By Suzanne Mark
That was the verdict of one of the Dads and his 2 sons who came along to our most recent Dangerous Dads event! When Finn, aged 3 was asked what the best bit was he said....."All of it!!!"
We started running these groups back in September 2017 and its been brilliant to see how popular it has become - there are very few opportunities like this locally for Dads to spend some quality time in the outdoors, connecting with their children in nature among other like minded Dads. One of our regular Dads says: " Its great to do something totally different with the kids. The pressures of modern life can be eased with a bit of fire and a lot of mud. Throw in some chopping and sawing and slack lines and of course toasted marshmallows and you have a recipe for a great couple of hours in the woods. It beats going to soft play any day."
I first heard about Dangerous Dads through my involvement with the Lloyds Bank & School of Social Enterprise (SSE) programme and thought it sounded like a brilliant initiative. Ian Blackwell, its founder had also 'graduated' from SSE and Dangerous Dads had evolved from a Children & Family Centre project, so there were lots of similarities to Nature Nurture Sussex' beginnings. We were really lucky to receive some initial grant funding from Mid Sussex District Council last year to be able to offer some free sessions - these very quickly got booked up, with big waiting lists.
Most of the sessions have been led by Sarah and Mel, with lots of help from Kevin who has helped out at so many of our events since we began (more on Kev later!). Sarah says " it’s been lovely welcoming and watching the Dad’s, Uncles & Granddads relaxing in the woods with their children... and enjoying some of the activities just as much as the children. In some instances perhaps more!
The fire and physical activities have been definite favourites ...perhaps its that primal urge to play with fire and just be more physical! The slack lines have attracted the men and children alike. The children always gravitate to the mud kitchen but the diggers and dumpers have worked well as a play aid for the younger ones and for the Dads to interact with. The mud kitchen, diggers and the slack line are brilliant for encouraging free play and adventure"
Our first session involved lots of tools - drilling wooden discs & sawing firewood. Mel says "We learned that while many of the men were confident in using tools themselves, some were less familiar with using tools with their children. By offering a child sized saw horse, some small rigger gloves and a little guidance and encouragement we were able to facilitate father/child tool work. Children gained practical skills and a shared experience with their Dad. At our second session at Halloween, we challenged the Dads to carve a pumpkin with their children!
Though there were some conventional pumpkin carving tools on offer we provided some new ideas too - moss collected on a nature walk was glued to the pumpkins, hand drills were a fun way to make holes in the pumpkins and cookie cutters were smashed into pumpkins with mallets! We were impressed with the amount of creativity in the woods and the children loved looking at the gallery of pumpkins propped up on hay bales at the end. We ended the session by making toffee apples and eating them around the campfire. Hopefully we helped create some memories as well as some ideas for future pumpkin carving!"
Since then we have had bows and arrows and cooking damper bread over the fire. This was a big hit with many Dads promising their children they would try cooking different variations of Damper bread in the garden at home. (Children & Mums' - report back please, did this actually happen?!). At February's session the trees in the forest turned into Giants with mud faces, the children looked for water dragons in the puddles, fairy doors at the base of the trees and then made a clay woodland creature to take home.
The weather has been pretty unpredictable the last couple of months, and we have found ourselves making snowmen and snow castles rather than spotting snowdrops. But at our most recent Dads event we were determined to go in search of the signs of Spring and look forward! The children collected catkins, spring buds, pine cones and other things we found in the woods to make some amazing clay tiles. We also transformed our winter tree into a Spring tree, painting on leaves and printing blossom using celery hearts.
This week we have had some brilliant news - we discovered that our recent grant application was successful and for that we are hugely grateful to Sussex Community Foundation & the Knighton fund. This means we can now train up our lovely volunteer Kevin to become our Dangerous Dads leader, and offer some subsidised sessions in the future to families on a low income.
Kevin has been a regular at our family sessions since Nature Nurture began and is born to be a Forest School Leader! Whenever we arrive having forgotten to bring something crucial, we can always rely on Kev to have it in his pocket! He could definitely give Ray Mears a run for his money! Kev says "A big thank you from me to everyone who has made this possible for me. If someone had told me 10, 15, 20 years ago that I would be involved in something as fantastic as "Forest Schools" and working with amazing people I probably would not have had a clue what they were talking about".
We intend to run monthly Dangerous Dads events - the next one will be in East Grinstead on the 21st April when we will take inspiration from the birds that are nesting, trying to spot nests in the trees and getting the tools out to work together to build a giant birds nest. If you'd like to join in the fun click here.