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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.

tasty bread from a dutch oven

My Bushcraft Journal: Part #2 Baking in a Dutch Oven

Baking bread out in the woods has always been one of those mystic arts to me. Something that, like tool sharpening, seems shrouded in mystery. With my ongoing Bushcraft Instructor training I thought it was high time that I made an effort to try it for myself. What’s the worst that could happen?

I also had a 4 litre dutch oven sitting in my shed, which was a Christmas present 2 years ago. I always felt a bit guilty when I came across it. So it was time to do it justice.

I’ve seen it done before but couldn’t for the life of me remember the exact method the teacher used at the time. So when it came to our next bushcraft training sessions I told everyone that I would bake them a loaf for the evening. The challenge was on.

The trick to using a dutch oven, as far as I understood it, was to get an even heat around the whole pot so that your bread would bake all round. So what was needed was a campfire that had been burning for a while to produce a good amount of hot coals, more like what you’d get in a barbecue. It’s this bed of coals and ember that makes an effective cooking fire, rather than roaring flames. I actually brought along some Welsh charcoal for the bake as I wasn’t sure what state the communal fire would be in by the time I came to experiment. This worked really well but I imagine if you use hardwood firewood and burn it down to coals it would be just as good.

cooking bread in a dutch oven for bushcraft

Above: This is not the same loaf as I cooked as it was dark by the time I was baking. You can see though how the coals have been placed on top of the oven lid it help it bake with an even heat.

The good news is that the loaf was a success! In fact it was one of the best loaves I’ve ever tasted, and even better that it was fresh out of the oven. Everyone complimented my on it and the mystery of using a dutch oven is firmly behind me, though I imagine there’s a lot to learn yet. For anyone who wants to give it a go for themselves I’m going to share that tasty recipe with you now….

STOUT & FRUIT SODA BREAD

This recipe fed 6 adults with a very generous slice of bread. They all loved it. Any left over stout can be generously gifted to a camping buddy that likes that sort of thing. I prefer cider myself. Having enjoyed this loaf myself I can say that it was delicious straight out the oven and didn’t even need any butter to improve it though you can try that if you like. It tasted more like a cake than bread 🙂

WHAT YOU NEED

4 litre dutch oven • large mixing bowl • mixing spoon (whittled by yourself preferably) • a metal dish that will sit in the bottom of your oven • 4 small stones (trust me)

INGREDIENTS

2 big overflowing handfuls of strong wholemeal flour

2 big overflowing handfuls of strong plain flour

A half handful of sugar (caster sugar is best as it’s finer)

1 heaped tablespoon of baking powder

1 good pinch of salt

1 big overflowing handful of mixed dry fruit

1 egg

1 can of stout

Keep some extra spare flour left aside for dusting the metal dish

METHOD

Mix up all the dry ingredients together. I did this in advance before the trip and put them in a plastic tub so it would save doing it around the campfire at night.

In your mixing bowl make a well in the middle of the dry mix and add crack the egg in. Then mix with your wooden spoon.

Slowly add the stout until all the dry ingredients are mixed in and you have a ball of dough that holds it shape.

Coat your metal dish in a light layer of your spare flour. This will stop the bread from sticking to the dish.

Place your dough onto the floured dish and sprinkle a little sugar on top.

Now it’s time to use those 4 mysterious small stones. These are placed evenly spaced at the bottom of the dutch oven. The metal dish is then placed on top of these so it sits comfortably. What this does is elevate the dish from the bottom of the dutch oven to allow the air to circulate. This all helps prevent the lower crust from burning.

Place the lid onto the oven and pop it into your campfire.

We surrounded the oven with a ring of charcoal and placed some hot coals evenly on top. This is the part of the process that inly experience can teach you and I’m looking forward to trying this recipe again and seeing if the cooking time changes. I imagine it depends on how hot your fire is and how even the coals are around your oven.

I checked the loaf after 15 minutes and we all agreed it needed longer.

I cooked my loaf for 25-30 minutes but I think i could have got away with taking it out a bit sooner. You will see some burn on the left hand side of the close up picture. This is where there was a flaming log placed right up against the dutch oven so I think it caused that side of the oven to be hotter.

The last tip I was given was to use a clean knife to push into the middle of the loaf. If it comes out clean then the bread is ready.

tasty bread from a dutch oven

Above: The complete loaf. Not bad at all for a first effort. In fact it was one of the best breads I’ve ever tasted.

By the way, did you know that the phrase “the upper crust” comes from a time when those who could afford it would get the more valuable upper section of the loaf rather than the often burnt bottom. So the rich were referred to at the “upper crust.”

I hope this has inspired you to try dutch oven baking for yourself. I’ve definitely got the hook and have made a promise to myself to try a different recipe each time I go camping now. Suddenly the world of outdoor baking has completely open up to me. It’s a real sense of achievement.

Thanks for reading.

James K

ray mears champions forest school

RAY MEARS CHAMPIONS FOREST SCHOOL

TV presenter, author and bushcraft expert Ray Mears has given forest schools his seal of approval. Having observed a forest school group during a recent canoe trip he described how one boy “… was building his own legend, the person he was going to become. He’d become something more and that’s what it’s about. There’s a chance (in forest schools) for self-discovery and self-empowerment.”

Forest School is a thriving, growing movement worldwide which is getting children of all ages outdoors to learn at their own pace and embrace the natural world around them. As a forest school leader myself and long term follower of Ray’s work I felt really lucky to be able to join in a televised discussion on the merits of learning in the great outdoors.

ray mears champions forest schoolAbove: Ray Mears in his element. Photograph by Goh Iromoto

Ray Mears is a world-renowned champion of bushcraft and wilderness skills, having starred in numerous television series and written books on the subject, which have inspired millions.

During a recent television debate in the UK, the panel, including Ray, was posed the question; would they send their kids to a summer crammer where they could brush up on their academic skills and get ahead of the class, or would they pack their kids off to a forest school where they could learn skills like fire-lighting, den building and woodcraft.

Ray replied, “the child has got to want to be there, they might want to go to a crammer, I think there’s a place for both.” This, to me, underlies a key point that parents and teachers each have a responsibility to fire children’s passions and interests in whatever subject or activity it is that gets them excited about learning.

Ray explained how the forest school camp system works in Canada where this approach to learning is well-established, “…a child goes very young and gets to do activities and then they go back the next year, they’re a little older and get given more responsibility and eventually they’re doing 21 day trips on their own by canoe, boys or girls, through the wilderness and they’re capable.” What an amazing adventure for any young person that would be.

During the debate a recent study was quoted which states, “three quarters of kids who go to a summer crammer will end up at a top university, compared to half of those from similar backgrounds who don’t.” But on the flip side of that argument, “child psychologists say that outdoor exploits aren’t only great for physical health but for mental health as well. The same psychologists also have concerns about ‘tiger parents’ who want to hothouse their kids in some sort of obsessive bid to produce pint-sized prodigies, who could end up stressed, frazzled and burned out by their late-teens and who could actually end up with mental health problems.”

I hadn’t heard of tiger parents, so I looked it up. Tiger parenting is a term which refers to strict or demanding parents who push their children to be successful in education by attaining high levels of scholastic and academic achievement, to the detriment of the child’s social, physical, psychological and emotional well-being. It sounds a world away from the child-led approach of a typical forest school where kids learn resourcefulness, team-work and determination. I feel that forced study risks leading kids toward depression, anxiety and stress.

ray mears championing outdoor learningAbove: Ray Mears has seen first hand the positive benefits of forest school teachings. Photograph by Goh Iromoto

Ray spoke about his recent trip to Canada where he got the chance to observe children who attended a forest school camp. “I gave a presentation at a festival and in the audience there were some kids from one of these summer camps. I was watching one of these youngsters because he was carrying a book around with him. The book was written by a naturalist I’m really fond of, Grey Owl, who lived in that area. This was a heavy tome for a youngster to read by today’s standards but I saw that he treasured that book.”

“The next day I’m out on a canoe trip and I could see that same party of youngsters (canoeing) on the other side of the lake. These were boys of about fifteen and they had passed the hardship point, because it’s a hard way to travel.” Seeing that same boy who the day before had been clutching his precious book Ray described the look on the child’s face, “you could actually see that with every paddle stroke he took he was building his own legend, the person he was going to become. He’d become something more and that’s what it’s about. There’s a chance for self-discovery, self-empowerment and it’s no surprise that the youngsters who go to these summer schools very often end up as leaders in that part of the world and it’s a great thing to see.”

The main thrust of the debate was a parent’s choice between a summer crammer or forest school for their kids and during the phone-in I got the chance to add my own observations to bolster Ray’s championing of forest school. “There’s no doubt that academia is important but what forest school does is give an opportunity for child-led learning away from the formal classroom setting. The kids who attend forest school are gaining a nature intelligence and an emotional intelligence, which in the long run, I believe, makes better rounded, more confident people. You give a child a sharp tool and it’s empowering, they get a fantastic experience from that.” Many children today have a disconnection between the natural world and the modern world we live in and forest school projects are providing an antidote for that.

Some cynics might say that today’s kids would rather be in front of their iPad than building dens outdoors, but I don’t think forest school is a hard sell to children. I believe it appeals to their sense of adventure and children should be allowed to have that experience and so much of that is getting lost now with the increasing time that kids spend on screens.

Ray added that, “There are a lot of British parents now sending their children to these camps in Canada and North America.” But for those wanting to keep their kids a bit closer to home you’ll be glad to know that forest school camps are growing in the UK too with providers offering everything from one day activity sessions to week-long wilderness experiences. I believe we will see more of these holiday clubs and camps in the future as more parents take action to combat the dangers of too much indoor screen time for their kids.

children at forest schoolAbove: Children immersed in nature and learning empowering new skills at one of our own forest school sessions. 

Regarding the ongoing fight in many family households to get kids away from their screen and back to the outdoors, Ray saved his best advice to parents for last, “The secret is that the parents need to do these things (outdoor activities) for themselves, that’s the best way, it’s just the normal way of growing up. If you want children to take an interest in nature, don’t just send them somewhere, have an interest yourself and it will be the most natural thing in the world for them to follow on.”

If you want to know more about what exactly a forest school is, check out our short video, appropriately titled “What Is Forest School?” RIGHT HERE

If you’re a parent who wants to find out more about local forest school providers in your area, I’d advise googling it, you’ll soon be heading down a rabbit hole of amazing projects to inspire your kids.

You can watch the full television debate with Ray Mears HERE. Skip ahead to 01:24:44 to see ‘Forest School vs Summer Crammer” You’ll be able to hear me trying not to sound nervous whilst talking to Ray, one of my childhood heroes.

james and lea from woodland classroom

WE DID A PODCAST

We were recently invited to be interviewed for The DIY Learner podcast hosted by Laura Armer all the way from Texas, USA. She had been inspired by our story of empowering children to get outdoors and learn for themselves through child-led play.

In the podcast, Laura asks us about how we got to where we are today, our approach to outdoor learning and where we’re heading next.

The DIY Learner podcast, features interviews with leaders in nextGen education and stories from successful DIY Learners. Each week the podcast will inspire you to take learning into your own hands, with how-to’s for getting skills and credentials without a formal degree, advice on self-directed learning, mentorships, internships, apprenticeships, and creating portfolios and other ways to show your work.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST HERE

So what is DIY Learning?  The show’s host Laura Armer explains, “Well, it doesn’t mean learning alone, but rather taking charge of your own personal lifelong learning path using next generation learning options and strategies.”

“There’s never been a better time in history to learn whatever you want or need to take your life or career to the next level!  Join Laura and her guests on this wave of change in learning, and you can help push over the tipping point at which unconventional learning one day becomes conventional.  Let the learning begin!”

diy learner podcast

parent and child at forest school

Got the Winter Blues? Nature Has the Answer

We NEED To Get Outdoors, even though it’s wet & cold. It’s essential for our health and happiness, here’s why…

Winter is a time of year when many people hide away indoors, mirroring the hibernation of some animals and with all this wind and rain we’ve had for what feels like forever, who can blame them?

Christmas and New Year are behind us and there doesn’t seem much to look forward to. Many of us feel like cuddling up on the sofa and watching a movie when it’s cold, wet and going dark so early. Spring feels like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? When we do have to go out to work or get the kids to school, we dive out of the car and straight indoors, then it’s back out into the car, dive in and out of shops and back home, back to the world of central heating and electric lighting. Although this might make us feel more comfortable, it’s no compensation for the benefits of fresh air and sunlight. Without direct sunlight our bodies cannot produce vitamin D, which is important for maintaining normal blood levels of phosphorus and calcium, and helps keep our bones healthy and strong.

The amount of daylight we get each day has a dramatic effect on our mood too. Without this daylight our body produces substances that make us feel lethargic and lacking in energy. Idun Haugan of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says that when sunlight hits our retinas at the back of our eyes, light sensitive nerve cells are activated which stimulates the production of serotonin and cortisol;

These substances are important in determining our physical and mental health. Insufficient levels of serotonin can result in depression, lack of energy, sleep problems, mood swings and poor impulse control.” (Haugan 2013)

It is not always easy to get motivated to go outside in the middle of winter but remember this lack of motivation is caused by our lack of sunlight and the over production of melatonin (our body’s sleep hormone). So in the winter months with so little daylight available it’s even more important to get outside and feel the sun on your face, in fact, I guarantee you will feel more energised and invigorated for making the effort.

Check out our Winter Scavenger Hunt as a great excuse for a walk in nature with your kids. There’s plenty of other ideas on our Pinterest page too.

boys in forest school at winter

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