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boy at forest school in winter with candles

Making the Most of Winter in the Woods

boy at forest school in winter with candles

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

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

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

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

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

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

One wish for themselves

One wish for their community

and one wish for the Earth.

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

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

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

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

children around campfire in winter forest school

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

Happy holidays!

girl climbing tree at forest school

Forest Schools in a Nutshell

This is a guest-blog written by Loretta Hourigan, author of From Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks: Creating a Path to Happier, Healthier Children. This article was originally printed in the magazine ‘Independent Schools’ in August 2015.

 

“A Student led approach to learning in the great Outdoors”

Forest Schools are sweeping through the UK and despite the notion that the concept is relatively new; this type of Outdoor Learning pre dates back to the 1800’s where in Scandinavia ‘friluftsliv’ (free air life) remains a childhood staple.

Forest Schools offer children the opportunity to take part in regular outdoor sessions, often in all weathers in a woodland environment where leaders act as facilitators rather than teachers. A broad range of skills are developed; problem solving, conflict resolution, confidence and communication. Crucially Forest Schools differ from other organisations in their awareness that children need to attend regular sessions of Outdoor Learning over an extended period of time in order to reap the benefits. An evaluation by Liz O’Brien & Richard Murray support this theory, stating “a number of children took a long time to become familiar and confident with Forest Schools”.

irls playing with water at forest school

The evaluation found that parent’s attitudes to the outdoors changed over time, including how they perceived risks in an outdoor setting (making fires, using sharp tools, climbing trees.) Rather than excluding or avoiding risks, at Forest Schools risks are managed. Far from traditional lesson planning; most activities evolve from the spark of interest a child demonstrates in a particular task and around which future sessions are planned. This leads to engaging experiences meaningful to the children.

James Kendall, an experienced Forest Schools leader set up Woodland Classroom in 2013 with Lea Wakeman; both have seen children who struggle to perform within a traditional educational setting thrive in the woodland classroom. I would highly recommend the video on their website which answers the question “What is Forest Schools’ succinctly. (You can find that video HERE)

James explained how one of the key features of every Forest School session is to gather around the fire circle. “Firstly, in a circle everyone is equal. Ideas can be readily passed around; games and activities all work well in a circular setting. Minus the constraints of four walls; children’s confidence increases alongside their freedom to roam further away, the fire provides the ideal base to return to.”

Forest Schools don’t quantify success through standardised testing; how therefore can we be confident that spending time outdoors really does benefit our children? Apart from numerous studies on the subject, a simple way is to reflect on how you felt when you played outdoors as a child.

child at forest school in net

My own memories of jumping through long grass and hiding beneath the cool boughs of the weeping willow provided much of the inspiration for my children’s book ‘The Adventures of Cameron Carter, Knight in the Forest’ where a young boy sets out on a series of outdoor challenges following the discovery of a tent in his garden.

Sessions are available from qualified Forest School leaders using a suitable green space in your school; alternatively at an established external location. Children learn and develop through outdoor play and with many links to the National Curriculum; Forest Schools are engaging both children and adults alike.

 

You can find out more about Loretta and her work at lorettahourigan.com

Find her on Twitter @LorettaHourigan

why kids should use axes

Why I would buy my kids an AXE

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

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

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

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

teaching children to use an axe

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

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

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

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

Wildcraft Adventure

The “REAL” Minecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

day2wholegroup

Thanks again and watch out for those creepers!onegreencreeper

 

 

 

 

 

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