By Mel Evans, Forest School Leader
We were thrilled when Brambletye School invited us to run some trial Forest School sessions recently for parents and their children. Not least because the schools own 120 acres of gorgeous woodland! With plenty of deadwood on the ground for building dens and making fires, and some logs for seating the area was perfect for Forest School.
The woodland is made up of predominantly Beech (The Queen of the Forest with its graceful strength), Silver Birch (The Lady of the woods with its slender appearance) and Scots Pine (giving a welcome green canopy through the winter). With a carpet of green shoots emerging we are looking forward to the sea of bluebells coming soon.
Last weekend was our first session. A Dangerous Dads event timed early on a Saturday morning to allow Dads to drop off older children at school before joining us in the woods with younger children. We hoped to offer Dads a chance to unwind in nature and connect with their children after a busy week and the children all the benefits of an introduction to Forest School and a ‘Dad Date.’
With the first session we chose a range of classic Forest School activities which could be developed and built on during future events: fire lighting, cooking breakfast, using tools, mud kitchen and diggers, wild painting, hammocks and slack lines.
The early start meant a Forest School breakfast was a must! We toasted tea cakes and crumpets on sticks and ate them with butter. At future sessions we hope to give children and their dads the chance to whittle their own stick to cook on. We also plan to forage and make some jams and jellies to eat for breakfast. First up will be dandelion jam and cherry blossom jelly!
Taking some found wood and some simple tools and creating something beautiful or useful is hugely satisfying. It allows children the opportunity to flex their problem solving skills, learn how to use simple tools and develop their ability to keep themselves safe. At the session we processed fire wood by sawing with a bow saw and cleaving with a bill hook. Many of the Dads were very comfortable with tools and by introducing a child sized saw horse and small rigger gloves we were able to facilitate father/child tool work. Before long children were bringing sticks and logs to the tool station with very clear ideas on what needed to be done to make some of the things from their imagination!
Making mud pies in the mud kitchen is an activity as old as time and never fails to delight children (and adults!) We also brought along some toy diggers and a big bag of sawdust to play with. These features are likely to be staples of future sessions. Both activities develop and change throughout the seasons as the woodland offers us new ‘ingredients’ for the mud kitchen and new items for our diggers to transport. We also hope to design and build a mud kitchen with the children.
At the session we hung up two sheets and showed the children how to make paint brushes with found items. Before long the children were creating a masterpiece. ‘Wild’ art is something that appears at lots of our sessions - sometimes there is paint, sometimes clay, sometimes wool, string and fabric, sometimes simply mud and other foraged items.
‘Wild art’ is always process driven – there is no right or wrong and no success or failure. It offers children a sensory experience, a chance to express themselves, a medium to explore the changing seasons or reflect on their experience in the woodland. It is a hugely important part of Forest School.
We also put up hammocks around the woods. These allow people to move away from the main group, lay back, look up at the canopy and bath in the woodland. For the more adventurous a hammock makes a great swing, and allows for some ‘risky play’. We also had our slack line up for balancing on. The slack line is great for developing balance and core strength, and offers another opportunity for risky play and a beautiful elevated view of the woodland. We are looking forward to bringing these features to future sessions at Brambletye.