Brrrrrrrrr! Another very chilly week on Forest School. But we've kept the little rangers occupied with some hands-on ornithologically-focussed kindness...
We've been fortunate enough on Forest School to be graced by some opportunistic Robins, who, almost without fail, will turn up just as we're having snack to pick up our crumbs. This has provided the children with some interesting muffled discussions through food-stuffed mouths on these beautiful and charismatic little creatures. Winter is a hard month for most living fauna and flora. Birds especially burn more energy trying to locate food, that is scarce at best, so need all the assistance they can get to maintain themselves until Spring. Robins are possibly the most well loved of our UK denizens. Their distinctive orange 'bib' and shrill warbling song from high territorial perches are a frequently seen and heard addition to our Autumnal and Winter gardens, and the same can be said for our Free Rangers patch. In fact we have three. Two males and one female would be my guess, although trying to tell the sexes apart is very tricky just by looking, as they're near identical.
Robin's in particular are very dependant on other species for food provision. Before we humans began cultivating and turning over the soil in our fields and gardens, it's thought pigs were a firm dining partner as they rooted through the soil with their snouts in the search for buried snacks, and in turn, bringing grubs and worms to the surface for the Robins. This "commensal feeding" is still present in our agricultural systems today (fishing trawlers/tractors and seagulls for example). So I thought seeing as we are feeding the birds anyway, we should plan a Forest School activity around their interest and bird feeders. Before we started I had brought out my Bird book, which also plays their songs and calls, so that we could familiarise ourselves with the kinds of birds that might visit our efforts.
To make these, firstly we introduced the children to some tools. Firstly the drill. Now usually we use a hand drill or a 'brace and bit' on Forest School, to drill smaller holes in name necklaces or to hollow out Elder tubes mainly because it's much more child-friendly. It's safer to control and their physical bodily actions are the sole power and function behind the resulting hole making it a better learning tool also. However, to make our hollows we used a 'paddle' or 'spade' bits, which for their little arms would have been quite taxing and not a lot of fun. So Red Fox brought out a little bit of 21st century to aid in the process. The majority of children won't have ever seen a drill, and it can be intimidating and a bit noisy, but after a 'tool talk' where we discussed how it worked (looking at the battery and the trigger etc) and where we should put our bodies and appendages safely, the children were all happy to have go. With myself holding the drill and wood in place and the children squeezing the trigger, holes were soon made. Clear communication was key between myself and the child to prevent them squeezing the trigger before we were ready to start. The logs were soon resembling swiss cheese!
Nails were then hammered in below the holes to allow little perches for the birds to land on, making access to the food much easier. I demonstrated how to hold the nail, concentrating fully on top of the nailhead, and giving it a few taps. Then after moving my hand away they could hit it a further few times but with more gusto. Some struggled with holding the nail and hammering at the same time, so I had to don my glove and hold it for them...no flies on there kids eh? Whilst one half of the group crafted the bird feeders, the other were tasked in mixing the special recipe with Jess to fill in the holes. Quite simply, lard and bird seeds! The sticky, fatty mix was then carefully poked into the hollows and a special shady location was chosen to hoist it up off the ground away from predators. The mix provides the birds with super amounts of energy to maintain them during these cold, scarce days. We used a high grade bird seed mix, which will provide a food for a range of birds from Tits, to Blackbirds and even Collared Doves.
I felt the week went really well, and I'm really pleased with this early reception to tool use. Despite me getting a little knock on the the finger from time to time, I wholeheartedly put my trust into the children during these sessions, especially with the hammer and nails. And rightly so. The benefits of using of tools with children is quite often overshadowed by the perceived associated risks. Tool use with children is an incredibly rewarding process for all involved. They are much more adept then we give them credit for. Firstly being able to use tools like this can give the children a big self confidence boost. We often label them as dangerous to children, so when children approach them it is (rightly) with caution, but bordering on fear. Lifting the veil of danger, but "tooling" the children with the right respect and responsible attitude in their use opens a world of possibilities. For example we explored the smells of the Ash once the holes had been drilled, the feel of the shavings, the sound the hammer made as it struck the nailhead. The prospective learning that can be garnered from tool use is also worthy of note: hand/eye coordination and gross motor skills, risk management (avoiding fingers), sharing resources & cooperation and an understanding of their world. The latter is possibly the most important to me. A better understanding of their world can lead to a respect of their world. They respect it, they look after it. Has to be a good thing right?
Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos and have a great weekend, where ever it finds you.