Adventures in Nature
At parents’ evening last week I was flicking through my daughters’ literacy books. Story after story concerned adventures in the woods; getting lost and having to build a den to sleep out, meeting bears and other wild animals, cooking campfire teas for fairies. Some of the inspiration for this writing must have come from their experiences at forest school. Working in schools, I often hear teachers say that pupils are struggling with writing, not over pencil skills, phonics or spelling, but because they don’t know what to write about.
As a child I was an avid reader of Enid Blyton stories. My siblings and I would roam the countryside looking for Famous Five style adventures. (Once we did find some stolen treasure, but that’s another story). We built dens and campfires and cycled or walked for miles only coming back when we were hungry, but these days children have nothing like this freedon. Our worries about traffic and stranger danger mean we keep our children where we can see them. TV and computer games keep them occupied indoors and experiences outside the home are often prescribed and controlled; dance classes, swimming lessons and visits to the shops. There seems little space and time for children to play freely and invent their own stories, so its no wonder some are not inspired to write.
I’m working with a year 1 group this term (5&6 year olds) and we’re focusing our forest school on storytelling. So far we’ve created a story together about an old lady, a dragon and some burried treasure. The outdoor space and freedom to act out the adventure means the story has become real. (I knew this had happened when one of the children complained the dragon had just bitten her!) We’re collecting the photos and drawings in a class book which the children can write in week by week. Like all children they are naturally inventive and I’m enjoying hearing about fairies with spots and heros with nettle hair and huge moustaches. Their teacher has taken the book back into the classroom to encourage more writing in between sessions; I look forward to seeing the stories evolve.
Nature has always inspired people to write and children are no exception. I have a collection of drawings and writing that children have given me following forest school (e.g. “Forist shcool is the best shcool ever”). I’m going to scan them and create a gallery on my Facebook page, because they inspire me that this is a job definately worth doing
How muddy is too muddy? Forest school programmes run all year round and given our British climate we are lucky to be able to experience a wide range of weathers from hot and sunny to damp and rainy, often all in the same day. We’re outside a good chunk of the day so whatever the weather is doing, we feel it first hand and encounter its effects whether its slippy surfaces, a breezy fire or steam rising from your wellies. Last week I ran a session in the snow with some pre-school teachers and we enjoyed exploring the play possibilities it offered, such as making footprints and slides. I love the fact that the drama of the changing seasons mean that sites never look the same from one visit to the next. On our weekly sessions we can observe the tiny changes such as the trees gradually coming into leaf, puddles drying out to dust. Our St Ives and Middleton Woods forest school programmes run in the school holidays so there is 6 or 7 weeks between each one and the children comment on the profound changes to their bit of woodland; the reduced light levels due to leaves on the trees, the leafy woodland floor becoming a carpet of bluebells. (more…)
I’ve been scanning the skies for any sign of aurora borealis, which was predicted to make a rare appearence above the UK this week. I’ve seen some amazing recent pictures taken up in Scotland. However a good helping of cloud and the ambient light pollution in our part Yorkshire are making sure the only northern light we can see is the orange glow of Bradford street lighting. This wasn’t the case when I was down in Herefordshire at the weekend. England’s least populated county has virtually no light pollution making stargazing on a clear night child’s play. (more…)
I love Christmas, but as the big day gets nearer I start to wonder if I love the idea of it rather than the reality. Its such a busy time of year, with a month full of concerts, fairs, Christmas shopping and and trying to tie up work so you can take some time off. The joy of the season just seems to be lost when you’re stuck in a crowd at the overheated shopping centre listening to Slade on an endless loop. It would just be nice to spend some peaceful time with your family instead of rushing around ticking off lists. We had this in mind when we proposed a family Christmas craft session in the woods.
Should we be encouraging children to fight? Both forest school programmes I ran this week slipped happily into war games without any injury or incident and all the kids seemed to relish the opportunity to attack, defend, chase and outwit their enemies in the course of a day playing in the woods. I never advocate people physically hurting each other, but it seems to me that the need to play war is as natural to children as den building and climbing trees and to deny them the opportunity is to deny an instinct that goes back to our evolutionary roots. (more…)