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children learning firelighting skills

LETTING YOUR CHILD PLAY WITH FIRE

Would you let your child play with fire? It seems to be wired into us from a young age that fire is not something to mess around with, but where’s the fun in that? Of course, fire can be dangerous but if we introduce our children to it using safe methods we can nurture a healthy respect for the hazards of fire alongside their natural wonder for it.

Here’s the thing, children LOVE playing with fire – so we might as well teach them how to play with it safely and how to be responsible when lighting their own fires out in the woods. We’ve never had a burn injury at our Forest School sessions. We have established boundaries for the main campfire and clear rules on what kids can and cannot do with their own fires.

In this episode of our vlog Rewild My Child you can see our regular Young Rangers lighting their own fires and passing on some of what they’ve learned.

YOU CAN WATCH THIS EPISODE OF OUR VLOG RIGHT HERE…

I find it so encouraging to see how far these children have come with their firelighting skills and knowledge of camp craft. It’s very satisfying (as a teacher) to see them gathering enough kindling to start their fire, picking out dry sticks rather than wet, soggy ones and to see how they can rekindle a struggling fire using the right techniques. These children love lighting fires and are happy simply to let them blaze away  – I’ve never seen a child trying to burn the woods down. They might make smoke signals, make charcoals for drawing or simply poke away at the embers with burning sticks. The fire acts as a warming and comforting focal point for the group to be together, enjoying nature. This has been the role of campfires for generations and long may it continue.

If you liked this and want to see more – check out our YouTube Channel, where we have a whole host of videos from How To Make Wild Teas to How To Use An Axe With Kids.

muddy boy outdoors

MUD KITCHENS – free, easy & just brilliant!

If there is one thing you can guarantee in this country, it’s rain! We get a lot of rain, but if we let it stop us from doing things we’d almost never do anything or go anywhere.

So, we say embrace the rain, work with what you’ve got. Use all this water and mud to your advantage. It’s a resource to be cherished, after all, it is a giver of life and we wouldn’t have such beautiful countryside if it wasn’t for the rain. I thought back to the last time I went on holiday to a hot and dry country, beautiful but scorched landscapes with plant life struggling to survive, and then the feeling of returning home to the UK and seeing all the lush green abundance of growth around me. I know I felt blessed that I live where I do.

That said, the rain can and does get you down at times, especially when it seems relentless, but here at Woodland Classroom we try and find ways in which activities can still go ahead despite the weather and actually work with it, using the weather to our advantage. This is where the mud kitchen comes in…

muddy girl outdoors

We’d seen lots of pictures on Pinterest about mud kitchens so we dug out some old pots and pans, a few planks of wood, some tree stumps, wooden spoons and an old camping kettle; set it all up. The kids added the final ingredient… imagination.

It was the first time we’d done this activity but the kids new exactly what to do, some made apple pie, some made Christmas cake and some just liked the feel of the mud on their hands. For the youngest tots we say how they simply enjoyed pouring mud and water from one container to another.

One intrepid group of adventurers went in search of fallen apples to add to their mud pie. They came back with hazelnuts, pine cones and all kinds of ‘ingredients’ for their creations. We were over the moon at how much the kids loved it, it was easily one of the best activities we have done to date and so easy to set up and (best of all) it cost nothing.

If you want to try this for yourself and don’t want to use your best pots and pans from your kitchen then you can pick up suitable stuff at junk shops or charity shops for next to nothing and we promise it will be worth it. A little corner in your garden dedicated to a mud kitchen will keep your little ones happy even in the worst of weather, just kit them out with good waterproofs and you’ll be well away.

We decided to make a quick video showing you how we set up our mud kitchen and to show you that it doesn’t need to be fancy or overly engineered, so take a look for some inspiration for setting up your own mud kitchen.

Here is an account of one of one parent’s experience after watching our video:

“We set up our mud kitchen after your prompt over the holidays, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages… Took no more than 10 minutes, and they all have played and played out there. Lleucu was out ’til dark making snow soup this evening and only came in cause she was soaked through, literally down too and including her pants and she was freezing.” Belinda Knott (parent)

So what are you waiting for? Get out and get cooking. Mississippi Mud Pie, Chocolate Log, Stone Soup and more will be on the menu. What will your child cook up?

muddy wellies in the woods

nibbled nuts found on winter scavenger hunt

Awesome Winter Scavenger Hunt

So… it’s winter. The days are cold and short, but it’s still a great time to be out and about and see a host of things in the woods that you’d not see at other times of the year. Winter leaves our countryside bare, open to deeper exploration and let’s you poke your nose into all sorts of nooks and crannies that would be walled off with greenery come summertime.

Kenneth Grahame, author of the popular children’s novel The Wind In The Willows, painted an evocative picture of the countryside in winter, which hints at the secrets that are waiting to be discovered;

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off… He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.”

There were plenty of winter adventures for Mole, Ratty and Badger, so in order to inspire you to make your outdoor experience one that the kids will love too we have devised an awesome Winter Scavenger Hunt that will stimulate all the senses of your child. The only sense we haven’t got covered is taste – but we’re sure a nice hot chocolate at home after the walk will tick that box. We hope our scavenger hunt will make going outside in winter a memorable and exciting experience for the whole family. Give it a go and let us know how you got on.

DOWNLOAD OUR AWESOME WINTER SCAVENGER HUNT HERE

winter woodland scavenger hunt

You can share pics of your scavenging adventures on our facebook page, we’d love to see them.

We always host a great range of activity days right through the Autumn and Winter months, because we believe it’s important for kids and adults to get outside more than ever during these times when many people shut themselves away indoors. You can check out our upcoming events HERE.

boy at forest school in winter with candles

Making the Most of Winter in the Woods

boy at forest school in winter with candles

Wintertime in the woods changes things quite dramatically. The cold, wet and early darkness means thinking differently about the activities we do with our children. Something that the kids look forward to as we approach midwinter is our Winter Wishes activity, something that’s simple enough to recreate yourself.

As the nights draw in I’ve found the children are naturally drawn to the campfire, they head for its light and warmth. Here stories can be told, chestnuts roasted and fire-sticks made. There is also a magical feel to this time of year that can be embraced as well as encouraging the kids to think about what’s going on in nature around them.

Children are full of excitement and anticipation for Christmas and the school holidays. They are mesmerised by the darkness and the dancing flames, it is a time for wishes and wonder and staying close to each other for warmth and protection.

Winter solstice (which falls between December 20th & 21st) is a turning point where (in the northern hemisphere) we are at the peak of the darkness, it being the shortest day and longest night. There is the knowledge of more light to come, as from this day forth the days get slowly longer and with that comes a deep sense of hope, new beginnings and the promise of spring.

At our Forest School we winter solstice at forest school with kidslike to mark the winter solstice as this is all about welcoming the returning light to the earth and it gives the children a chance to reflect on their year just gone and their wishes for the coming year.

We mark this occasion with out Winter Wishes activity. Whilst sat in a circle, away from the campfire, each child has a turn to light a candle and make three wishes;

One wish for themselves

One wish for their community

and one wish for the Earth.

We don’t insist that the children speak their wishes out loud if they don’t want to. This gives them the option to make a very personal wish that they may otherwise be too embarrassed to speak out loud to the group.

As each child lights a candle and adds it to the growing cluster of others the light increases, mirroring the increase of sunlight and turn of the wheel of the year as we move through winter and toward spring.

Winter solstice is a moment of pause between two cycles, a moment of transition that can be held and savored….take a moment to experience this edge between these two great cycles. It is also a moment to look forward, to name the new seeds and intentions we wish to take into the next cycle.” Glennie Kindred, Letting in the Wild Edges

I feel that it is important that we give the children a chance to wish for the wider community, especially as at this time of year it can be very easy for kids to get wrapped up in themselves as they receive so much over the Christmas period. Setting good intentions for the world can be their way of giving.

children around campfire in winter forest school

There’s plenty of other fun and games to be had in the winter woods. Our kids cook damper breads on a stick, use flashlights and Morse code to send messages through the dark, they light their own fires and cook baked beans in their tin (cowboy style) to share. All this helps dispel the fear of the darkness and develops their night vision by using all their senses. The kids go back to their homes with rosy cheeks, smelling of wood smoke and full of tales of shadows and mystery. Outdoor learning and play certainly doesn’t need to stop just because it is winter.

Happy holidays!

why kids should use axes

Why I would buy my kids an AXE

At a time when many children are being wrapped up in too much cotton wool (not literally) to keep them safe from the perceived hazards of modern life, I’ve become more and more a champion of allowing the children I look after (at Forest School sessions) to take risks and show they can be responsible for managing their own safety. So, with that in mind, we’ve been chopping firewood together, using a very sharp axe, and here’s a little video which shows you how I teach those basic axe skills to kids. I’d encourage you to try it for yourself.

Autumn has definitely arrived here in the UK and with the long, dark and cold nights closing in my mind’s turned to getting some firewood in. Yes, like many others I’ve left it late again. It’s always good to have some help with tasks like this and I’ve found that chopping firewood is an effective and simple activity for kids to get stuck into as well as a great introduction to the axe. Kids can understand the task and (most folks agree) splitting logs is very satisfying to do. So what about giving a razor sharp axe to a child? Well, here’s what the children’s author Roald Dahl had to say about risk;

“…the more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves. If you never let them take any risks, then I believe they become very prone to injury. Boys should be allowed to climb tall trees and walk along the tops of high walls and dive into the sea from high rocks… The same with girls. I like the type of child who takes risks. Better by far than the one who never does so.”

Mabli (one of our regular Young Rangers) is just six years old and it was really encouraging to see her progress recently from using the potato peeler (which we give to kids first to practice their knife technique) to using a proper whittling knife. She was confident, calm and sensible with the tool, which I like to think she learnt through clear mentoring, encouragement and close supervision. There’s a voice in my head which jostles for centre stage telling me that there’s going to be a terrible accident and that it would be better to just let kids like Mabli play at something safer. But of course, children are just like us, they don’t want to hurt themselves, so along with a good mentor (like any parent), they’re their own regulator.

teaching children to use an axe

Anyway, back to the axe and chopping wood. I think this is a great introductory activity for kids to sharp tools as with an axe you have a fair distance between the sharp edge and little fingers. Also, whoever heard of such a thing as an ugly piece of firewood? So, no fine craft skills are required. You could even follow wood chopping with learning fire-lighting so that they get to burn what they’ve chopped themselves. I’ll give the last word on ‘risk’ to Richard Louv, author of the fantastic book Last Child in the Woods;

“An indoor (or backseat) childhood does reduce some dangers to children; but other risks are heightened, including risks to physical and psychological health, risk to children’s concept and perception of community, risk to self-confidence and the ability to discern true danger.”

So, would you use sharp tools with your own kids at home? Have you had success with whittling, wood chopping or using a saw with little ones? We’d love to hear from you.

If you enjoyed this video, we’ve got MORE videos on our YouTube channel giving you ideas for engaging kids in the great outdoors. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Wildcraft Adventure

The “REAL” Minecraft

Using the computer game itself to get the kids off the screen and outdoors!steve

At Woodland Classroom we decided to do something a little different with our Forest School sessions and meet the kids on their level.
James was inspired by a brilliant book he has been reading “Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature’ where he read about taking what is popular with young people at that current time and transforming it into an outdoor activity. Well that was easy as Minecraft has taken the world by storm, it is hugely popular amongst children of lots of different ages and is easily transferable to the outdoors.
The game itself involves building your own world using blocks, there are tasks to complete like building a shelter and a fire before nightfall, this will keep the creepers away.
You can mine for rocks and minerals, you can make or craft things that help your survival, this is done by following a ‘recipe’ or a list of things needed to create your item.
Any way I’m sure all you parents out there already know this and much more as kids seem to be absolutely enthralled by this game.
With this popularity also comes concern about the amount of time the children are spending on the computer when they could be outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, interacting with others and developing lots of social and emotional skills.
So we launched our first date at Denmark Farm, Lampeter, during the school holidays, it was booked up within four hours of putting it on facebook, so we set another date, this too booked up straight away.
We spent the first few weeks of summer doing our research about Minecraft, talking to children and reading Minecraft magazines and watching it being played.
We came up with a lesson plan for a day of Minecraft activities and got crafting ourselves, we made wooden chests, green cloaks for the creepers and painted stones for iron ore and emeralds.
On the 17th Aug we ran our first Minecraft day, we had a great time, it all went very well and the kids loved it!
The second day also went well, we even had children travel up from Swansea to attend our day.

Here are the children at the end of day one:day1wholegroup

Some children who attended were known to us because they attend our weekly club ‘Young Rangers’ and a few had never played Minecraft before but this did not matter, it was totally inclusive to non-Minecraft fans also.

Some of the skills developed through these activities were communication and negotiating skills, each team had to delegate jobs to the team members and they could trade items with other teams. There was also a huge emphasis on team work.

Here is Briar trading an iron ore with another team.briartrading

Some other skills involved using numbers as each precious stone was worth so many points, they had to work out whether trade was worth it to them or not.

There were many other skills being developed as the activities took place and as always we encouraged their learning about nature itself, we dropped lots of small lessons into the mix about wildlife and allowed time for free play within the boundaries of the game and as always we allow choice in our activities. There was no pressure on any of the children to complete all the tasks, they did which activities they preferred and there was a sense of them being in charge of their own play and experience, we just provided the platform.tradingtable

We are now planning on running four days at Aberystwyth over the October half term and the response has been incredible! We are in talks about more dates to accommodate all the interest.
We are also working on a published version of our lesson plan so people can use our ideas to run their own events so watch this space!
Thank you to everyone for the amazing support we have had.

day2wholegroup

Thanks again and watch out for those creepers!onegreencreeper

 

 

 

 

 

Making Wild Teas with Kids

Want a great and simple way to get kids engaged in the outdoors? We’ve uploaded a video to our YouTube channel showing how to make yummy wild teas and how successful this has been with children. Enjoy!

So, to recap….

We used the following common plants in our wild teas; stinging nettles, goosegrass or cleavers, dandelion (petals only) and mint.

You can play around with the combinations of these and there’s plenty of information out there in Google land on other wild plants to use to flavour your teas.

Try making your very own herbal teas or “woody waters” as our Forest School group calls it. All you need is a cafetiere. It’s a great excuse to go for a walk in nature, get kids looking closely at the plants around them and dip your toe into the wonderful world of wild food and foraging. You’ll be pleased to hear that the plants you’re looking for are easy to find and identify.

Picking nettles without getting stung can be tricky but a great trick to impress kids once you’ve mastered it. Most of the stinging hairs are on the top of the leaves so grab the plant by the bottom of the leaves or the stem. Of course, you can always use gloves if you want to be extra safe. The tastiest parts of the nettle are the young tops. Once you’ve got enough nettle leaves place them in to the cafetiere, pour on hot water (which you’ll be pleased to hear also eliminates the sting) and leave to brew for a few minutes before pushing the plunger and serving up.

For a sweeter brew, try adding some mint leaves and even the fussiest eater should enjoy the refreshing tea especially if they have foraged for the leaves and made it for themselves.

Everyone knows the dandelion, and when in flower they’re easy to spot. The petals have a sweet taste to them, like liquid sunshine. You can also eat the leaves, though they’re quite bitter – give it a go.

Let us know how your experimental recipes go. We’d love to hear from you.

Felin Puleston Outdoor Centre

Make Your Own Seed Bomb!

The bees need our help. The UK has lost 98% of its wildflower meadows in the last 70 years. March to May is a good time to plant wildflower seeds, and for kids, making seed bombs is a great way to get them excited about native flowers and so get them noticing the plight of our pollinators. You can plant these out in your garden or do some guerilla gardening by scattering them along the route to school or on a roadside verge.

seed bombs

What You Need: Clay (or heavy mud), compost, sand, wildflower seed mix, and an egg box to store them in.

1. Make a ball of clay by rolling it in your hands, just smaller than a golf ball. Flatten it out and mix in some compost and sand, then roll it back into a ball.

2. You want enough compost and sand to give the seeds something to grow in but enough clay to make sure the bomb holds together. Just play about with it until it looks right – the messier your hands are, the better.

3. Push your thumb into the middle to make a bowl shape and sprinkle a few pinches of seeds into the bowl. Fold up the bowl so the seeds are captured inside and roll back into a ball.

4. You can store the seed bombs in an egg box until you’re ready to plant out.

5. The best place to scatter the bombs is in a patch of bare soil. Wildflowers prefer poorer soil and don’t want to compete with grass.

6. Crumble up the bombs and scatter over the bare soil. Then either tread or rake them in.

7. They’re best planted before rain, but if the weather is dry – just add water.

Our first Little Rangers!

Well yesterday was the first of our Little Rangers sessions.

The sun was shining, the air was warm and spirits were high. Fourteen adults and about fifteen children had a lovely afternoon relaxing and exploring in the wooded area at Denmark Farm in Lampeter.

There were a few items to play with, washing bowls of water with cups, baskets with stones in, a net hanging in the trees, some tubs of rice and pasta and a few musical percussion instruments. There was also a blanket with nature themed books available and some planted herbs to ignite the senses.

The children enjoyed a very relaxed learning environment that evolved round child-led play. It was also a wonderful opportunity for parents to get together and connect in a beautiful setting.

I was particularly struck with how peaceful it felt and I was reassured that there really was no need to provide a structured set of activities for the children to engage in. The natural environment was stimulus enough.

I am looking forward to our second group next week. I hope the weather will be as nice as it was yesterday and thank you to all who came and made it a special day.

Lea. x

Is competition healthy?

People have different views on competitive sports/games with children. I personally shy away from them all together.

When I run activities I will always adapt the game to make sure no child is ‘out’. I have lots of memories at school about sports or games where if you weren’t incredibly sporty or competitive then you would be ‘out’ of the game, what I remember most vividly is the feelings that went with it and they weren’t nice feelings, but does that mean I should exclude all competition in my activities?

There is one game I play with the Parachute and it’s called mushroom, basically if the parachute lands on you then you sit down. I feel ok with this because no-one is ‘out’ they still remain in the circle and it’s actually quite fun to have the parachute land on you.

Being ‘out’ always happened because you either weren’t fast enough, aggressive enough, agile or clever enough and I remember children purposely not trying and getting ‘out’ straight away and saying they couldn’t be bothered, but this was just a way of saving face and it became more a choice than lack of ability. Everyone knew though that it was a fear of ridicule and the feelings that went with loosing that influenced this self-sabatage.

So I prefer to play games where kids don’t loose. There is an exemption to this and that is when a child is part of a team and the experience is shared and even then I will encourage the ‘loosing’ team to reflect and come up with strategies to help them next time.

All in all I always try and loose the idea of loosing and failure, after all, failure is just a step toward success, right? It is nice to reward a child when they win at something but that implies that it is not good if they don’t win, for then they fail, and failing has negative connotations attached to it. So at Young Rangers I am trying to get into the habit of rewarding effort and giving praise when a child is trying at something. In terms of emotional intelligence it is the success formula, there is no right or wrong, fail or succeed, there is only effort and trying and that is all we can ask of our little people to help them feel good about themselves and strive for happiness.

Lea. x

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