Southfield Grange – four days in July

It is always nice to be asked back and even better when the work is as rewarding as the sessions delivered during the Southfield Grange outdoor week.

Over four days last week I delivered sessions to small groups of young people with a wide range of learning and behavioural differences.

Delivered is probably the wrong word as with the same notions and raw materials, no two groups had the same outcomes or experiences. All of the sessions ebbed and flowed according to the abilities of the attendees and as with my last visit to Southfield, I left feeling as though I had learned more than I had taught.

Taught is probably the wrong word…

Southfield school

Birch Forest Schools was invited to take part in the Southfield School outdoor week in Bradford.


Over the course of three days, we delivered nine sessions to sixty young people with additional needs with the support of twenty staff from the school. Though rain was forecast for two of the days, the weather held off for participants who took part in campfire cooking, small and large shelter building, kazoo making and kelly kettle lighting.

Participants ranged in age from KS2 to KS5 and had a range of learning difficulties, often within the same group. Despite the obvious challenges in working with unfamiliar groups whose abilities were unknown, all of the sessions went extremely well and with only ninety minutes per session we still managed to have a lot of fun and learn a lot.

Every day was inspiring and I looked forward each morning to the sessions ahead.

Princeville Art Week – day 5

And finally… Friday was given over to rearranging the feathers so as to display them to best advantage. The stone feathers needed some repair and waterproofing following their getting wet and the glue not drying properly, the peacock needed more holes drilling to accommodate all the feathers that the children made and to finish the week off, Nursery children came en mass to see the finished peacock and sing their peacock song.

Princeville Art Week – day 4

The final class to make feathers were a year five class. This making activity was particularly challenging as several different processes were involved. Children had to cut brass sheeting to make the largest part of the eye, heat and quench steel to darken it and drill all three pieces of metal before riveting them together.

The eyes were then mounted on sticks and these placed into the peacocks back.

With a slightly larger group in the morning and one staff member in support, the session tended to bottleneck while some children waited for support with the next task. In the afternoon, the group size was smaller and with two members of staff in support, it was possible to keep all of the children occupied in the task, so much so that there was a little time at session end for staff to play Tig with those children who were finished.

Princeville Art Week – day 3

For the third day, wool was the theme for the eyes. In the story the “wild woolly troll” steals the chickens and the children must make gods eyes from different colours of wool to keep the troll away.

Though on the surface, God’s eyes seem to be quite a simple activity, there is a lot of hand to eye coordination involved and the repetition of the weaving can be difficult for some adults let alone for year one children.

Most of the children had been to the Forest School before and knew about the fire safety rules. As with the previous groups, they enjoyed the story telling and taking part. When the children were introduced to the peacock as a precursor to making the feathers, some children stroked his beak and massaged his head.

The children took great care in choosing the colours for their eyes and showed a great deal of perseverance with the task. Staff were very supportive with this challenging activity and the brightly coloured feathers that the children made looked very impressive alongside the other feathers.

Princeville Art Week – day 2

For day two, stone feathers, the age jumped to year four children. Rather than follow the story with purely a making exercise, I buried piles of the coloured stones around the Forest School.

The children were very excited, charging around identifying the treasure piles and counting them. Next they were given trowels and containers to dig up enough to make their peacock feathers. The stones were covered in mud and needed to be washed, sieved, sorted and dried before they could be used.

The children made use of water from the rain barrel, taking buckets of the water or collecting it as it ran along the wooden gutters along the side of the Forest School. Again, as with the Nursery children, there was ample opportunity for free plan and investigation. This lead to children completing the various tasks at different times and allowed the session to take on its own rhythm and pace.

The dry stones were glued onto cookies which the children had drilled themselves then sticks were chosen and thinned by the children using potato peelers.

Some children chose to copy the design of the example piece while others chose their own patterns.

Princeville Art Week – day 1

The first day of the Princeville Art Week was delivered to Nursery children with 15 attending in the morning and another 15 in the afternoon.

Despite many of the children never having sat around the fire circle in the Forest School area, they were attentive to fire safety and enjoyed the fire circle games, played to reinforce the fire circle rules.

They were very vocal during the story telling, shouting out the names of animals and making farm animal noises.

As their task was to make wooden peacock feathers they were given the opportunity to choose different sized wood cookies from a big pile. The children enjoyed playing with the cookies so much that we let them carry on choosing, building and playing with the cookies.

The children then painted the cookies with transparent colours to highlight the grain in the wood then nailed them together to make the “eyes” of the feathers. The children were supported in the drilling of the eyes, taking turns to do so. Finally they each chose a stick to put their eye on to, recognising that the sticks were too big for the holes and would need to be made thinner.

The sticks were cut to size by myself and the Nursery teacher, also a Level 3 Forest Schools practitioner and fitted to the cookie eyes. All of the children were eager to put their feathers into the peacock and transferred their earlier learning about the need to make the sticks thinner to fit them in place.

While in many ways the Art Week is geared towards having a final product to display at the end, the opportunities for free play and learning in this session were many fold. Having the support of a trained Forest School practitioner and nursery staff able to recognise when development was taking place helped to make this first day the best one of the week.

The nursery have requested that I provide them with a selection of cookies for the children to play with in the future.

Princeville peacock project

Peacock sculpture work in progress

All of next week will be taken up in the delivery of sessions in the Princeville Primary School Forest School area. As part of the Princeville Art Week, Birch Forest Schools will be taking four classes from nursery to Key Stage 2 and making peacock feathers which will be added to a large peacock sculpture. Classes will work in a range of media including wood cookies, wool weaving, mosaic work and metal work.