This has been a really exciting time of year for me because it's the first time I've delivered Forest School sessions in the dark! I started an after school program at a local school last spring and as the seasons have changed we've found that the sun is now setting before we finish. This has brought both awesome opportunity as well as additional challenges...
I have to admit I was nervous about doing it at first. There are certainly different risks associated with being outside as night starts to fall. Lack of visibility is one thing - the inability to see each other as well as other things around us. There is more of chance of bumping into things, tripping, and falling. And goodness, what about someone getting lost?! But there are also ways to manage those risks... like sending out a reminder to have the children bring torches/flashlights and wear reflective gear if they have it. The children have LOVED using their torches/flashlights too. The first day we knew we were going to need them, one child came with five... just in case... you know?
We've also kept the fire going longer, right up until the very end of the session. It helps illuminate our area and also keeps us warm as the chill of nighttime starts to settle in. One thing I've noticed is that there's a tendency for the group to gather near the fire as it starts to get dark and stay closer without any direction from me to do so. It's seems a natural thing to be drawn near the light and warmth and it's helped me feel more comfortable since the group is mostly together in one spot.
Another change we've made is rearranging when we do storytelling. Before, we'd most often tell a story at the start of a session and it would sometimes serve as a springboard for the children's play. Now we've been waiting and telling a story at the end, with everyone gathered around the campfire. There's something about telling a story around a fire that feels extra special... almost magical in a way! The dim, flickering light. The subtle warmth. The stillness of the darkness behind you. It's certainly creates a unique and memorable atmosphere for storytelling.
Most recently we invited parents to come along to the final hour of our last session before winter break. They arrived just as it was getting dark and we ended up gathering the whole group together, with parents sitting around the fire alongside their children, and told a story. It was the biggest crowd I had ever told a story to (I'm new to this storytelling thing - you can read more about that here if you like...) and it was a great way to bring a community together. We were all gathered in a cold dark forest, yet the fire and the story made it a comforting space.
It also probably helped that we cooked food... if there's a surefire way to bring people together, it's food! Spending more time around a fire when it's dark lends itself to trying new cooking recipes and we've roasted apples, popped popcorn, and grilled sausages too!
So all in all, delivering sessions in the dark has been a wonderful experience so far... It's posed new risks that we've learned how to navigate. It's also challenged some children to face their fears of the dark. And it's offered us a chance to interact with a natural space and each other in a different way that's quite humbling. I'm certainly grateful that the timing of an after school program has given us the chance to experience the forest at night.
And perhaps my greatest learning? Pack up all your things before it gets dark. Unless you want to spend an unnecessary amount of time trying to decide whether those blobs on the ground are your personal belongings or just leaves....
Wishing those of you in the northern hemisphere a wonderful last few days of advancing darkness, before the solstice and the return of the light!