Planning what to offer on Forest School is pretty easy for me. Don't get me wrong, the actual planning (sitting in front of my computer and vigorously typing away) can be something of a bore. However thinking up ideas isn't usually a problem. And here's why:
During the Forest School sessions I take notes on the interactions and play of the children to see where their interests lie, whether this exists in what I have planned, or whether my planning has been adapted for a different context, (or sometimes they've even found something more interesting to do!) I take these observations and make them the bedrock of my planning. The children are a never ending source of inspiration, and all we need to do is watch and take note. A recurring activity during the last few weeks of summer was the use of our building blocks we've had out in the cabin. It originally started as an off shoot of a hammering session but the children brought new dimensions to the activity, transforming it into something completely different . When you plan something so open ended, give the children the time to explore it thoroughly, the children's imaginations explode. They play with children they might not necessarily associate with because they all of sudden have a commonality. They had access to a variety of pieces of wood, ranging from large blocks, to pieces of sheet material, small baton lengths, as well as pieces of metal chain link and the wooden hammers/mallets. It's amazing the play that formed with off-cuts from my workshop!
We would see the blocks used to make towering structures, which the children stretched to reach the very tops of to make it just that little bit taller. Not tall enough? Let's find something to stand on! Not stable enough? Let's change the design! Too stable now? Let's jump up and down and bring it crashing to the floor! I've seen the children make towns and railways, tractors and robots, houses, towns, and cities, castles for kings, castles for princesses, castles for knights; a veritable kaleidoscope of creativity. The building of these towers was also accompanied by some other tools. I'd made some little mallets for the children to further their play, bringing an element of roleplay to the activity. We're builders! Let's fix it! This prompted some excellent roleplay, which often evolved into new themes, as building sites changed into shops, and then back again. My fire wood store was frequently raided because Red Fox obviously couldn't comprehend or appreciate just how much wood was needed to sate the needs of their play...For shame Mr. Fox...
Not only did roleplay and narratives develop from the play, but also games as well. The children initially explored how the wood could be stacked and shaped into other forms, but also the physical characteristics: the way it could be moved, the textures, and the sounds made. This all culminated into a few children rolling some of the cylindrical pieces down the cabin's ramp, watching it spin and listening to the rumble and vibrations as it reached the grass beneath. This quickly developed into a fascinating game of child orientated skittles. The children would create structures attaching an outline of a story plot, out of the blocks at the bottom of the ramp. An evil/mean king/queen often resided within the structures and the brave knights/dragons/princess at the top of the hill had to vanquish those at the bottom as they cowered in their wooden hideouts. Each game had its own protagonists and antagonists, as well as a variety of different structures which changed depending on the child building it. Trial and error was put into practice as they tested which pieces of wood were the most efficient at knocking over the targets below.
This activity highlighted how the children excelled in construction, putting their creative thoughts into tangible products, but also how the act of destroying that which they had created, featured as an attractive opposing force. It was quickly understood that things that are built can be knocked down, sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally, sometimes without asking (communication skills were reinforced here...), but it was further highlighted for me that our little Rangers garner a huge amount of pride from what they create, but destroying what they have created can be just as thrilling as seeing the creation come to fruition. Obviously, this isn't always the case: inside the nursery the children often craft the most amazing vehicle and houses from building blocks and when the proud little child taps you on the leg to tell you what they've built, I take great care to praise them in their efforts and hard work, asking if they can explain the design. Sometimes during play the ship might get knocked on the floor. Sometimes, that isn't so enjoyable. But I'm quick to confirm that it can be rebuilt, and maybe the design tweaked so it's not so fragile. What I liked about the larger wooden blocks we used on Forest School, were although they didn't fit neatly together, there was less focus on individual construction such as with the Lego/Duplo, and it focussed more on group co-operation as well as individual expressions of creativity.
I felt the children benefited hugely from these weeks. Problem solving and fundamental physics were explored, as they altered and improved designs of structures and elements of their play to make it suitable for their needs, co-operation, relationships and social skills with their groups were all bolstered as they communicated with each other for play, help and advice, physical strength and navigation of space were a large part of the sessions and children heaved large pieces of wood and materials across a wood-strewn floor to get to their space, and creativity and imaginative play were given a healthy boost too. I look forward to doing some more building with the children soon to see what develops!
Enjoy the photos, and feel free to share your experiences below! Thanks for reading.
See you all next time,