Finding The Lost Words

At The Sill we have been hosting an exhibition called The Lost Words, which celebrates the importance of our connection with nature. Everyone who came to visit told us that they couldn’t believe that so many words used to describe nature were being lost from our language.

Illustration Starlings iii ©Jackie Morris

To help celebrate National Story Telling Month, we’d like to share with you some of the activities we were doing with students of all ages, to help get you thinking about why nature is so important to us, especially at the moment when we’re unable to get out and enjoy it as much as we would like to. Adults: these activities can help with children’s literacy skills, their creative development, and with their understanding of the world around them, encouraging them to think about how they can make a difference.

We’d love to see you having a go at these challenges. If you take any pictures please share them with us on Twitter, @NlandNP.

These are the words featured in the exhibition, alongside the beautiful artwork and poetry from the book by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Do you recognise them all? Have you seen any of them before? Why do you think it is important for us to know the names of these natural objects?

Acorn Adder Bluebell
Bramble Conker Dandelion
Heron Ivy Kingfisher
Lark Magpie Newt
Otter Raven Starling
Weasel Willow Wren

Write down or draw each of The Lost Words. Look them up online if you’re not sure what they look like. If you have each of the words on a piece of paper, try and group them in as many ways as you can. This could be by colour, size, material, living/not living, type of animal, or any other categories you can think of. Can you put the words in alphabetical order?

The words bramble, dandelion, conker and adder on yellow pieces of paper

Working together, can you draw The Lost Words just by listening to someone describe them?

The poems in The Lost Words exhibition are all acrostic poems. This means that the first letter of each line spells a word. If you have a favourite animal, or season, or flower, or tree, try and write an acrostic poem using the letters of that word.

Illustration Bluebell iii ©Jackie Morris

Nature can provide a sense of place. Go into your garden, or have a look out of your window. Try and draw the view you can see. Imagine what it would look like if something – the trees, the grass, the birds – was suddenly missing. If you have any binoculars at home, use them to get a really close look at different parts of the view. If you can go outside for a walk, use your senses to take note of what is around you.  Draw or write what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

You can play a simple game when you’re looking at the landscape around you – pick one thing that you notice about the view and ask a question about it. For example:

I can see a tree. I notice it has a hole in it. I wonder if an animal lives in there?

A photo of a tree with a hole in the trunk

This activity can become a prompt for writing stories. Use the I wonder question to keep the story going – I wonder what kind of animal it is? I wonder what it eats? I wonder what it would say to me if it could talk? I wonder if it goes on adventures?

The final activity is about writing Kennings. Kennings are poems originally written by the Anglo Saxons. They are a bit like riddles, and use sets of two words per line to describe something. Can you write your own?

  • Use two word phrases
  • The riddle must be at least four lines long
  • It doesn’t have to rhyme
  • Don’t mention the object

Magpie © Jackie Morris

Here is a Kenning written about one of The Lost Words. Can you guess which one? Share your answers with us.

Night swimmer

River dweller

Hand holder

Sleek skinned

Fish eater.

What am I?