Offline, our learners enjoy fresh air, daylight, large muscle movement, and the freedom to stim and play.
Petrichor and Play
Immediate Contact with the Outdoors
We move in freedom and enjoy immediate contact with the outdoors in any weather.
A Connection to Place
When people have a storied relationship with a place, when they know its history and understand the flora and fauna that call it home, they care.
There is nothing more human than play.
Humans were designed to learn in play. In fact, nearly all mammals evolved this way.
While stimming, we are able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming.
Neuroception and Sensory Load
Neurodivergent people have heightened neuroception and different bio-social responses to stimulus.
It’s Not Rocket Science
Just listen. It’s not rocket science, just listen. Ensure there is quiet space and outdoor space that people can access at any time.
Even if you haven’t sniffed a handful of soil up close, you will most likely have smelled petrichor, the delicious earthy scent after rainfall, when oil from plants is released into the air. In 2007, chemists at Brown University in the United States discovered the organic compound responsible for the metallic smell of soil or earth, which is more pronounced after it has rained. It is called geosmin.
Humans are acutely sensitive to the smell and can detect low concentrations of geosmin at five parts per trillion. There may be an evolutionary explanation for our sensitivity. Some suggest that the reason we’re so attuned to the earth’s perfume is because our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have followed their noses to find rainy, irrigated landscapes for food and survival.Losing Eden : Our Fundamental Need for the Natural World and Its Ability to Heal Body and Soul
- 🌳 Immediate Contact with the Outdoors
- ⛰ A Connection to Place
- 👋 Stimming
- 🧠 Neuroception and Sensory Load
- 🚀 It’s Not Rocket Science: Ensure there is quiet space and outdoor space that people can access at any time.
- 🧺 Main Takeaways
- ⏭ Continue with “⛺️🔥 Cavendish Space: Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes for Dandelions, Tulips, and Orchids”
🌳 Immediate Contact with the Outdoors
William Alcott – and we’re talking early 1830s and he was, more or less, creating schools from almost nothing – talked about how the garden was essential, how a collection of distracting wonders was essential, how a covered porch – allowing learning to stay outdoors in any weather – was essential.
Imagine contemporary learning spaces that challenge every convention of the places we built as schools in the twentieth century. Imagine gathering spaces that encourage young people to work and play together in natural learning communities supported by teachers who create pathways that guide them towards adulthood. Imagine a merger of transparent natural and built environments that allow learners the delight of multisensory inputs through access to natural light, fresh air, and green space. Imagine a continuum of flexible spaces designed to create an atmosphere of choice and comfort as students pursue their interests and passions through transdisciplinary learning that fosters collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication.Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools
school should go further than providing space, light, and air: “It should be a place where the child can feel that he belongs, where he can move in freedom, and where he can enjoy immediate contact with the outdoors.”The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids
I’m telling my story on behalf of the thousands of people with autism and / or learning disabilities who are inappropriately detained in hospitals…
I don’t respond well in a hospital, so I was stimming and pacing.
Stimming feels good to me and counteracted the busy, chaotic sensory environment of the hospital.
Overloaded that day, I desperately needed my walk. The staff, as usual, were very busy. I didn’t want to disturb them, but I had to have someone let me out. There were three doors between me and the outside world.“Unbroken: Learning to Live Beyond Diagnosis” by Alexis Quinn
⛰ A Connection to Place
Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. Golden green and glossy above, the stems are banded with purple and white where they meet the ground. Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass, as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother’s back. But it is not mine to give, nor yours to take. Wiingaashk belongs to herself. So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven from three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story—old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
By building sensory connections with the natural environment people are more likely to care about and feel a closer bond with the earth.Sensory Experiences – Sensory Trust
Organisations such as the Sensory Trust seek to find ways to make nature more accessible rather than to offer alternatives to it.Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic
Where is nature in your room? Items sourced from nature were a central feature in the first multisensory rooms. Is nature present in your room? Are natural experiences facilitated in another way? Or has nature been lost to a world of gadgetry?Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic
…spending time in nature connects us to each other and to our place in the world.Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic
To name sacred mountain spirits after mortal men, who blow through for just a few decades, is to denude relationship.
We need to regain the sense of wonder that comes from being deeply interconnected in a sacred way.Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
According to Barry Lopez, a framework for developing a lasting connection to place should go beyond function or beauty. Lopez posits three qualities are required, paying intimate attention, creating a storied relationship rather than a purely sensory awareness, and engaging in reciprocal ethical unity.Take It Outside. Exploring Place-Based Learning and Risk | by Abe Moore | Medium
Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations
Msit No'kmaq For all the life The trees The air This is how we end our prayer Way ha Way ha hey ho
Msit No’kmaq by Morgan Toney
Oftentimes, we hear the phrase that our ancestors are watching over us, but my father always told me that our animal and plant relatives are also watching over us. He always told me that as long as we protect nature, nature will protect us.Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science
Taking care of nature, and nature taking care of us in return, is the greatest teaching my father has taught me. Indeed, nature protects us as long as we protect nature. This is something Western science has failed to understand or explain. Settler colonialism introduced ideologies and beliefs that nature is meant to provide us resources, to meet our needs, without requiring us to protect it as well. Nature has been described as an infinite sink, and this is what has led to overfishing, overharvesting, and essentially environmental degradation. Environmental degradation is the destruction that continues to occur in our environments. It is why our environment continues to face severe droughts, wildfires, and other natural disasters and our ecosystems continue to decline.
As long as we continue to remove ourselves from nature, nature will not be able to protect us from environmental impacts.Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science
It is important to reemphasize that Indigenous knowledge and teachings are described as place based. This means that every Indigenous tribe, pueblo, or community has their own unique ways of thinking and managing their landscapes. Place based for Indigenous peoples goes more in depth than just an enclosed natural place. It broadens to the landscape, and this more holistic lens is embedded among Indigenous knowledge systems.
Everything is interconnected, even during our environmental and climate justice movements. We do not just advocate for our rights and natural resources, as it should be if we were applying this systems thinking into our ways of knowing. We also advocate for language, gender, spirituality, and everything else that is integral to our identity as Indigenous peoples. Everything is interconnected ultimately to our environment through our cultural values and ways of knowing.Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science
In the times we find ourselves in, with the crashing of ecosystems, dying out of fish and trees, change and destabilization of climate, our relationship to place and to relatives—whether they have fins or roots—merits reconsideration.
Indigenous peoples are place-based societies, and at the center of those places are the most sacred of our sites, where we reaffirm our relationships.Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
Children have evolved to learn mainly through thousands of hours of play. Play is a developmental powerhouse in a way no lesson plan or curriculum could be.Play’s Power
“There’s a lot of things that kids built,” he explains, looking around at the playground. “It’s not adults doing work; it’s kids doing work!”
Children need an environment with “the opportunity to engage in open, free play where they’re allowed to self-organize,” he adds. “It’s really a central part of being human and developing into competent adulthood.”Play Hard, Live Free: Where Wild Play Still Rules : NPR Ed : NPR
The research is clear, but truth be told I feel no need to justify allowing my students to play. Simply the fact that they so clearly want to play is sufficient for me. The joy it brings is more than enough.
We have only one childhood. When what should be a play-filled period of life is gone, it is indeed ‘lost’. And that’s the loss I am worried about.
So when we talk about restoring humanity in education, I can’t think of a better place to start than in play, especially with our youngest learners.Play’s Power
My play — not my “behavior,” my play — was deeply functional, for me. Those hours and hours of often silent scripting while regulating my body let me develop a deep bank of fluent language that other people could understand. When I can rattle off fluid paragraphs to you about a topic, it’s because I’ve put in those hours of scripting and practice, even today — and because, long before I was practicing how to explain autism or talk about policy, I was practicing different sentence structures for hours in the backyard. That was not at all apparent from an outside point of view. But that’s what I was doing. And when I wasn’t scripting, I was making and reciting lists and schedules — and that was giving me a structure for understanding my world.
And most importantly? It just felt good. It was calming and reassuring. I am told that is one of the main developmental purposes of play, in fact.About “Functional Play” | Just Stimming…
while stimming I am able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming.The Predictability, Pattern and Routine of Stimming | Judy Endow
Most of us stim because it calms us and helps alleviate our high levels of anxiety.Siena Castellon
I can’t picture things in my head sitting still. I like to walk around and think.Autistic Student
We have five external senses and three internal senses. All must be processed at the same time and therefore add to the ‘sensory load’.
Understanding the sensing and perceptual world of autistic people is central to understanding autism.
Autism is viewed as a sensory processing difference. Information from all of the senses can become overwhelming and can take more time to process. This can cause meltdown or shutdown.“IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE” – NDTI
“Sitting quietly,” the researchers conclude, “is not necessarily the best condition for learning in school.”
The continual small movements we make when standing as opposed to sitting—shifting our weight from one leg to another, allowing our arms to move more freely—constitute what researchers call “low-intensity” activity. As slight as these movements appear, they have a marked effect on our physiology:
It’s not only that such activity-permissive setups relieve us of the duty to monitor and control our inclination to move; they also allow us to fine-tune our level of physiological arousal. Such variable stimulation may be especially important for young people with attention deficit disorders. The brains of kids with ADHD appear to be chronically under-aroused; in order to muster the mental resources needed to tackle a difficult assignment, they may tap their fingers, jiggle their legs, or bounce in their seats. They move as a means of increasing their arousal—not unlike the way adults down a cup of coffee in order feel more alert.
She found that more intense physical movement was associated with better cognitive performance on the task. The more the children moved, in other words, the more effectively they were able to think. Parents and teachers often believe they have to get kids to stop moving around before they can focus and get down to work, Schweitzer notes; a more constructive approach would be to allow kids to move around so that they can focus.
Perhaps most intriguing is Isbister’s theory that fidgeting can supply us with a range of sensory experiences entirely missing from our arid encounters with screen and keyboard. “Today’s digital devices tend to be smooth, hard, and sleek,” she writes, while the fidget objects she crowdsourced exhibit “a wide range of textures, from the smoothness of a stone to the roughness of a walnut shell to the tackiness of cellophane tape.” The words contributors used to describe their favored objects were vivid: such articles were “crinkly,” “squishy,” “clicky-clackety”; with them they could “scrunch,” “squeeze,” “twirl,” “roll,” and “rub.” It’s as if we use fidgeting to remind ourselves that we are more than just a brain—that we have a body, too, replete with rich capacities for feeling and acting. Thinking while moving brings the full range of our faculties into play.The Extended Mind – Annie Murphy Paul
ACTIVITY-PERMISSIVE SETTINGS are still the exception in schools and workplaces, but we ought to make them the rule; we might even dispense with that apologetic-sounding name, since low-intensity physical activity clearly belongs in the places where we do our thinking. Meanwhile, medium- and high-intensity activity each exerts its own distinct effect on cognition—as the psychologist Daniel Kahneman has discovered for himself.The Extended Mind – Annie Murphy Paul
🧠 Neuroception and Sensory Load
Hyper-plasticity predisposes us to have strong associative reactions to trauma. Our threat-response learning system is turned to high alert. The flip side of this hyper-plasticity is that we also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.
The stereotypes of meltdowns and self-harm in autism come from the fact that we frequently have stress responses to things that others do not perceive as distressing. Because our unique safety needs are not widely understood, growing up with extensive trauma has become our default.Discovering a Trauma-Informed Positive Autistic Identity
Part of our neuroception is genetic. Neurodivergent people have heightened neuroception from birth or before birth.
Danger cues that are very painful to a neurodivergent person may be neutral or pleasant to someone else.How to Use the Polyvagal Ladder. A set of graphics
Neurodivergent people are hypersensitive to mindset and environment due to a greater number of neuronal connections. They have both a higher risk for trauma and a large capacity for sensing safety.Neuroception and the 3 Part Brain
Psychological safety is increasingly recognised as central to mental health & wellbeing. The polyvagal theory offers a ‘Science of Safety’ which can help inform clinical practice to promote wellbeing, resilience & post-traumatic growth, whilst mitigating trauma.Developing a standardised measure of psychological safety.
To have my needs met as an autistic person would have transformed my experience in hospital. The sensory input added to my emotional dysregulation. I couldn’t engage with all the therapy on offer because of the added distress. Small changes would have made a big difference.Emily
Image credit: Sam Chown-Ahern
Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies
The picture shows a school classroom as I see it, as an autistic person. A kaleidoscope of shape and blinding lighting, with vague outlines which are probably other students. Deafening noise. The stench of different smells. The confusion of many voices, including some heard through walls from neighbouring halls and classes. School uniform that feels like barbed wire on my skin.
In the chaos, a different voice which I have to try to listen to. It’s so hard. My brain doesn’t want to tune the rest of the noise out. Apparently I’ve been asked something, but I miss it. The voice gets more strident, the class turns to look at me. The intense stares overwhelm me. The person next to me jostles me and it feels like an electric shock on my skin. Only six more hours of hell to go…. only six….
Some of our autistic pupils simply cannot do this alone, without ‘time out’ to recover from the pain and exhaustion during the school day. Not for hour after hour of puzzling painful chaos.
We’ve turned classrooms into a hell for autism. Autistic children mostly could cope in the quieter schools of decades ago. Not a hope now.Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, School, Exclusion. What’s fair?
What schools need to do is to understand autism. In understanding it, we can help to stop putting the children in pain and exhaustion. It’s actually quite easy. And quite cheap.
Make sure your school is getting really good autism training, from autistic experts and our allies.
Notice I said ‘autistic experts”… People who can detect what’s happening in that environment, using similar sensory systems to the pupil. People who can explain autistic language and culture. Yes, there is a different autistic language, a different autistic culture. In the same way as it’s important to respect the culture of children from different ethnicities, it’s important to know about, and respect, autistic culture and communication style also.Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, School, Exclusion. What’s fair?
This makes seemingly benign noises a threat to my well-being and quite possibly real physical danger to my physiology. Benign noises become painful, and if left unchecked, enough to trigger a system reaction reserved for severe dangers. This is what days can become like on a regular basis for myself and many on the spectrum.
“Let me stick a hot poker in your hand, ok? Now I want you to remain calm.”
That is the real rub of the experience of sensory meltdowns.Autistic Traits and Experiences in “Love and Mercy” The Brian Wilson Story – The Peripheral Minds of Autism
Needless to say, the dining hall, as well as being busy, crowded and a source of multiple odours, was also very noisy, as trays were picked up and clattered back down, cutlery jangled, and metal serving dishes clanged against metal hot plates. Meanwhile, the children, squeezed into rows of tiny seats bolted on to collapsible dining tables, grew louder and louder to make themselves heard over the racket. Indeed, the lunch queue alone can be the place where sensory problems ‘can turn into a nightmare’ (Sainsbury 2009, p.99). Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, all of the child contributors to this book – Grace, James, Rose and Zack – identified noise and crowds as being the most difficult aspects of school from a sensory point of view.
Indeed, the school environment can present autistic children with a multi-sensory onslaught in terms of sounds, smells, textures and visual impacts that constitutes both a distraction and a source of discomfort (Ashburner, Ziviani and Rodger 2008; Caldwell 2008). There was also clear evidence from my own study that sensory issues, and noise in particular, can be highly exclusionary factors for autistic children in schools.Inclusive Education for Autistic Children: Helping Children and Young People to Learn and Flourish in the Classroom
🚀 It’s Not Rocket Science: Ensure there is quiet space and outdoor space that people can access at any time.
This is a list of useful research papers and Commissioned documents that have changed how we think about autistic people, and how we respond to their distress and their brain events.Useful New Autism Info for Care Settings
Autism. Nearly 80 years on from the original misunderstandings in the 1940s. So, what’s changed, in research? Almost everything.Autism: Some Vital Research Links
The number of autistic young people who stop attending mainstream schools appears to be rising.
My research suggests these absent pupils are not rejecting learning but rejecting a setting that makes it impossible for them to learn.
We need to change the circumstances.Walk in My Shoes – The Donaldson Trust
Outside space. Many people find being outside and in natural very calming. Space to move away from other people, internal noises and distractions can be a good way to self-regulate.
“I think things that are useful for autistic people would be beneficial for everyone. It would have stopped a lot of distress for a lot of people if they can take themselves away and calm down.”
A sensory room or de-stress room. Easy access to a quiet space to de-stress can be an enormously helpful tool for people to be able to self-manage. Ideally, this room will be away from areas where there is heavy footfall or other outside noise. Many people find neutral spaces beneficial, with the option of lights and other sensory stimulus.
“I think you should just be able to walk into the sensory room instead of asking staff and waiting for them to unlock it.”It’s Not Rocket Science: Considering and meeting the sensory needs of autistic children and young people
🧺 Main Takeaways
- In order to maintain healthy attention kids need three things that are often in short supply in schools — fresh air, large muscle movement, and daylight.
- School should go further than providing space, light, and air: “It should be a place where the child can feel that he belongs, where he can move in freedom, and where he can enjoy immediate contact with the outdoors.”
- Children deserve and flourish in an atmosphere of love, community, mutual respect, beauty and a connectivity to nature.
- A covered porch – allowing learning to stay outdoors in any weather – is essential.
- When people have a storied relationship with a place, when they know its history and understand the flora and fauna that call it home, they care.
- To develop a lasting connection with place, three qualities are required: paying intimate attention, creating a storied relationship rather than a purely sensory awareness, and engaging in reciprocal ethical unity.
- Becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.
- As long as we protect nature, nature will protect us.
- As long as we continue to remove ourselves from nature, nature will not be able to protect us from environmental impacts.
- There is nothing more human than play. Humans were designed to learn in play. In fact, nearly all mammals evolved this way.
- While stimming, we are able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming.
- Most of us stim because it calms us and helps alleviate our high levels of anxiety.
- Neurodivergent people have heightened neuroception and different bio-social responses to stimulus.
- Ensure there is quiet space and outdoor space that people can access at any time.
- Everything is interconnected.
Love Earth And your love comes back to you Love Earth Such an easy thing to do Love Earth Till the water and the air is pure From the birds in the sky To the fishes deep in the sea Love Earth Love Earth Love Earth The place where all the children can live (Love Earth) Really nothing better to give (Love Earth) And your love comes back to you So I’m calling out So I’m calling out to you Love Earth Love Earth The sky was blue and the air so clean The water crystal clear We lived by the sun and have it all We were living in a dream Love Earth Love Earth Love Earth We can bring the seasons back (Love Earth) Can you imagine that (Love Earth) Your love comes back to you So I’m calling out So I’m calling out to you Love Earth The sky was blue and the ear so clean The water crystal clear We lived by the sun and have it all We were living in a dream Love Earth Love Earth
⏭ Continue with “⛺️🔥 Cavendish Space: Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes for Dandelions, Tulips, and Orchids”
The story continues on page 4, “⛺️🔥 Cavendish Space: Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes for Dandelions, Tulips, and Orchids“.