The Lost Words - Getting Back to Nature

“A” is for acorn, “B” is for bluebell and “C” for conker, but not according to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, who in 2007, omitted a host of words related with the natural world and replaced them with words like broadband, celebrity and voicemail. In 2012, further words like dandelion, otter, willow and bramble were removed and so around 50 words connected with nature and the countryside have disappeared from the 10,000 word children’s dictionary since 2007. 

One of the reasons that these words were dropped from the Junior Dictionary is that the words weren’t being used enough for internet algorithms to recognise their importance. A spokesperson for Oxford University Press said: “All our dictionaries are designed to reflect language that is used…acknowledging the current frequency of words in daily language of children of that age.”

‘Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone. The words were those that used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker – gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren… all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories.’

Introduction to ‘The Lost Words,’ by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

In response to these beautiful words being lost from the junior dictionary, author Robert Macfarlane wanted to give new life to these words and prevent them from being lost to the younger generation. He partnered with illustrator Jackie Morris to give the displaced words a new home and inspire children to get back to nature. 

The Lost Words book is a magical publication with beautiful images and acrostic poems that celebrate the British countryside. The seeds were sown for Lost Words Kent, a campaign to reseed countryside magic into the imaginations of Kent’s children, with the aim to put a copy of The Lost Words’, plus related resources, into every primary and special school in Kent. 

During the crowdfunding phase of the campaign, Lost Words Kent have found huge enthusiasm and a building sense of community from different corners and individuals within the county. Some people have donated money, some become patrons, others have spread the word across social media. 

There is increasing evidence that contact with nature provides many benefits for children on their physical and emotional development and wellbeing. As part of a pilot project, a copy of the book was given to a handful of primary schools across the county and this Kent teacher shares first-hand how ‘The Lost Words’ has had a positive impact on her and her class:

 “We really feel like part of a worthy project.  We took the class on an unplanned walk last Friday - not knowing where we headed and with the idea that we would let nature guide us. It was a gorgeous, warm day and as we trundled through field after field it became clear to me that there was a wealth of knowledge that certain children could share. We discussed wild flowers, how farmers bale the hay, birdsong we heard, the different crops, the clouds and so much more. My favourite part of the whole day (apart from the children saying that it was their best day ever) was that we just stopped from time to time, sat down where we were and observed what we were in the midst of. We felt the silence of being surrounded by nature and we sketched what we could see/hear/feel. It really did get the children in touch with nature. 

We have also cleared our nature garden and have been pond dipping each week. A highlight was the morning that we went into the garden and one of the group's newly constructed 'frog hotels' had a frog in it! They were ecstatic.

We have been putting a wildlife camera around the school grounds and have captured lots of foxes, a frog, a mouse, hundreds of different birds, lots of cats and more. It is so lovely to see how excited the children are to see what the camera shows in the mornings.”

Mrs Thomas, Kent Primary School Teacher

If you are interested in learning more about ‘The Lost Words’ publication and the campaign here in Kent, then visit the Lost Words Kent website or their social media channels for more information on how you can get involved: TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

After reading this article are you inspired to help children get closer to nature? Find out more about Kent’s Innovative Forest Schools and how you can implement the programme in your school.  

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