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coronavirus COVID-19 outdoor education policy

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Policy Update

Business Update – Coronavirus

Updated: Monday 23rd March 2020

Woodland Classroom would like to issue the following statement to provide our customers with an update on our precautions and preparations in light of the Coronavirus (CORVID-19) pandemic.

In-line with the escalating situation and Government guidelines, we have taken the hard decision that we will be postponing ALL our courses and events, for both kids and adults, throughout March, April and May. We will continue to review the situation and advice on a weekly basis looking to June and onwards.

This is an incredibly tough time for us as a small business but it’s important to do the right thing for everyone’s safety. Over the last week, we tried to roll with the punches and keep some of our events going but things have changed so fast in just a few days and it would be irresponsible for us to now host our sessions in the current climate.

Our policy is to re-schedule all courses and events to a point where it is more appropriate. Every client who is booked on to our courses/events in March, April & May will be contacted personally over the next few days outlining our schedule, please be patient with us and respect the fact we are fighting for our livelihoods.

If you have booked onto an event or course that has been affected and you cannot attend the rescheduled date then we will issue you with an 18-month voucher to use on any Woodland Classroom course, event or product.

If you have any concerns or questions, please call us on 07876 794 098 or send an email to [email protected]
Stay safe, stay active and remember that self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, but remember that the current advice is to keep 2 metres apart from others. So it’s best to avoid travelling to access nature. Use your garden, local park or green space and please avoid “honeypot” nature spots such as popular tourist destinations. Nature is a healer and strengthener of the immune system and you don’t have to go far to find it.
Lastly, we’d like to say thank you to everyone who has already reached out to us with messages of support, we really appreciate it.

 

Together we can beat this pandemic.

 

James & Lea Kendall

Woodland Classroom Ltd.
mindfulness in nature on the BBC

Woodland Classroom on the BBC

We were recently interviewed and filmed by the BBC for the popular documentary series ‘The Why Factor.’ The programme asks the question’ “Why does nature calm anxiety?” The crew came to the ancient woods at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales where Lea and James, of Woodland Classroom, run their Mindfulness & Bushcraft sessions, engaging all ages in nature connection. Here they experienced a Nature Therapy session, lead by Lea, a qualified Counsellor and Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner. Next up, the crew got stuck into some practical bushcraft skills to bring to life their inner cave-people. We had a lot of fun during the recording.

Watch the short video on the BBC News website RIGHT HERE or via the link below.

You can listen to the programme RIGHT HERE.

Lea described her experience, “It felt great to be a part of the programme. There’s so much research coming out about the power of nature to heal us, with professionals and projects from all over the world reconnecting their clients with the wild places, I’m excited to be part of this movement. It truly feels like nature therapy’s time has come.” Lea believes that the antidote to stress is found through our connection to nature and that through this we can connect with others and with ourselves, building emotional resilience and community.

The official description of the BBC documentary reads;

“As the world grows more urban, humanity moves further away from nature. Could this be the reason anxiety has become the most diagnosed mental illness in the west? The idea of mindfulness is becoming more popular as the mainstream grows more aware of how panicked we all are. How are we tackling this issue? Jordan Dunbar dives into a niche of researchers and therapists who are learning about and treating the negative symptoms of urban life with a dose of nature.”

In the programme Lea takes the show’s presenter, Jordan Dunbar, on a taster Nature Therapy session where she convinces him on the power of walking barefoot on the earth. Later, James gives Jordan a crash-course in ancient bushcraft skills including firelighting by friction. This awakened Jordan’s inner cave-man as he learned how to make fire using only the natural materials he could find around him.

The programme’s presenter and producer, Jordan, has this to say, “The video was listed in the top 5 on the BBC News website over the weekend, making the front page of the BBC website and we had over half a million views on the BBC News Instagram! We’ve had great feedback on the radio doc already and it wouldn’t have been half as good without the sounds of the woodland and bushcraft!”

bbc filming lea kendall - counsellor

Lea is interviewed about the power of nature for improving mental health and well-being by the BBC.

SO, WANT TO JOIN US FOR A ‘MINDFULNESS & BUSHCRAFT’ EXPERIENCE?

If you like what you hear in the programme and the idea of not just getting away from it all for a weekend but actually coming away with real skills and techniques appeals to you then you’ll be happy to hear that Lea and James host immersive weekend workshops in Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft for adults which features activities such as: spoon carving, awakening your animal senses, crafting your own woodland getaway (mindful shelter building), breathing space meditations, natural navigation techniques, fox walking, traditonal fire-lighting techniques, foraging, wildflower identifcation and more.

The aim is not just to give you a couple of days from the rat race but to enable you to come away with new skills and techniques which you can use to be more mindful going forward and bring nature deeper into your life.

Our next Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend is taking place in September 2020. You can find full details RIGHT HERE. Book your place now for what promises to be a fantastic weekend. To find out more about our upcoming courses and events for all ages, check out our Events page.

We also take bookings from organisations and for events to deliver our nature connection workshops to groups. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

We’d like to say a big thanks to Jordan Dunbar and the BBC crew for visiting us all the way up in North Wales, and for spreading our message that nature is a positive force for improved mental health and well-being. Also, we could not have had this opportunity without the kind permission of the staff at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle who we work in partnership with to deliver our programme of courses and workshops.

5 Program Activities all Camp Managers Need to Know About for 2019

5 Program Activities all Camp Managers Need to Know About for 2019

Planning your Summer Camp program for 2019? Struggling to come up with new and engaging ideas? Don’t worry, it can be a tricky process, especially when you want to incorporate original concepts to avoid doing the same old thing.

Between managing staff, organising logistics and marketing your camp, coming up with new program ideas can be challenging. We’re here to help, with our list of 5 activities to make summer camp memorable in 2019.

1. A Minecraft™ Inspired Outdoor Adventure

It’s the video game with over 91 million monthly players and a loyal cult following. Kids love it, so why not encourage them outdoors with a Minecraft™ themed adventure? Designed to get today’s digital generation off their screens and back outdoors, Wildcraft Adventure™ takes the best bits from the video game and transforms them into an outdoor experience they’ll never forget.

kids at summer camp on a minecraft inspired adventure

It’s a brand new way to engage the digital generation in the kind of outdoor adventures that us adults loved when we were kids. This game includes outdoor classics like den building, fire-lighting and scavenger hunts and combines them with video game elements like scoring points, beating monsters and gathering magical items – it’s like living in a real video game. Plus, players will have to use bushcraft, survival skills, teamwork and problem solving throughout.

“Wildcraft is the best activity we have ever found!”
Brenda Sutter, Laurel Tree Charter School, California

It’s designed to be as simple as possible for activity leaders to run with all the tools, resources and guides you need. Find all the details here or watch the video…

DISCOVER WILDCRAFT ADVENTURE PACKS HERE

 

2. Grab Your Lab Coat & Get Scientific

Kids love mystery and surprise so, creating original and interesting scientific experiments can be a real winner. You don’t need a physics degree make this happen either, just some common ingredients, clear instructions and the necessary safety precautions. Here’s a few cool ideas to get you started:

girl scouts doing science in the outdoors

3. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Host Themed Days

Yes, you may have done this a hundred times over – but, add a twist and the kids will love it. Get together with your camp counselors and have a think about recent kids movies and trends. From Deadpool and Marvel to Disney and Lego – there’s always a new craze you can get on board with.

host themed days at summer camp

Whether you decide to hold a fancy dress day or create activities based on a theme – the options are endless. You can also easily add educational elements in like languages, geography and performing arts.

4. Incorporate Mindfulness

Mindfulness and wellbeing are hot topics for adults at the moment, so why shouldn’t it be for kids too? With the modern pressures of social media and the internet, children need to learn the power of mindfulness just as much as adults. Schools across the US are increasingly incorporating it into the curriculum through a range of activities, so here’s how you can do it at summer camp too:

Combine Mindfulness with Bushcraft

This practice combines nature and ‘rewilding’ to help kids reconnect with the outdoors. By assisting with nature conservation and learning bushcraft survival skills, there are proven benefits that kids’ mental health can improve from the experience.

mindfulness & bushcraft with kids

Practising bushcraft requires children to adopt a mindful approach to their actions as patience, awareness and concentration are all key to mastering activities like knife craft and ancient fire-lighting.

Pair Up Mindfulness and Yoga

Not only does yoga enhance stability and focus, it also aids relaxation and mental wellbeing. Plus, it’s a great way to take a break between daily activities and inject some calm into your program.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Whether you decide to do a seated, walking or guided meditation, it can have a surprising impact on behaviour and mental wellbeing for kids. Here’s a handy article from the ACA (American Camp Association) on how to get started.

child meditating in the outdoors

“Kids are accustomed to using their senses to experience life. They look, touch, smell, and even taste their way through the world. This natural inclination toward mindfulness makes teaching kids to meditate easier than we thought. In fact, it’s a no-brainer.” Laurie Palagyi

Mindfulness and Roleplay

Get the kids to become the animals that live in the woods! Why not use roleplay to introduce kids to mindfulness through engaging them with nature? Check out our handy video on how to use animals as a starting point for practising mindfulness in nature. It’s proven to work with kids and adults.

“Animal Form Games invite participants to empathize with animals, to imitate their attitudes, and, to the best of their human-bodied ability in the throes of a game, practice animals ways of moving.” Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

5. Get Creative with Campfire Cooking

New flavours and foods can be a real treat for kids. Explore world foods, host a mini street food festival and at the same time enhance outdoor cooking skills with new and original recipes. No need to go gourmet with this one, simple yet tasty will be a winner every time.

summer camp - alternative campfire cooking ideas for food

Here’s a few delicious ideas to add you to your Summer Camp program for 2019:

Smores recipes

Sourced from: https://i.pinimg.com

To Sum Up…

Hopefully, these activities will give you food for thought when putting that all-important program together. If you’re still stuck for ideas though, head to Pinterest which offers a goldmine of tips, tricks and activities, perfect for camp.

If you’re interested in the Wildcraft Adventure™ but aren’t 100% sure about how to implement it, contact us here and we’ll be more than happy to give you all the details you need.

DISCOVER WILDCRAFT ADVENTURE PACKS HERE

In the meantime, happy planning!

James and Lea Kendall from Woodland Classroom

James & Lea Kendall are the creators of Woodland Classroom. “Through our passion, enthusiasm and experience we help people connect with nature, feel healthier and have meaningful experiences through positive activity and creative play.”

“We are experienced outdoor educators with a background in bushcraft, forest school and nature therapy, who love what we do.”

toffee apple slices - campfire cooking

Tired of Marshmallows Over the Campfire? Try This!

Are you looking for a simple but tasty treat that could go head-to-head with marshmallows as the number one campfire snack with kids? Well look no further…

We cook A LOT of marshmallows over the campfire with kids when we host our Forest School sessions and Woodland Birthday Parties. We know children love them, but they are not exactly a nutritionists best friend. They also contain gelatine made from pork or beef and we’re getting a lot more requests from parents who want vegetarian or vegan friendly campfire snacks for their kids when they come out to the woods with us. Last but not least, they’re sticky residue is a nightmare to get out of your clothes. Luckily, we have the solution.

Toffee Apple Slices are our alternative to marshmallows and kids love them! Granted they’re still coated in sugar but kids are getting some fruit down them and this recipe is vegan too. Our favourite sugar to use is coconut blossom sugar, as it less refined and less processed than regular sugar but any soft brown sugar will do the trick. They make a great hot campfire snack anytime of the year, especially in the autumn when you can walk out to an apple tree and pick the fruit straight from the branch.

Ingredients

  • Apples
  • Light or Dark Brown Soft Sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg – add to taste

Cooking Method

  1. To get a fire that really makes the most mouth-watering toffee apple slices it’s best to let your flames die down and roast your apples over the hot coals – just like you would with a bbq. This will save them from burning.
  2. First gently roast your apple slice over the fire until it begins to go soft and the pulp starts to bubble up.
  3. Next, dip your hot apple slice in a tray of soft brown sugar until it is well coated. Be careful it doesn’t fall off the stick.
  4. Roast your coated apple slice over the fire again until the sugar starts to melt.
  5. Now for the final touch… let your apple slice cool for a minute and the sugar will harden up and give your apple a crispy toffee coating – simply delicious.
  6.  Eat and repeat!
  7. For a slightly spiced variant on this snack then try sprinkling some cinnamon and/or nutmeg into the sugar. Ginger would work well too.

cooking toffee apple slices outdoors

Which Wood Should You Use?

For your roasting stick we would recommend using either a hazel, willow or sycamore stick. At Forest School this can be a whole activity in itself, identifying the tree in the woods, cutting a suitable branch responsibly and reducing the damage to the tree, then practising some basic whittling skills by slicing away the bark near the tip and making a sharp point.

We would recommend using green (fresh) sticks from a tree as they are more resistant to the fire than dead twigs, so will last longer.

sycamore tree - leaf and bud

Sycamore – the winter twig and full leaf.

FUN FACT: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) actually contains it’s own natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, which is one reason why it is very sought after for use in kitchenware. This makes it a really safe wood to use for roasting sticks when out in the woods with kids.

Full disclosure, I personally can’t stand marshmallows, even though I cook so many, so I was very glad to discover this tasty alternative. Thanks to the Forest School Leader who shared this cooking idea with us at a skill share training day in Derbyshire last year, I can’t remember your name but we’re forever grateful 🙂

Happy cooking everyone.

James

 

James and Lea Kendall from Woodland Classroom

James & Lea Kendall are the creators of Woodland Classroom. “Through our passion, enthusiasm and experience we help people connect with nature, feel healthier and have meaningful experiences through positive activity and creative play.”

“We are experienced outdoor educators with a background in bushcraft, forest school and nature therapy, who love what we do.”

bushcraft and mindfulness tools

Mindfulness & Bushcraft: Perfect Partners

Want to be healthier and happier? I’d say you need more wildness in your life! We, as a species, need to rewild ourselves. Practising bushcraft and taking time out for ourselves in nature can be our vehicle to honouring our ancient, wild selves. You may have seen plenty of stories doing the rounds about landowners who are letting wildlife do it’s thing as farms, forestry plantations and gardens are allowed to go back to nature. Whether it’s called rewilding, natural regeneration or non-intervention, the aim is usually the same; to benefit wildlife by increasing biodiversity. The results in many of these projects have seen a huge increase in the variety of animal and plant life, as well as the joy and happiness that comes to those who get to watch wildlife thriving around them. Species of insects and wildflowers have exploded and following them, all the birds and mammals that come with them. All because humans have withdrawn their input. Let’s take a step back and understand just what rewilding is…

“Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.” Rewidling Europe

So, can we also apply this approach to how we live our own lives? Absolutely!

Rewilding Your Body

The health benefits of being outdoors is one topic I find fascinating. As well as being the co-owner of a Forest School & Bushcraft company, I also work in mental health as a counsellor. In my work I have always been interested in the idea of our inner hunter-gatherer. Studies have shown that our brains are still wired up to a live in the world of our ancestors where our priorities were to hunt and gather for food, build shelter, connect with our families and communities and use plants to heal ourselves. Occasionally we’d experience the stress response to run away from danger or fight to protect ourselves from harm. In the world of the hunter-gatherer these stressful instances would have normally been short lived and with the immediate danger passed we’d soon return to the safety of our tribe, an ongoing cycle of relaxation to stress to relaxation, completed and no harm done. Fast forward to today however, and our modern, fast-paced lifestyles mean we spend much of our lives in this stress state. Cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) is racing through our systems steadily and rarely do we get much of a break from this to reconnect with our tribe and loved ones and complete the cycle, allowing the brain to get it’s much needed rest.

Society has changed in the blink of an evolutionary eye, and our brain wiring has nowhere near caught up yet. It’s still happier picking berries, whittling spoons and bonding with each other whilst sat round the campfire under the canopy of the trees and stars.

Research by Mark Berman at the University of Chicago says that if you add 10 trees to any given urban block, residents report a 1% increase in wellness, if you wanted to give the same effect using money for increasing happiness you’d have to pay each household $10,000 or make the residents 7 years younger. Trees, nature, wildness, they all increase our happiness and well-being. So, why don’t we choose to spend more time immersed in nature if it’s so good for us?

fermented wild greens kimchiI’ve recently discovered the process of fermenting wild greens. This is an ancient technique to preserve foods and to increase the nutritional value which greatly benefits the overall health of the body. This further led me to develop my understanding of how the gut plays a major role in our mental health too. It was fascinating to discover that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, it’s like the body’s second brain. Eating fermented food is incredibly good for us and up until very recently in western history we have been preserving food in this way.

The average body contains around 39 trillion microbes & bacteria in the intestines. Our lack of exposure to dirt and animals along with the cleaning and disinfecting of our crops and environment with chemicals, has reduced the biodiversity in our guts, and like the health of the earth, our own overall health has declined as a result. We are our own ecosystems, and some scientists are suggesting we even need to rewild our intestines with bacteria from indigenous people – its sounds crazy but it’s already happening. Want to know more about this subject? Check out  Mary Beth Nawor’s Ted Talk on YouTube.

Many of us already know how to rewild our back gardens, letting nature take over or by planting native plants and bee-friendly flowers. We can also increase the ‘wildness’ of our gut by eating healthy, fermented and ‘dirty’ wild food, but how do we rewild our spirit, our emotional, cognitive and social selves?

I believe that positive mental and physical health can be achieved through the art of Bushcraft and being mindful in nature. Here we are doing two very simple things; we are honouring our inner hunter-gatherer and living in the present moment. We are also surrounding ourselves amongst trees in a beautiful forest. Those trees have been scientifically proven to have their own natural healing powers, but that’s a story for another time.

bushcraft and mindfulness in north wales

Bushcraft – Just What the Doctor Ordered

Our good friend Nick Hulley is a Bushcraft Instructor based in Staffordshire who brings Mindfulness into the very core of his life. When hosting a woodland skills session, mindfulness informs how he moves about the woods, how he uses all his senses to feel the forest, how the trees nourish him, how he pauses and calmly absorbs all about him: likewise for his learners on the courses he delivers for them. Let’s let Nick explain in his own words…

“After my ‘safety-rounds’ along the rides, the trails and the woodland fringes; I ease into the fire circle glade. I lower my rucksack, remove the kindling from home along with the tinder, heft my axe into a couple of logs, light the fire and boil the kettle – wood smoke, tea, crackling billets, fresh cut logs, the fire light flicker, the outer focus stillness and yet the inner calmness continues to enrich my wellbeing. I ground myself, cross-legged and centred. The following fifteen minutes of the breath, the inner sight, the acknowledgement and the continued return to the breath sets me up for the day: this marriage works, forest environments, Bushcraft and Mindfulness: even if it is just a short centre and pause whilst doing.”

Nick will be one of the four experienced tutors hosting our

Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales this September. Nick continues…

“It is wonderful to now be aware that for all these years, working as I do in a forest setting, that research has been going on with the intent to establish positive links between woodlands & improved health. Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing in Japan) and its beneficial outcomes is one of the many researched avenues involving forested settings; which provide a life enhancing backdrop to the union of Bushcraft activities and primitive skills learning complimented by Mindfulness, with its slowed, peaceful and thoughtful considerations of the natural world and our impact on it.”

Practising Bushcraft doesn’t have to mean taking on extreme survival skills, pushing yourself to the edge of your endurance or eating up a dish of witchetty grubs, ala Bear Grylls. For me, Bushcraft skills are about slowing down, tuning into nature, connecting with our ancient past and being present in our natural environment. Through Bushcraft skills such as tracking, carving, nature awareness and plant identification we can become extremely mindful and train our brain to leave the fast-paced, modern world behind even if just for a few hours. Bushcraft and Mindfulness are the perfect partners to leading a healthier, happier lifestyle, enriched by nature, sharing time with like minds and learning some very old, new skills.

by Lea Kendall (Counsellor, Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner and Outdoor Activity Leader)

adults learn fire lighting skills in north walesWoodland Classroom are hosting a whole weekend of Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales this September. You can give some time to your inner hunter-gatherer for a weekend of mindfulness in the woods accompanied by a range of bushcraft activities aimed at focusing the mind and increasing awareness & appreciation of the natural world.  If you’d like to know more about this event, just follow THIS LINK.

“In wildness is the salvation of the world” Henry David Thorough

mindfulness in nature workshop

How Nature Heals

autumn leaf mindfulnessNature heals us, builds new connections and improves our mental health. Many of us know this instinctually, that walking in woodland is somehow good for us, at the very least we know it helps us to relax. There are also now many scientific studies that provide evidence of why woodlands and forests are so beneficial to human health… aside from the obvious production of life-sustaining oxygen of course 😉 What I’d like to talk about though is my own personal experiences and how practising mindfulness outdoors and hedgerow medicine has enriched my life, and how it could benefit you too.

There have been a whole range of positive differences, on top of an improved state of mental health, that have manifested in my life since practicing Mindfulness in the Woods. My anxiety levels have been much reduced after a difficult period, which I’ll explain in more detail later. I also find I am eating a more plant-based diet and have discovered a renewed passion for natural remedies and herb lore. My knowledge of tree & wildflower identification is getting much better and I am also considering my daily impact on the planet more than ever; I’m buying products without palm oil, reducing my waste and buying more organic foods from small local businesses. My latest venture is lacto-fermentation, an ancient way of preserving whilst increasing the nutritional value of wild foods and vegetables. I no longer eat intensively farmed meat or dairy produce. In a nutshell, I just care more about myself and my natural environment, as if we have become one, or maybe the journey isn’t about becoming anything, maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that’s not really you, so you can become who you were meant to be in the first place. A natural part of the forest.

mindfulness in nature - north walesI have been running courses in Mindfulness in the Woods for a while now and during this time I have met all sorts of people who decided to attend for different reasons. As they introduced themselves around our campfire circle I would get an insight into their stories; some said they were looking for ways to reduce their anxiety, some were keen on outdoor pursuits and wanted to bring something new and meaningful to their time in the great outdoors, whilst others were just curious, knowing that they loved being in a woodland and that mindfulness could possibly help towards reducing stress in their lives.

“Lea is a lovely, warm person who quickly put the group at ease. We practised engaging with nature with all our senses and learnt some strategies to deal with stress and anxiety. I am a walker so this will really enhance my walks and make them more meaningful.” Course Participant

My sessions act as an introduction to the subject and last three hours. Activities can include mindful walking with the senses, reflecting on the Seven Principles of Mindfulness and what nature can teach us about them, making art in nature, Sit Spots and more. The feedback has been great, with many participants asking for a longer version of this course… more on that at the end of this blog.

“I have to say it was a fantastic introduction to mindfulness and meditation. We were immediately made to feel welcome and secure, she created a good nurturing space. We learned new skills and the practical work was really eye opening. Lots of things to take away, and I will certainly be actively practicing what we learned. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to step out of their hectic lives for a couple of hours.” Course Participant

Becoming a Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner has led me to reflect deeply about my own relationship to nature and how it has developed my connection to self in the process. I now see that when I connect with nature I am also connecting with my body and spirit and don’t see these things as separate but one and the same. Practising mindfulness whilst out in nature has allowed me to connect with the very essence of who I am, the building blocks of my body and the spirit of generations past before me.

Mindfulness in Nature Healed My Own Anxiety

Last year I qualified as a counsellor and life coach. During my study for this I spent four years trying to ‘find myself’ and connect with my body, feelings and authentic self. I did not find this easy. Years of social conditioning and self-protection led me to construct a sense of self that was about other people and their opinions of me rather than my true nature.

Qualifying as a counsellor and leaving college was a difficult transition for me, it coincided with a home & business move from Mid to North Wales, leaving family behind in the process, all the while I was still feeling very much on my journey to self-discovery, peeling away the layers to often difficult and painful aspects of self, but without the weekly Personal Development group I was used to having at college, as a support and space to discuss, cry and reflect, I was beginning to find myself overly anxious with a real fear of slipping into depression.

I love to learn new skills and take positive action, so on completing my counselling training I then went on to complete training as a Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner, which for me, brought my love of nature, my Forest School business and my love of personal development and therapy into one neat package. Being able to deliver this all together into a beautiful combination, so others can benefit too, continues to be very rewarding.

I knew it was important to practice what I was teaching to others, so I made regular time for yoga, meditated at home and developed my knowledge of woodlands by noticing and deepening my observation of my natural surroundings; watching the birds and just being still in nature, drinking in her essence and being at one with this place that was also inside of me. For me this was my cure.

Science Agrees: Nature Is Good For You

There are studies that show the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in a person’s saliva is reduced when spending time in nature and studies in Japan show cancer rates being higher in people living in towns compared to those living near a forest. In Japan, mindful time spent in nature is called Shinrin Yoku which translates to “Forest Bathing.”

In their article, Science Agrees: Nature Is Good For You, The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy says that stress is dramatically reduced by both gazing upon a scene in nature and by walking in nature.  Again, cortisol levels, sympathetic nerve activity (your body’s reaction to stressful situations), blood pressure and heart rate were all reduced in participants. The article also talks about the increase in immune functioning and creativity. One study showed a group of outward-bound participants scoring 50% better in problem-solving tasks after 3 days of wilderness backpacking.

Amazing Things Happen When You Just Sit Still

When you let yourself relax with nature, become present with it with both body and mind, amazing things start to happen. I’ve seen the evidence first hand, during my mindfulness sessions. The activity I asked the participants to take part in was a Sit Spot, which is time spent looking on a scene in the woodlands, being present in the moment and watching nature. During the Sit Spot, woodland life becomes at peace with us. Insects, birds, even mammals begin to accept us as we slow right down, no longer pose a threat to them but becoming part of the landscape.

On coming back to the fire circle after our Sit Spot one participant told me she had glanced at her Fit Bit whilst sitting and her heart rate was reading lower than it had ever been. Quite a positive result I’d say!

“it seemed the animals accepted me as a natural part of that place. Going there felt like going home. Even the song sparrow who hung out in a nearby patch of knotweed eventually stopped chipping its alarms at me; instead while I sat, it would come to the bush behind me and sing its beautiful song right over my head…. I had so many amazing, unforgettable experiences, just sitting quietly in this place until I became part of the other world of wild animals and nature. You can do the same thing.” Evan McGown, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

sit spot in the woodlandI recently had two wonderful experiences myself using the Sit Spot technique. The first was with my husband as we sat in the woods, leaning against an old oak. A dead tree stood close and in the forefront of our view. We were privileged to watch a woodpecker fly to the dead tree and busy itself for the next forty minutes as it drilled, pecked and flitted in and out of holes in the search for insects, seemingly unaware of our presence just below. My most recent experience was a half hour Sit Spot spent in woodland in Derbyshire. Here, amoungst the bluebells, two little woodmice appeared right next to my foot. They were rustling under the leaves and going about their business, paying me no attention at all, leaving me free to watch them up close with absolute wonder and amazement, feeling such gratitude for this experience. My smile reached my ears after this very special encounter.

Want to try Mindfulness in Woodlands for yourself?

I run Mindfulness in the Woods events regularly in North Wales and occasionally in Swansea, Cardiff and Lampeter. If you are interested in attending one of these then you can find upcoming dates on our Events page HERE or you can email me if you’d like to know more.

I am also excited to be co-hosting the Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales this coming June, along with three other tutors, each with their own specialism in either mindfulness or bushcraft skills. It’s going to be a fantastic event bringing these two disciplines together.

Lastly, following the beginning of my private counselling practice and running Mindfulness in the Woods events, I have now started offering one-to-one nature therapy sessions. This came about naturally due to a demand from course participants who wanted more and wanted to know what else I could offer them. One woman asked whether she could have a ‘monthly top up’ of Mindfulness in the Woods whilst also having the space to talk privately and focus on herself for a couple of hours with a trained counsellor. If you would like to know more about this service, please get in touch.

mindfulness in the woods wales

how we trebled our outdoor education business with just one lesson plan

How We Trebled Our Outdoor Education Business With Just One Lesson Plan

the ultimate lesson plan for getting kids off screen and outdoors

We went from struggling to fill our events to selling out within 24 hours, all due to this one kick-ass lesson plan that left kids desperate for more! This lesson plan allowed us to grow our business, reach new audiences and increase our income. In this short case study we’re going to show you exactly what we did and why kids addicted to video games were choosing instead to unplug and come on our outdoor activity days.

The lesson plan is called Wildcraft Adventure™ and we’ll explain exactly what that is later, but first let’s take a look at the amazing response that it got from parents.46,000 reach on Facebook

wildcraft facebook comments

When we first posted our Wildcraft Adventure™ event on facebook we reached 46,957 people, without spending a penny on advertising. Using this lesson plan, just one event got us 2,446 responses and 578 total ticket clicks on the event page!

Over the next few events running this lesson plan we continued to get impressive figures for audience engagement. Combining these with our first event we’d generated over 4,000 new leads on facebook, again without spending a single penny.

wildcraft facebook statistics

wildcraft facebook statistics

In fact, we did even better than this a few weeks later, the same event, using this lesson plan, at a different venue reached over 200,000 people organically on facebook! Again, no money was spent on advertising. Parents were advertising our events for us through word of mouth.

wildcraft mailchimp subscribersWe also got free coverage in the national press from The Week magazine and Wales Online and the best thing is, their journalists contacted us!

With all the interest that this lesson plan generated we grew our mailing list by over 40% in just a few days! Parents didn’t want to miss out on future announcements for Wildcraft Adventures™.

Also, not only were more people subscribing to our newsletter to hear about future events but we were also smashing the industry average ‘open rate’ for newsletters. In the education industry, the average percentage for subscribers opening an email from a service provider is 17.34%. With the success of Wildcraft we were getting a massive 68.18% open rate! That’s impressive by any standard.

wildcraft mailchimp open rate

On top of all that we increased ‘likes’ on our facebook page by more than 34% over the period we announced Wildcraft.

wildcraft facebook likesSource: facebook insights, 1st Dec 15 – 1st Feb 16

As a business, positive word of mouth is the most powerful advertising you’ll ever have. Hundreds of parents shared our events, invited their friends and spread the word for us. This of course, hugely increased the reach of our business and raised awareness for Woodland Classroom and all the other services we offer.

THE LESSON PLAN THAT MADE THIS POSSIBLE

Hopefully by now we have your attention so we’d like to take this chance to introduce ourselves and give you a bit of background as we’re sure you’re wondering how we got to this point.

forest school mentorsWe’re James & Lea and between us we run our own outdoor education business in Wales, UK called Woodland Classroom. We work with parents, schools and organisations to engage children in the outdoors. We’re passionate about getting kids connecting with nature and having positive experiences through creative play.

It was spring 2015 and we were sat planning our summer programme of events, struggling for new ideas and wondering how many activity days we could realistically fill.

We already had a core audience of parents and kids who were on board for the types of regular activities we provided; bushcraft clubs, forest school sessions, wild play and outdoor pursuits. But we knew that there were so many more families who were not engaging with our business, in short we wanted our business to grow. To do that we needed a way to reach all those parents who were struggling to get their kids interested in what we had to offer. These are the kids who would rather be on their consoles than playing in the woods. That’s where this lesson plan came in, but we couldn’t predict the huge response that it would receive.

“Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.” American Academy of Pediatrics

Like so many teachers and activity leaders in the outdoor education industry we’d read Richard Louv’s eye-opening book Last Child in the Woods which warns of the rise of ‘nature deficit disorder’ in today’s children. Parents were telling us that they faced an uphill struggle, as there’s such an addictive quality to video games that restricting screen time can cause big arguments in the family home. The more parents we spoke with, the more we heard about this recurring problem.

All this lead to one question; “For those kids who are spending too much time glued to their screens and have little interest in getting out into nature, how do we engage them in a way so that they choose to go outside?” the answer suddenly hit us… “Simple, we take their video games outdoors!”

Let’s be clear, this didn’t mean that kids would be sat on their tablets, playing on-screen games in the woods with us. Our idea was to take their favourite video games and transform them into outdoor adventures that would also have them learning about the natural world without even realizing it.

So, we did A LOT of research. We watched and spoke with children playing video games, identified the most popular titles, then picked out the common themes and features in those games. One game that stood out particularly was Minecraft, which we’re sure needs no introduction. Since being launched it’s sold over 100 million copies. Having ranked it the 6th best video game of all time, Time magazine said of Minecraft; Has there ever been a game as impactful as this one?” Not only is it hugely popular with children but it was also perfect as a basis for creating outdoor adventures. Rather than try and compete against the video games, we decided we needed to harness their popularity.

It was Autumn 2015 we unveiled Wildcraft Adventure™ to the world and the response was incredible! At time of writing, we have sold out EVERY Wildcraft event we have run.

wildcraft facebook comments 2

The tickets for our first events sold out in less than 24 hours and we then spent 3 days answering the phone every 5 minutes to tell potential customers that we were sorry but tickets had all gone. Talk about demand outstripping supply. We didn’t waste these new leads though. Because of all the interest in Wildcraft Adventure™ we were able to rapidly grow our email list almost overnight. We knew we had definitely hit on something.

Facebook comments - wildcraft mailing list

Throughout 2016 we ran as many Wildcraft Adventures™ as we could fit in, around our outdoor after-school clubs and other Forest School events. At the time of writing we’ve hosted 46 of these events across Wales, reaching 860 children. That’s a massive 5,160 hours of outdoor playtime for kids, when they might otherwise have been indoors playing video games. We’ve got many more planned for the future too.

WHY IT WORKS!

Our Wildcraft lesson plans have been such a huge success because they provide a solution to the problem that many parents are having, the daily struggle to get their kids away from their tablets, iPads and consoles to spend more time outdoors.

“What an amazing experience for my son. Like many parents I worry about the time he spends on electronic games and the fact that I have to beg and bribe to get him outdoors. Not so with this genius idea to use popular computer games to tempt him into activities that I knew he would love if he would only give them a chance. When asked if he wanted to go again, my son’s reply was “no, Mum. I HAVE to go again.” Emily Carne (parent)

“I haven’t seen my son (10 yrs old) so animated in a long time. He talked about his experience for two hours solid and now is designing his own ‘real minecraft’ in a book ready to go out in the woods to do it with his friends. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s back to when I was young and no computer games existed, but it’s pure genius to use video games as a basis to start from, the children are already hooked before they even start! Brilliant!” Suki Morys (parent)

“Such a fantastic antidote to the ever increasing creep of the screen.” Hannah Cutler (parent)

AN ON-GOING SUCCESS

We’ve had 100% positive feedback from kids and parents and it’s really put our business on the map. We also found that kids who had been on our Wildcraft Adventure™ were then booking onto our other events. Going forward, we have a larger pool of returning kids and we’re building great long-term relationships with parents who trust our brand.

wildcraft facebook reviews

“Ryan had a fabulous day. He got home and immediately wanted to build a den and a fire. Before coming I had tried to get him to join in a forest school day but he said ‘it wasn’t his thing’. However ‘would you like to go on a Minecraft style bushcraft day?’ And he couldn’t sign up fast enough, he was so excited he couldn’t sleep the night before and you certainly didn’t disappoint on the day.” Jacky John (parent)

“My two had a great time at the Minecraft Bushcraft day, so nice to see them turning off the video game and getting some fresh air and fun! Great, great day, they would go again in a heartbeat!” Laura Murphy (parent)

wildcraft Facebook reviews 2

We have had children returning 4, even 5 times to the same event and Wildcraft is also proving to be a great gateway activity for kids who are new to the world of outdoor pursuits.

“They haven’t stopped asking can they come again. They were so inspired that they will be joining a local bushcraft group.” Lisa-Mare Hayes (parent)

The success of Wildcraft enabled us to both quit our part-time jobs to realize our dream of running Woodland Classroom full-time. We have been able to follow our passions, make a living from them and have now booked a month-long honeymoon in beautiful Thailand.

The next step in our story was creating Wildcraft Adventure™ as a digital lesson plan that we could make available to other activity leader and teachers to run at their own venues. It’s a growing community of outdoor education centres, summer camps, schools, holiday clubs and freelancers who have been sharing in the success of the game. Let’s hear from some of them…

“We’re really excited about the Wildcraft Adventure… I was really inspired by what you guys are doing. We’re looking for ways to get our kids out of the classroom, playing together.  Your game gives us the perfect vehicle for mixed-age, cooperative, outdoor fun.” Brenda Sutter, Laurel Tree Charter School, California U.S.

“We are FULLY BOOKED for both our Wildcraft events and are very much looking forward to it!” Helena Louise Broadbent, Forest Explorers, England

“Wow! What a full on, wild and adventurous day for our kids AND leaders in the woods. Learning new skills, making friends, exploring, building, crafting, cooking and getting muddy… THIS is what real gaming is all about! Really glad we used the pack as it has saved us so much lesson planning and resource time and it is something we will go back to using all year. Good value for money.” Holly James, KidsGroWild, Scotland

“Wildcraft Adventure is a great way to get children away from the screen and in to the natural environment. The children were fully immersed in the game… They loved every minute of it!” Jackie Meager, OutLET Play Resource, Scotland

As a gateway to the world of Wildcraft Adventure™ we have created a special, simplified and fast-paced version of the full game called Wildcraft: Mini Game, which can be played over just a couple of hours. Anyone can run the game, no special training is required and everything you need to know to run this lesson plan is included in the package.

“I have been endeavouring to incorporate more outdoor education activities into my classroom in the last few years. I just purchased your Wildcraft game…what a great idea. I am going to save it for an end of the year celebration activity so that the kids can use all of their newly acquired bushcraft skills. Thank-you for sharing your expertise and passions with the outside world…this teacher across the pond certainly appreciates it.” Susan Brown, Teacher (Grade 3), Canada.

wildcraft mini game sales picture

If you want to try Wildcraft Adventure™ for yourself then click the link below to check out our Wildcraft: Mini Game. We think you’ll love it.

YES, I WANT THIS WILDCRAFT LESSON PLAN

If you want to find out more about Wildcraft Adventure™ you can check out the video below.

YES, I WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WILDCRAFT ADVENTURE PACKS

forest school in juno magazine

We’re in JUNO Magazine!

We’re thrilled to have been featured in the latest issue of JUNO magazine, talking about the success of our Wildcraft Adventures and the benefits of outdoor learning for children. JUNO aims to promote a natural approach to family life. Our article “Into The Woods” explains how we persuaded children to turn off their screen and come outdoors.

You can also read about us elsewhere in the magazine as we tell our story of hosting Woodland Walks at Underneath the Stars Festival in Yorkshire. The magazine has a whole feature on upcoming festivals in the UK which are family friendly and eco-minded.

There’s also a great piece by Danny English from Communitree where he explains how a connection to nature is key to the health and wellbeing of children. In fact, the magazine if full of good stuff to be honest.

JUNO is a natural parenting magazine that inspires and supports families through its range of features, columns and artwork. Established in 2003, it is published six times a year, in February, April, June, August, October and December. The editorial is broad, covering all aspects of family life for all ages. JUNO is loved by many readers for its articles that share personal experiences and reflections, and for the beautiful and striking images and illustrations from a range of artists.

JUNO offers fresh perspectives in this fast-paced technological world, creating a non-judgemental community for those who are keen to follow “a natural approach to family life”. There are columns on home-education, empowered birth, teens and nutrition; interviews, craft and recipe ideas and a mix of features that can help readers make informed choices as they journey through the challenges of parenting.

JUNO issue 48 front coverJUNO is available through WH Smiths, independent retailers, online at www.junomagazine.com and as a digital edition.

You can read the issue on iTunes too, right HERE

You can also grab this issue of JUNO at Exact Editions HERE

All subscribers receive free access to the full back catalogue of issues in digital format.

Thanks to Saffia and the team at JUNO for working with us and for making us look good 🙂

If you want to find out more about our Wildcraft Adventures as seen in the article, then just follow THIS LINK

Lea

as featured in juno magazine

unplug & play

Autism & Wildcraft Adventure – How Gamer Kids Chose to Unplug & Play Outdoors Without Argument

Something quite unexpected happened when I started hosting our outdoor activity events for kids. We started getting an increasing number of enquiries and bookings by parents whose children were on the autistic spectrum. The event that caused this unexpected but welcome interest was our Wildcraft Adventures. I wanted to find out why this was happening.

children are at risk from too much screen time

Children today live in a world where screen based technology and instant information is everywhere, it makes me feel quite old sometimes. The lure of video games is getting so strong with young people today that some writers are referring to this as the new drug of the 21st Century. Listening to parents talk about the battles they have with their children when trying to reduce their screen time it reminds me more of a heroin addiction rather than a popular game enjoyed by young people.

“Kids love the shiny tech as much as the rest of us. The ubiquity and pervasiveness of screens across every aspect of our lives has happened with astonishing speed with limited disconnect anymore between on and offline. This is voted as the number one barrier to kids playing out across the whole network from parents to organisations. How can we make sure we’re aware of our screen time and we find balance by making time for WildTime, offline, outside, liking other stuff like plants, trees, the sun, the rain and all the cool creatures?  How do we help them navigate all this technology?” Project Wild Thing

No wonder children love video games so much, they can transport you to another world and you are constantly rewarded for your efforts. As adults and parents it’s our responsibility to help our children strike a balance between technology which is (quite understandably) attractive and the real world of social interactions and nature. I think one way we can do this is through inspiration. Igniting the natural urge to play in every child’s mind. That is how Wildcraft Adventure™ came about, but more on that later.

I’ve spoken with a few parents about their experiences managing their children’s screen time. I was shocked to learn of one parent who threatened to turn off the WI-FI as a consequence of some behaviour only to become frightened that her 15-year-old son would physically attack her. I was also surprised by one mother who was shocked to see her 10 year old son had wet himself while playing Minecraft on his iPad for the first time.

The first child mentioned above is dyspraxic and the second child (it is thought) has autistic spectrum disorder. These two children have learning differences and I believe that they are prone to get ‘hooked’ on popular computer games like Minecraft and Terraria, but so do many other children without learning differences. I really wanted to explore why.

minecraft official logo

Minecraft is a worldwide phenomenon. Having sold countless copies. It’s a game that children with ASD seem particularly attracted to.

Something about the format of video games really engages kids in the make believe world of computer games. Children rarely take complete responsibility for their actions and there’s usually an adult keeping their little worlds moving along. Kids have so little control in their real lives and decisions get made for them all the time. So, to be given the power to build a world that is totally of your own design, where all decisions are made by the child, their own preferences and choices, must be such a refreshing change and escape for them, no wonder they find it hard to come back to reality. Is this the big attraction of non-competitive, world building video games like Minecraft?

In our outdoor education business, my partner and I created an outdoor adventure game called Wildcraft Adventure™, which is based on popular video games, using lots of common themes that feature in kids favourite games. It has been a huge success with almost 100% positive feedback from kids and parents. We have also had some amazing feedback from children on the spectrum and their parents. These particular children normally find interacting in teams really difficult.

In our Wildcraft Adventure™ game the children get split into teams (known as ‘clans’) and they compete for points in a variety of outdoor challenges. The clan with the most XP (a common gaming term referring to experience points) wins the game. Thought the emphasis is definitely not on this competitive element, but more on teamwork and shared play.

Wildcraft Adventure - characters

We have been told by many parents that anything competitive can be a challenge for their child who has ASD but this has rarely been a problem in the Wildcraft Adventure game. There is not a prize for winning and the game is about collecting resources and completing challenges which earn you XP. The emphasis is on earning XP rather than winning the game, the gaining of experience and new skills. The game suits children who are competitive and non-competitive. While some children will focus on finding the most precious and well-hidden resource to earn them the maximum amount of XP, the other children will focus on creating a space that uses the imagination, like building a vegetable garden, which will also earn them XP but is less about competition and more about creativity. Each style of play is rewarded and rewarding in itself. If there are two different types of children in the same clan then they can go their separate ways without getting into conflict with one another. Each team member can pick and choose their own preference of play within the game, this helps group cohesion.

One session that we ran was for a Home Education group of 20 children with 6 parents attending also. There were both high and low functioning children with ASD. Within the group one child had been taken out of school because of anxiety, another child with cancer, another child who didn’t speak any English and also a child who had just moved to Britain from the USA and didn’t know anyone in this country.

The day went extremely well and we had some great feedback off the parents. One of the children with ASD managed to stay for the whole day when normally he goes home after just half a day, his Mum was so pleased. At the point he did get upset, he was given an iPad to calm him down in which he played Minecraft but every so often he would engage again with the game and was mostly settled in the woods for the whole day.

All the children had fun and engaged with the game. There were a couple of melt downs but parents were there to help calm the child and they resumed play quickly and without incident.

What struck me was that the children all spoke a common language, the video game language, so there was common ground for everyone to understand, which even crossed real-life language barriers. Whatever the need of the child, there was an understanding of the concept of the game, but instead of sat indoors stuck to a computer screen they were outside getting fresh air, exercise, socialising and learning new skills.

UPDATE (Jan 2018): Having had such a hugely positive response from parents of children with ASD to Wildcraft we have since developed the ASD Friendly version of the game which uses specially created  game componenets presented as a social-story rather than reams of text. The children love it and this has also proved to work well for children with other learning diffrences including dyslexia.

lea wakeman - outdoor educator

Our Wildcraft Adventure days (which have been such a hit with video gaming kids) have now been transformed into a shorter, simpler, fast-paced outdoor game that anyone can run with a group of kids. It’s called the Wildcraft: Mini Game and it’s available from our website.

You can find out more by following the link below.

Thanks for reading,

Lea

Lea Wakeman is an outdoor activity leader and founder of Woodland Classroom, based in the UK. She is also a qualified Counsellor and has worked as a Mental Health Mentor.

CHECK OUT THE WILDCRAFT MINI GAME

forest school and autism

Autism & Forest School. How to Integrate Kids with Differences & Feel Confident as a Leader.

“While we see the forest, a person with ASD will see every single leaf on every single branch on every single tree in the forest” Paul Fijal

Something that I’ve noticed happening naturally over the last couple of years is an increase in kids on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder coming to our Forest School sessions. With this trend I decided to explore deeper into how we could adapt, change or enhance the way we do things to help integrate young people on the autistic spectrum within our activities. Not only did I learn more than a few things but I also came up with my list of Top 9 Tips for outdoor activity leaders when hosting children with ASD, which I’d like to share with you.

ASD children and forest school

Before starting up Woodland Classroom I had supported young people with learning differences in my role as a Learning Mentor so I have some experience of Aspergers syndrome and diagnosis’s of ASD. I have also volunteered for a day in a school specifically for children who have Autism but I still didn’t feel like I knew how to be more integrative and able to adapt within our Forest School sessions.

My experience of autism in others is also hugely variable, from kids who hit their head repeatedly on the wall and need to spend lots of time in a padded sensory room with no speech and no ablity to engage on a social level, to the other end of the spectrum such as University students deemed as being “a bit shy” who have ended up with a diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome which came as a shock to everyone who knew them. So, with all this in mind I was left feeling confused about what being autistic really means.

Among other research, I watched some TED Talks on YouTube to help me better understand the world of autism and what it might mean to us and our outdoor education business. The biggest message I gained was one I already knew deep down, that every child is different and this equally applies to kids with ASD as much as it does with any other child. Just because a child has been diagnosed with ASD it does not mean there are a set of rules which apply to the way they behave or see the world.

All the kids we have had on our Forest School sessions with ASD have been vastly different, their needs are different, their preferences are different, their likes and dislikes are not the same and their social interactions varied.

On most occasions we have kids who are high functioning attending our events and they are left by their parents for a full day of activities and 95% of the time the day goes by without incident.

On other days when we have had kids with lower functioning ASD they have attended with parents and there has been no or little impact on ourselves as activity leaders and how we need to run our sessions.

children with ASD and outdoor learningWhile watching different TED Talks on Autism I was particularly struck by this metaphor from Paul Fijal…

“While we see the forest, a person with ASD will see every single leaf on every single branch on every single tree in the forest”

This made me wonder why is it that a woodland, an ever changing environment with so much rich and wonderful stimulus, isn’t overwhelming for kids that can be prone to sensory overload? Come to think of it, this question applies to all natural environments and wild spaces.

One thing is apparent, nearly all children enjoy their time in the woods being themselves and partaking in the activities Forest School offers them.

I also believe that kids with ASD gain something important from their time with us, there is a therapeutic quality about the activities and natural setting that no traditional classroom can give you. There is peace and tranquillity to be found in the forest. There is space to take time-out whenever needed and even though there are lots of stimulus entering the senses, it is all natural, moving at a seasonal rhythm and it speaks to a deeper part of what makes us human.

If kids with ASD are sensitive to routines being changed then surely the slowly-changing environment out in a woodland provides a subtle learning opportunity. Children see the modern world as ever changing, it never stays the same yet in a woodland the change is gentle and brings with it new beauty and new experiences and it all happens one day at a time, one moment at a time.

What I realised is everything we were already doing in our Forest School was absolutely correct and I am always ready to remind myself that not having preconceived ideas about autistic kids and their behaviour was the best way to be.

I promised to give you some tips from my experience. Here’s my advice for anyone who runs Forest School or outdoor activities and lacks experience of working with kids on the autistic spectrum.

MY TOP 9 TIPS

FOR OUTDOOR ACTIVITY LEADERS, CONSIDERING HOSTING CHILDREN WITH ASD

TIP 1 – Ask the Right Questions Early On

We often run events where the parents drop their kids off for the day. In this situation, if a parent wants to book their child to your event and is unsure whether or not they should stay with them for the day then you can ask the parent whether their child has any one-to-one support in school. This should start the right sort of conversation. If the answer is yes, then I encourage the parent to stay for at least the first session, over time you may get to know the child enough and feel the parent staying is no longer necessary. Remember, every child is different.

TIP 2 – Invite Their Brother or Sister

Having a around can be a great help as they usually have the best understanding of their brother’s or sister’s needs and if the parent has discussed this with them in advance they could be able to let you know if something could be changed or needs dealing with to make things smoother and avoid an incident. A sibling is also a familiar face for the child, especially when coming to a strange new environment.

TIP 3 – Get an Appropriate Registration Form

I would make sure there is a good sized section on your child registration form that allows for a parent to explain any needs, learning differences or medical conditions their child has. When you get the form always read through it whilst you are with the parent and ask your questions. If the child is down as ASD or Aspergers for instance, you can then ask the parent if there is anything you need to know that could help their child enjoy their experience and if there are any needs that they haven’t written down that may help.

TIP 4 – Get the Right Team Together

If a parent has explained that their child struggles with team work or competition etc, I will always try and team these kids up with quieter children rather than louder more excitable children. If you’ve got regular kids on your event that you know would have the right temperament then that can be a help.

forest school and autism

TIP 5 – Get a Hammock

At our Forest School we have a hammock hanging in the woods away from the main circle and hub of activity but in clear view. At the start of the session make it know to the children that the hammock is for ‘time out’ only, and when a child needs time out, they should ask and are given permission to use it. If a child is using the hammock then all other children must leave them alone, it is not a place of play but a place to chill out.

TIP 6 – Give Space When It’s Needed

Unfortunately it can often be other children that ‘wind up’ a situation and almost seem to enjoy watching a child have a melt-down. Some kids will wrongly see such behaviour as entertainment and that can’t be  tolerated. Very often i’ve found it’s the  the other kids watching the melt-down that need to be dealt with rather than the child who is having difficulties. Kids tend to know how to self sooth so give them space by distracting any other kids and getting them away from the situation, you or a colleague can keep half an eye on the child to make sure they are not at risk from harm but it is often best to leave them alone and maybe check in with them after a little while and let them know you are there if they need you, if they want to be left alone then respect their wishes and do so.

TIP 7 – Keep Language Simple

If you find that the child with ASD has upset another child or their behaviour is not acceptable then tell them not to do this in as few words as possible, keep it simple and to the point, do not give long explanations as to why. Just say no. For instance; “do not kick”, “do not take her stick” etc. Make sure they have understood, repeat if needed and then let the incident go.

TIP 8 – Be Yourself

Get rid of your preconceived ideas of ASD and start from scratch with each individual, get to know them for who they are, ask questions and watch their body language, know when to back off and leave a child in peace and keep doing what makes them happy. This sort of approach can be applied to any kids in your group, you don’t need to be different with the kids with ASD than you do with kids without autism.

TIP 9 – Do Your Research, starting with….

Lastly, watch this video from Ted X Talks by Paul Fijal. I found it explained for me how a child with ASD could hit the point of melt-down. So as an adult responsible for such kids on our events it really helped my awareness.

So in conclusion, you might be asking, “why are there only 9 Top Tips instead of the well established Top 10?” Well, like I’ve learned in my research into children with autism, it’s good not to expect a set pattern for everything. Norms are there to be challenged.

lea wakeman - outdoor educator

 

Good luck with your own outdoor adventures and thanks for reading,

Lea.

Lea Wakeman is an outdoor activity leader and founder of Woodland Classroom, based in the UK. She is also a trainee counsellor and has worked as a Mental Health Mentor.

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