The “C” word at Forest Schools

It would seem obvious that the “C” word would not be synonymous with Forest Schools. In fact I distinctly remember that point being hammered home during my Forest Schools training, way back in the day when having lots of bill hooks and a 9m fire circle was considered de rigueur.

Shelters made to repel solar radiation following on from an emergency landing on Planet 9

Many thousands of children, hundreds of sessions, tens of clients and units of years later (see what I did there?) I find myself considering the “C” word more and more. It is, I think, an inescapable fact that schools are a major client of independent Forest Schools practitioners, CIC’s or, in our case, charities. Further to that, schools have their own agendas and pressures both educational and financial and are rightly desirous of getting as much “bang for their bucks as possible”. What does this mean for Forest Schools practitioners and Forest Schools programmes? Possibly that we (who must also eat) must visit the dark side and when required design our programmes with an eye, or half an eye, or maybe both our eyes firmly on the National Curriculum.

But “Lo!” you might cry “Is it Forest Schools if we use the “C” word?”. Well possibly not, but ponder on this, while children in the woods carrying out activities linked to their curriculum topic may not strictly be behaving in a child led and child centered way, they are probably having more fun than they would in the classroom.

Fun=learning.

They are probably moving over, under, around and through nature. They are distracted by it and encouraged to be so. They are in the weather, experiencing heat, cold, wet and wind. They are increasing their own resilience, taking risks, working together to solve problems, speaking out, showing enthusiasm through their willingness to engage. Learning without realising, motivated intrinsically. And at the end, through the benefits bestowed upon them by nature and the outdoors, better placed to reflect and evaluate, to take the emotional risks which are often so much more important than climbing a little higher up a tree. All of that sounds familiar. All of that sounds like Forest Schools.

WIllow withies bent into shape to make a bender shelter
WIllow withies bent into shape to make a bender shelter

In an ideal world, every child is outside for much of their day, developing holistically through play and becoming all that they can be in a supportive environment. In reality most children go to school. Most Forest Schools takes place in school, delivered by teachers. Exposure is only a few hours a year if the child is lucky. Anything that helps bridge the gap between child and outdoors should be encouraged and supported whether it is maths in a wood, poetry at the beach, sports, gardening, Forest Schools, playing out, curriculum outdoor days. Anything I can do to support that I will do (apart from running) (and football) (and maybe not cricket)

Forest Schools is great, a great idea and everyone should do it, but the debate over what does or does not constitute Forest Schools*  should never be used to stifle opportunities to Be More Outdoors. (see what I did there?)

*Of course it is entirely possible that this debate is in fact an internal dialogue and I have completely wasted my time arguing with myself. Again.

Slaying the dragon

Almost a year ago BMO was invited to deliver a programme of bushcraft sessions on the Walpole estate in Huddersfield. The estate, in Crosland moor, is bordered on one side by a small grassy valley which in turn is bordered by a strip of immature broadleaf woodland. The brief, as proposed by The Friends of Beaumont Park was to engage local children in outdoor activities with a view to increasing their confidence in the outdoors, their nature awareness so as to promote a future regard of the benefits of a wonderful local parkland (Beaumont Park) and to feed the children.

But this story starts a long time ago when I began attending schools local to the estate at a time when the mere mentioning of the estate would promote fear. This meant that my perception of the area was never a positive one and it was with some trepidation that I started to work on the estate.

Over the course of Summer 2015 we delivered several sessions, the final session in February this year (after many bad weather delays). We had an average of 18 children attending each session with a core group of about 12 attending every session.

Asking practitioners what the most striking feature of the group was they might well say “loud”. Loud they were, boisterous, occasionally fractious, often rude. But they were also kind, considerate, enthusiastic, engaged, funny, very bright. Semi feral on occasion but full of joy. They took delight in cooking, eating, using tools, lighting fires, eating, wearing camo face paint, hiding, eating, climbing, making mallets, building shelters and eating.

The final session followed a hiatus of several months in the programme which gave us a fabulous opportunity to assess development at the sessions and development there was. As a group they were attentive, showed perseverance and engagement with all aspects of the sessions.

Practitioners working at the sessions felt that it was perhaps the best session to date with that group. Most of them asked when there would be more sessions, when would we be back.

I can see that while the estate may still have its issues but after meeting such fabulous children and on occasion their equally fabulous parents,it is evidently a place of joy and hope.

Thank you to all attendees, to the Friends of Beaumont Park and to practitioners and volunteers who gave up their time to work at the sessions.

As for me, now I can think about  Walpole without feeling that small boy fear.

This was good work, well done.

Babes in the Wood 4.012-013

“Hello Mr Magpie, How’s your wife and family?”

THEFT IN THE WOODS!

To whit Mummy’s car key, Daddy’s wedding ring and little brothers shiny coin from the tooth fairy.

The culprit… the thieving magpie. Sneaking in the window and helping itself to anything shiny then taking the swag back to it’s nest high up in the trees.

Despite the dastardly crime we took pity on the magpie and birds in general and made woven bird feeders which we stuffed with fat and seeds. These will be a welcome addition to the birds diets through the colder weather.

The forecast was for terrible weather this week, both of this weeks sessions passed without ant meteorological mishaps. It may have rained a bit, it may have been a bit blowy at times but there was lovely sunshine too.

Babes in the Wood 4.009-011and Spoonrakers 8

This week say the naughtiest rabbit in the woods making an appearance in the Horse field.

All the way from France, Little Rabbit Fou Fou came to ride through our forest and with the BIGGEST mallet you have ever seen, he bopped worms, goblins, field mice and… even children on the head!

Or rather he would have had it not been for the intercession of the three good faeries who turned Fou Fou into a goon before any bopping of children could take place.

Hare today, goon tomorrow!

Also in the woods was Arey Faery the woodland making fairy. We now have the first stage of fencing to help protect us from the north wind and remind children to keep safe by the edge of the river bank.

There is a luxury log dog kennel, so bijou that the two log dogs seem to have been joined by a puppy! And an owl… isn’t nature a wonderful thing?

Amongst numerous benches and chairs the bag shelter is underway. How lovely for practitioners and attendees alike to turn up agh the Horse field and find that Arey Faery has sprinkled magic dust all around (even if it does resemble the shavings from a magic fairy chainsaw)

On Sunday we celebrated a month at the Hose field  with another Spoonrakers session. It was fabulous to see old faces back again and to welcome John Arey our woodland fairy and Spoon boffin Dan de-Lion to the site for a chilled and sunny session. Also in attendance TWO cakes! So much cake we couldn’t finish it all.

Babes in the Wood 4.001-2

So begins another school year and indeed another Forest School year. We follow the academic year pattern because September is when the older children leave the weekday provision to go to school. Then we do a Saturday session and they come back, full of stories of school life… well not really, they just like to climb trees, shout and run and play in the mud. Kids eh!

We also get lots and lots of new folk too. In fact since Spring time we have had an incredible number of new families attend with children of all ages and we are happy to welcome everyone.

Last week were the first BITW sessions on the Horse field. The story was “Will and the Wolves” with mums wearing wolf tails and most elegant outfits then chasing each other round a tree until they turn into butter, wolf butter… very good on pancakes.

By chance Rachel had a few brollies in her magic cellar of crafty plentyness so the children were able to decorate their own with completely biodegradable sticky back plastic (available from a mystical sticking and glueing eco-shop near you).

Having their own brollies meant that they were less inclined to covet mine though to be fair, the black antler handles version seemed to have less impact than the Balamory umbrella I used last time.

It is strange working on a new site that you have invested so much longing into. It could be easy to look around and thing “I really must move that, build this, change the whatever…” new attendees and old exclaimed at how pleasant the new site was, how it was a wonderful space.

So good luck to those who have moved on, you will be missed and I know you will keep us in your heart as we keep you in ours.

And of course, we must not forget to see the wood for the trees!

 

New beginnings

In the lengthy hiatus since the last blog posting things have progressed apace. We are now operating as a registered charity under the name Be More Outdoors with Babes in the Wood, Colne Valley Bushcraft and Spoonrakers as projects under the charity.

We are about to move into our office in the village and have acquired the lease on a piece of land which should be much more secure as we go forward into our next phase of growth.

In the first year of BITW, there were 25 sessions delivered. In year two, 75 and this last year…126, plus various birthday parties, Family bushcraft sessions and adult carving sessions. We have a pool of five Forest Schools practitioners to draw from, innumerable volunteers keen to help out and a team of charity trustees working behind the scenes to ensure that all runs smoothly and that we never lose sight of out main goals to deliver interesting and engaging outdoor experiences to as wide a range of families as possible.

 

Saturday saw forty volunteers turn out over the course of the day in terrible weather to help create a path through dense undergrowth and establish a suitable camp fire circle area. We even had a crack team of ladies digging out a channel to help drain an particularly boggy area. One or two wellies might well have become adrift judging by the shrieks of laughter but the channel was dug and the water does flow.

On behalf of BMO I would like to thank everyone who turned up and we hope to see you all again at the next working party weekend.

Sunday saw the first session on the new site. A nice relaxed spot of spoon carving in the dappled sunshine under the trees at Spoonrakers 7.

All that remains to do (well not all obviously) is to get Holey Mole ensconced in his new gaff then let the joy commence

Babes in the Woods 3.50

Today we had an embarrassment of riches on the staffing front. Chris Tuckey was along to help out as usual on Thursday but also with us was Rachel Ellis who is one of our prospective trainees.

Despite a low turnout, we all had lots of fun being teapots around the fire circle, eating bears porridge and banging in tent pegs. As is often the case with smaller groups, children have the opportunity to take on different roles to express themselves in different ways which brings its own reward.

Babes in the Woods 3.48

Owing to the terrible weather, only one session ran this week.

What a lovely story of Billy goats tramping across the bridge to get to… the big pile of straw. And how challenging to balance and walk along the bridge. Breaking and remaking. Reinforcing the need for more loose parts play in our sessions (once we get access to our land)

Of course babies drinking hot chocolate is quite entertaining too.

Babes in the Wood 3.46 and 3.47

If you can measure your worth by the people around you who come together to help when times are hard then I am indeed a lucky person to have such good and caring friends.

Our Thursday volunteer Chris Tuckey, took over this week’s sessions and allowed me to attend without the pressure of planning and delivery.

Thank you to her and the Babes in the Wood Community Group steering committee who conspired to keep the sessions running this week.

For my part, I got to take part as an attendee and enjoy the story of Walters broom complete with rhyme. This will definitely be going into the Babes in the Wood playbook.

Babes in the Wood 3.23 and 3.24

After forty days and forty nights of rain it became apparent that we were soon going to lose some of the smaller children in the quagmire that was our fire circle.

After much negotiating with a farmer, his friend, another farmer (with  bad leg) we managed to arrange a delivery of twenty four bales of hay… to my house. How nice to smell the sweet smell of Summer as I squeezed past my haystack each day. Alas the straw had to go. After further negotiating with a man with a van we got the straw on site and spread some of it out in an attempt to stem the mud.

The rest, of course, went on making a house of straw for the lt. Three little pig story.

To be fair, one does not really need a story or an activity when there is straw on site, the children just get on with it.

Now where did I put my needle?