Ingredients: A garden, local park or other green space, pair of scissors and / or as many wood-working tools that you consider safe for your age group, pencils.
The Big Sell: Let’s make our own Forest School!
Strategy: If you haven’t heard of Forest Schools, check out their website: http://forestschools.com. Their philosophy is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences.” I’m very lucky that my eldest son already goes to a school that provides regular Forest School activities in their conservation garden. But if this is new to your child, look at the website with them and then get going in your own green space!
Over the summer I was cutting back the garden and decided to utilise some of the cuttings for impromptu arts projects with the bored kids. We used some lengths of clematis vine to wrap a wreath shape and then stuck leaves in between the twisted branches. The final leafy wreath became our Forest Schools Sign that we tied to a low hanging branch of a bush of our ‘Forest Schools area’ on the grass.
We then searched the garden for large flat leaves and used these as ‘drawing pads’ etching Forest School secret code-words and pictures on the leaves with pencils by leaning on the hard patio. These could then be poked back on to low hanging branches or posted through a (blanket) den door to gain entry.
Finally we collected pebbles and painted Forest animals (ladybirds, hedgehogs) on the top side and laid these out to dry to decorate our Forest Schools home.
The Verdict: Once the garden toys have lost their sparkle this idea presents children with the idea that their garden holds a treasure trove of natural resources they can plunder if they use their imagination. Around the same time the BBC were screening ‘Human Planet’ and we showed our son one clip of the family living in the sky high tree-houses – he was captivated and this added lots of value to the Forest School idea. The Forest Schools aim to provide children with a sense of awe and wonder at the environment which is especially important as we often wrap them up in such cotton wool at home. Although some of the activities can seem dangerous they intentionally gradually introduce ideas of responsibility and measured risks to children who will usually take this very seriously and consequently feel very special. Once our boys had created their own Forest School in our small back garden, they brought our blankets, cushions and snacks and felt very at home to the extent they wanted to sleep out there!
Catchphrase: “Now we have Forest Schools at home too!”
Left wanting more?
- The tradition of Forest Schools often involves fire-making with school age children, with very careful safety rules (and the occasional use of marsh-mallows might not go amiss!) You can buy a Storm Kettle from sites such as http://www.eydonkettle.com/home and they are perfect to get an older child starting to build their own fire from which they can boil water.
- Additionally when we had some very bright (unexpected!) October sunshine last week, my husband brought out a magnifying glass and carefully taught our son to burn symbols onto wood whilst wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes.
- Also, if you love this kind of outdoorsy play you MUST visit Bewilderwood in Norfolk which is a theme park like no other. Look at http://www.bewilderwood.co.uk/ and feel inspired to make a trip!