I spent today playing in the woods. No, really I did. We hosted a training day for people considering training to be Forest Schools leaders – and I enjoyed it so much I think I’m going to become one.
Forest Schools began just after the Second World War in Sweden. The concept was firmly established in Denmark in the 1980s and it is from there that the UK began adopting the idea for children of pre school and primary school age.
It’s becoming increasingly recognised that an outdoor approach to learning can have a huge impact on the normal development of children. Studies have shown that children who attend Forest Schools have better concentration, better communication skills, a stronger sense of teamwork and fewer days off sick than their urban classmates.
The concept isn’t so much about teaching, as about learning through discovery. You won’t find lesson plans and box ticking here. Kids are allowed to get muddy, take (controlled) risks like lighting fires and using tools, and have a level of independence that is missing all too often in a modern day childhood. Our trainer told us that frequently on the first session with a group more than one child is heard to say ‘My mum will be cross if I get dirty’ – how tragic is that! What good is being a kid if you can’t be grubby!
Activities are designed to build life skills – altruism, self-awareness, social communication, all of which help fuel self esteem – something so many of us are lacking by the time we reach adulthood.
So what did we do? We began by collecting kindling and wood for our fire – an activity that could easily be dismissed as being just about building a fire but on closer inspection could involve maths (counting sticks, making groups of the same size sticks) science (what is needed to build a fire? -fuel, ignition, air), music (singing songs while building the fire) and even English (story telling around the fire). We digressed and did a bit of nature – looking at some beetles and some strange looking moths we found, and then we cooked our lunch on the fire – terrific fun!
After lunch we made small sticks of charcoal on the fire and used them to fill pieces of elder we’d hollowed out earlier – hey presto – woodland pencils! We cut small discs of green chestnut and made them into pendants with our names on them, some of us even learned how to make a Viking Knitting disc (a bit like French Knitting – but with a far cooler name!). And last but not least we learned how to strip nettles of their stings and turn them into rope.
Ten fully-grown adults channelled their inner 8 year olds for the afternoon and we had a really good time – we all got on, worked together, communicated well and had fun. I’m told the concept is regularly adapted for corporate team building with equal success and you can see why. I’m definitely a signed up convert to Forest Schools. Next stop a full training course, which will qualify me to run our own Forest School right here in our wood. I’m only sorry I had to come back to my desk at the end of the day!
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