page title icon Making Peace with Poo

It doesn’t have to be like this…

Imagine instead your in a beautiful setting of your choosing…

“Squat, Relax, Observe. Breathe. Experience the keenness of your senses. Listen for bird language and alarm calls. Feel the visceral sense of being ‘prey’ as you watch for other unsuspecting visitors. Feel how it is to truly Be Here Now. Ask yourself, Who am ‘I’ ?”  


One of the great opportunities as a freelance outdoor practitioner is to combine skills and aptitudes with other professionals through a shared pedagogy. With congruent aims and supportive routines, embedded in the animate outdoors; minds can be brought together to facilitate experiences rich in learning.

The intention of this article is twofold:

  1. To outline the efficacy of the ‘Natural Learning Cycle’ in designing cohesive outdoor learning experiences and;
  2. To explore the responsible teaching of a primary need; namely the elimination of faeces in the outdoors as a learning, as opposed to a purely functional; experience.

The Natural Learning Cycle

Flow Learning, first outlined by the environmental educator Joseph Cornell in his ‘Sharing Nature with Children’ has been expanded upon by Jon Young, Evan McGowan et al at the 8 shields institute to provide some signposts for organising learning programs.

I first learned of the Natural Learning Cycle (NLC) at ‘The Art of Mentoring ’ in 2011. Since that time, i have found it to be an extremely effective design and evaluation tool for presentations, events, talks, lesson plans & residential programs. Following the ‘natural flow’ of the day; it fits ergonomically for the learner, is easy to orientate co-facilitators to the overall learning intention without compromising their own creativity on ‘how’ they present each element. Delivered well, it also provides a series of invisible perceptual lenses or frames for the facilitator(s) to shift the learning emphasis from primary experience to reflection and internalization; an essential component for transferring learning to home environments.

The Natural Learning Cycle (Young et al.) was developed within the context of instilling young people and adults with healthy, daily core routines for nature connection. The assumption being that these routines contribute significantly to the creation & sustaining of a healthy, regenerative human culture.

Reclaiming & Decolonising.

Of course, on being born, we human beings also have seasonal & diurnal Natural Cycles of our own. I‘ll hazard a guess that many readers will relate to feelings of satisfaction, connection to the landscape, perhaps even joy in the act of toileting outdoors.

Quite what formative experiences leads to this I’m unsure. However, I have observed over the course of the year just how much of an ‘edge’ going to the toilet away from the home WC can be for some clients in my care. Indeed, over all the freelance residential wilderness programmes I have staffed this year; a surprising percentage of male and female participants opt for the challenge of ‘holding it in till they get home’ rather than use the various high & low impact facilities that were provided for them by the contracting organisations.

(So far, respectively: a chemical toilet, the smiling offer of a spade and a blue antiseptic hand dispenser, a curious ‘seat’ for securing a customised plastic bag, a long drop toilet, a point in the general direction of the bushes, a neat and clean box containing a sawdust bucket receptacle and various flushing WC’s of variable levels of hygiene.)

One young man resolved that he would ‘never go camping again’. This was tantamount to misadventure and I considered this unacceptable as a practitioner; a case for improving my practice. Unless we can set up the learning culture for primary experiences to occour; we leave the opportunity for developing positive and hopefully lifelong relationships to chance.

On reflection, I consider this ‘holding it in’ phenomena was not just a physical health issue in the group but also presented a considerable amount of emotional and mental turmoil spent in worrying about ‘it’. It is not a huge conceptual leap to propose the question to you my fellow practitioners:

Are our clients culturally conditioned with feelings of guilt, shame or fear about what is essentially a completely natural act?

If so, do we as practitioners have a responsibility to process these emotional obstacles as well as teach the physical skills and environmental best practices necessary to cover our tracks?

Making Peace with Poo.

The following  session plan assumes a ‘Yes’ to both questions. Each component is prefaced by an explanation (in italics) of the perceptual frames present in the Natural Learning Cycle.

1. North East: Open the Learning Experience. Create some kind of beginning that helps people group land in the present place & moment.

This will inevitably depend on the group mood and the environment. Typically, some informal time for folk to greet, share tea, fire are all good cultural gestures to help people transition from & acclimatise to; before diving straight into session time.

2. East: Welcome & Inspiration: Create enthusiasm and curiosity for the session.

Circle up. SONG or Warm Up, Give Thanks.
As any self respecting hip hop artist or education practitioner will know, creating a good ‘hook’ is an art form; and is often critical in people buying in to the learning content.  Here’s one suggestion…a skit, where two instructors are acting out a scenario, in character:

Scene: ‘Morning Coffee’ around the camp fire.
Leader One: Ah, That was lovely, though I’m going have to go drop the kids off at the pool!
Leader Two: (Leader Two obviously experiencing physical discomfort and is on edge.) What do you mean?
Leader One: You know (mimics digging a hole and squatting with an air of satisfaction).
Leader Two: You’re off your napper! You can’t do that….
Leader One: What else am I going to do… we’re here for five days.
Leader Two: But, I’ve never…. You know….. Gone outside before…..
Leader One: (incredulous) WHAT? Really?
Leader Two: Come on (pours another coffee); sup this and I’ll talk you through it.

[Leader Two leads straight into next activity]

3. South East: Orientation & Motivation. Activate the group into learning through clear instruction, energising movement, & role modelling.

Leader Two produces digging stick and eulogises its efficacy. Group sent out to fetch own or given according to time constraints.

Activity: Digging sticks!
• In pairs; group digs a 10 inch deep hole as a time trial.
To conclude, additional challenge is to cover with least evidence of hole being there.

• Group divides into smaller groups of three ‘explorers’.
Leader explains that there will be ‘no actual bodily functions’ will be used during the experience. We will be focusing on the skills needed to’ toilet clean’, ‘toilet unseen’ & toilet ‘serene’& with no harm to other residents.

4. South: Focus & Perspiration. Focus the session on primary experience & focused perception. (1hour)

The session will focus on two practical activities over a 40 minute wander.
1) Use Core Routine of Wandering to forage for 8 different wiping materials.
2) Digging Sticks. Use Core Routine of Subsistence Activity to dig at least three holes in different environments and assess.
3) Collecting water/or identifying place for washing hands.
Evaluate/Group findings according to capacities/qualities in groups and present findings to whole group.

5. South West: Relaxation & Internalisation. Tend to bodily needs & provide opportunity for relaxation.

Refocus group. Ease the pressure. Chocolate/Pee/Tea break.
Activity: ‘Toilet Unseen & Serene’: Use Core Routine ‘body radar’  to find a good S(h)it spot.
Participants encouraged to sit/squat at a place metres from water course with a good view/place to dig a hole and be there for 10 minutes to simply observe nature.  The S(h)it spot is THE core routine par excellance.
Group Leaders define physical boundaries and arrange signal for return. During activity, leaders convene and discuss form/changes for remaining sessions according to group mood.

6. West: Harvest & Celebration. Appreciation/sharing circle including a harvest of individuals learning experience.

Leader One: Hot chocolate/Treat. Brief responses from group for nature observations/gifts/gift moments at S(h)it spot.
Leader Two: Refocuses group. Summarises Activities/Learning Points and leads into a feedback & review of practical elements. Both leaders to acknowledge any learning edge moments for individuals/groups and give positive praise accordingly.

7. North West: Reflection & Release. Looking back on the learning experience and acknowledging inner responses.

Group divides into gender groups and moves to separate locations for small council sessions. A short walk is advised to alleviate a feeling of ‘too much talk’.
Facilitate emotional responses to activity in gender groups.

8. North: Distillation & Integration. Take any insights about ourselves and the learning process and integrate them into the rest of our lives.

Don’t be prescriptive as metaphor may arise from group over the course of the session but some directions from my own enquiries of interest which may help learning transfer are:
Humanure- effects adding fertility to denuded or depleted ecosystems.
Environmental issues in home toileting.
Principle of Non-Harm: ‘What happens when you shit on your (or any other species) doorstep?’.

9. North East: New Beginnings; Creativity & Joy. Close the past learning cycle’ and get ready for the next.

Poem/Ben’s story.  An inspirational story about a  Prophet of Poo called Ben who raises the bar when it comes to a S(h)it spot.

A song.  How about ‘Give Poo a chance’ adapted from that iconic Lennon number?

Slow down, cup of tea….

[Session Ends]

NOTE:  The above lesson plan was developed in approximately 10 minutes with a friend Lucy Thomas (in a hammock, laughing hysterically, whilst informally reviewing an intensive week long trip we’d delivered successfully). Try it yourself around arranging all the skills, concepts or messages you wish to present using the various 8 perceptual frame i have highlighted.  It is very effective; that i can promise. Aternatively,you can contact me for arranging a bespoke Natural Learning Cycle course.

Problems inherent in the Cistern

I’m sure some practitioners may baulk at such a prescriptive session. Yet, I’d like to reiterate that although the planning and preparation may look detailed; its delivery can be completely natural in feel for the participants and leaders alike. Such is the beauty of the NLC. Equally, I’d like to add a caveat of the ’50/50 principle’… changing format or waiting for different times of day before changing the focus are all valid responses to environmental/group/individual pressures. As long as the central fire (learning intentions) is held in mind, then little can go wrong by improvising according to one’s intuition & volition.

But what about the parents? What if the gutter chat gets out of hand? I’m sure there may be questions like this surfacing over the course of this article. I don’t have scope to address these issues here; though I have found the fine line between toilet humour and unacceptable grossness to be an inevitable group bonding experience.  Facilitated or not, the poo chat always emerges; doesn’t it?

A Positive Movement

If you have any interest in how Poo can have a positive impact on the creation of healthy soil & a positive effect on human health i can thoroughly recommend downloading the seminal ‘Humanure Handbook’ by Joseph Jenkins; an illuminating toilet read!

I hope you have found some value in reading this article and i wish you many clean, serene and unseen moments of reflection in the great outdoors. My hope is that if you can find value in the NLC as applied to the shit my clients are going through; I’m positive that you may apply it to other needs you see for yours. May your deeds help to regenerate denuded environments to rich and varied ecotopes. Keep it arboreal.

[singlepic id=422 w= h= float=none]

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.