Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries
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I was struggling to think of what to write about after the PRU session today because it was actually such a lovely session! So instead of writing about things that went awry, like usual, I'm going to write about all the things that went surprisingly well.
I think a big factor behind why the session went so well was the weather. It was a warm, sunny day and the wood was mostly dry underfoot. This meant everyone was comfortable and you could see how this had a positive effect on behaviour.
We had four children in total, Jake and Charlie, who had come last term, and Joshua and Isabelle, who were entirely new to Forest School. Jake and Charlie are both very lively and energetic, which often makes group discussions difficult. But Joshua and Isabelle are quieter and much more reserved - both were a bit nervous about coming to Forest School and took a little while to get comfortable.
When planning, we approached this session differently than previous ones. Usually, Sarah and I arrive at the wood an hour early and lug all of the equipment in and set it up before the group gets there. We have done that because we felt that it takes a while to set up and for a two hour session, the children's time is better spent doing activities in the wood rather than setting up camp.
However, in the past it has been quite difficult to engage them in activities once we get them to the wood, so we decided to do it a bit different this time. This time, we left all of the equipment on the van in the car park. When the group arrived, Sarah explained to them that for this session, our goal was to see if we could survive in the wood for the morning and the only resources we could bring with us were those in the van.
They were reasonably inspired by this and everyone helped unload the equipment and carry it into the wood! This may seem like no big deal, but for us this was a massive achievement.
With previous groups, the children were prone to kicking off when asked to help with any type of Forest School 'chore' like clearing up or carrying equipment. This new method also gave the children more ownership over camp when they got there because they participated in setting it up. Not to mention, it provided fantastic opportunities for their learning and development.
The fire was not blazing when they arrived, so in order to have hot chocolate and crumpets (which they were keen to have, of course), they had to light the fire themselves. In order to play on the rope bridges, they had to help put the ropes up – this was particularly rewarding for Jake, who can't tie his own shoes (because he's 'rubbish' at knots), who was able to tie a timber hitch! And everybody made some sort of contribution to getting camp set up and ready, which achieved a level of teamwork we had not reached before.
There was also mentoring between those who were experienced Forest Schoolers and those who were new. Because Joshua and Isabelle had never been to Forest School before, we went over 1,2,3 where are you so that they would know to come back to camp when we called for them.
I watched Charlie (a seasoned Forest Schooler) and Isabelle run off away from camp in the same direction. Just to set the scene a bit better, I'd like to give a brief description of Charlie. Charlie is on the autism spectrum and as I mentioned before, quite lively and energetic. He's very methodical in his thinking and views the world in very structured ways. He works best when he's spoken to with military-like phrases, such as “Sergeant to General, we need to head north northeast back to base camp." But he is also a very sweet little boy who loves giving out and receiving hugs.
The first thing he said to me when he arrived this morning (after not seeing him for 3 weeks) was, “Huggles?” and came up and gave me a big hug.
So returning back to 1,2,3 where are you, I noticed that Isabelle had run off in the same direction as Charlie (I think she was nervous and followed him because he was more familiar with the area). They stopped a distance away and I could hear Charlie talking to her quite loudly, causing a bit of commotion. It seemed like he wasn't too pleased she had followed him and I was concerned that there was some sort of conflict going on so I began walking towards them.
As I came closer, I could hear what Charlie was saying and it absolutely shocked me (in a good way) and so I stopped. In his determined manner of speaking, this is what he said to Isabelle, “Isabelle, I know you're nervous and afraid because you haven't been before, but I know that deep down inside of you there is a very brave girl! You need to reach down and find her because I know you can do this!”
He was giving Isabelle words of encouragement to boost her independence. Now, he may have been doing it because of an entirely selfish motivation, which was to get Isabelle to stop following him, but nevertheless it was a beautiful thing to watch him try to achieve it in such a kind and emboldening way.
Varying levels of risk taking also occurred today. For Joshua and Isabelle, just coming to Forest School and being in a new environment was a risk. They were nervous about the fire, but with encouragement became more comfortable around it and Isabelle helped with the cooking.
Isabelle was also very keen to play on the rope bridge, but was just slightly too short to reach the higher rope. At first she requested help from an adult to pull the rope down for her, until she realised that if she jumped high enough she could reach it all on her own.
Joshua was fascinated by minibeasts and we learned how to work together to roll over big logs safely to take a look at the creatures underneath.
Jake and Charlie took to tree climbing and each time they went up, they went slightly higher and higher as their confidence grew.
So reflecting back on all that occurred in today's session, I realise there was truly an incredible number of achievements. We lit a fire, we tied knots, we climbed trees, we took turns playing on rope bridges, we boiled water and made hot chocolate, we cooked crumpets, we went bug hunting, and we found ways to help each other and work together as a team.
Joshua and Isabelle had overcome their apprehensions about Forest School and were very pleased they had come. Charlie and Jack had built upon the things they had learned at previous sessions and had extended them (like fire lighting and knot tying). And everyone even helped carry everything back out of the wood without complaint at the end of the session.
We were somewhat shocked and, of course, pleased with the result of today's session. And you couldn't beat just being in the outdoors all morning in the warm spring sunshine.
It was a great session, but I will let you know if we can keep it up the next time it rains!