Back in October, I attended the Forest School Association Conference “Forest School: Play and Principles”. The workshop I went to was with an experienced Forest School Leader and was titled “The Quest for the Child Led Session”. The workshop leader had lots of inspiring nick nacks and props included a carved wooden compass, quest map, and secret bags all tied up wth string, only to be opened at 'the right' time. These items were sources of inspiration for our imaginations and creativity, but that did not mean it took us off in our own individual directions.
The objective of the session was to go on a 'quest' as a group. We needed to stick together, decisions were made with our decision making 'tool' that the leader provided each of us with at the start of the session. It was a stone with a black dot painted on one side. When making a decision, the group would be asked a question and each individual would internally think about their answer and place their stone in their closed hand with either the dot side up (for no) or blank side up (for yes). When everyone was ready, we opened our hands to see the other's answers. If someone was opposed to a decision that everyone was for, it was not a simply majority rules decision. The person was given the floor to discuss their feelings and discussion ensued until a decision became unanimous. We would only move on to the next part of our quest when everyone was in unified agreement. Sometimes this took a few seconds, sometimes it took much longer.
The whole experience fascinated me and, as I thought about it all, it suddenly clicked that the quest was a full blown lesson in deliberation and negotiation. A lesson in communication, empathy, and relationship building. We were a community. It took more effort to reach a decision than a simple vote and it definitely took more time. But the result was very powerful.
Today I got the chance to apply what I'd learned through the quest at Forest School with the PRU. We weren't on a quest, there were no maps or compasses or secret bags of treasures. Instead it happened standing in the freezing cold, with mud splattered all over me, between two children arguing over who could pull the trolley out of the wood this time. “But he did it last time!” “But I said you could do it last time and you said no, so you lost your chance!” “Tell him its my turn!!!” Maybe it would have been easier to become the authority figure, act as judge and simply say “You go this time, and it will be your turn next time,” dust my hands and be done with it. It would have been quicker too. But I decided to try instead to become a mediator of negotiation. And I was terrified.
We talked about what each boy wanted. We talked about what they each felt was fair. They argued more. They disagreed. There were nearly tears and at certain points I asked myself whether I was making things worse, but I let it continue. It become a stand off. 10 minutes later they both looked at me seeking an answer, a judgement, a final decision. I looked back at them and said, “I don't know how we're going to resolve this boys, can you think of a way to settle this?” Pause....
One boy says, “We could do rock, paper, scissors and whoever wins gets to take the trolley out this time.” He thrusted his hand out towards the other boy. I said “Wait a second,” looked at the other boy and asked, “do you agree to that?”. He looked at me, he paused, eyebrows furrowed... then thrust out his hand too. They did rock, paper, scissors and the second boy put out a paper which covered the first boy's rock. I looked at the first boy and asked, “Are you ok with that?” He nodded yes and passed the trolly handle over to the second boy who began to roll it out of the wood behind him... stand off over. It wasn't easy and it took some time, but we had deliberated, we had come up with a solution and we had done it without a judge dictating the outcome. Relationship building at its best.