual and scientific with a great mixture of stories, folklore and legend. The section on wind, explores the idea of it's effects on human behaviour. Apparently in Switzerland the Fohn wind has been legitimately blamed for crimes committed during a Fohn. It is certainly true that a School playground on a very windy day is a different place to a Sunny day. This has got me to wondering about our groups and their attitudes and behaviours on certain days in varying weather conditions. We definitely experience different atmospheres and dynamics in different weather. One of our leaders says that they think it is definitely more relaxed and calm on a sunny day. I notice that if we put up a shelter because we actually need one there and then, that there shelter is pretty poor in comparison to one put up in fairer weather. Our thinking and physical skills are impaired in cold wet weather and often that shelter may be a bit rubbish and not as effective as one erected in the dry. Another leader says that they have noticed that on rainy days there are some kids who are less involved and engaged with whatever is going on.
So, finally, I asked my different sets of social media groups the same question-what's your favourite weather? The results were very interesting. On the whole the people on my own personal page mostly stated that they loved sunny, bright, hot or warm weather. Out of 18 replies 14 were about the sun. Their answers were short and sweet or sometimes just an emoji. The people in my specific outdoor learning/forest School page gave much more varied and elaborate answers about their preferences. There were also many more comments, 64 in total. Some people still choosing favourite weather as bright and sunny but much more likely to say sunny even if it's cold/frosty etc. There were also many more descriptive answers and those that stated that variation was their favourite, for example "The best weather to me is the variation of the weather.......... does that make any sense?" and "I do love clouds. So mizzly grey days where the cloud blanket doesn't have any differentiation can get me down. Don't mind how dark the clouds are or what they're bringing." This was not scientific by any means but it was an interesting little bit of data collection. Can you explain this due to confirmation bias? Those who work outside in all weathers and live by the code, "there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing" need to be able to appreciate all kinds of weather that is thrown at them. I know I have to make bad weather seem great with the groups I work with. In all honesty sometimes it is great and sometimes less so! I also just get a mind set where I know I am going out in that horrible weather and just deal with it and forget it's raining or cold or windy.
What I do know is that needing to feel that all weather is great means that in the rest of my life I am pretty hardy and less nervous about certain things as I have a pretty good sense of what my body will cope with. It means that I regularly microadventure in a bivvi bag in the wild in all kinds of weather. It is sometimes more challenging than other times but being o.k. about the weather definitely gives me more choices. It definitely provides me with more opportunities for all kinds of outdoor fun all year round. I am pretty sure the same applies to kids and anyone actually, who ventures out regularly in all kinds of weather.