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 like 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.
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.