If anything could have eased the 'back to work cobwebs' on Monday it would be a solid start to a New Year of Forest School for the Den. Thank the Forest School gods that it turned out to be a fantastic start to 2015!
With Christmas only just behind us, it is very evident the season is still present in the minds of the children. The excitement and promise of the expectations of Christmas have a lasting effect, which has definitely spilled into their thoughts and actions. Being able to eat chocolate BEFORE breakfast just blew my little mind when I first started realising what Christmas entailed. One particular Christmas morning, I recall opening a large box of K'Nex. This tapped into my creative cortex in a really strong and lasting way, and kept me occupied for years after, not just through the 'see and make' instructions, but more so in being able to make tangible the blueprints I had swimming around in my head via the differing needs of my play. This Christmas I dusted off my K'Nex and took a walk down memory lane recalling all the 'inventions' I turned my hand to: from robots to cars, machines and moving contraptions and the inevitable array of guns.
This open ended play, and being able to attach my own meaning and context to the play, made me think of how our children play on Forest School. I wanted to give them the experience of a similar 'box of bits' they could create with. With this in mind, I provided a large tray full of pulleys of different sizes, lengths of rope of different thicknesses, lengths and colours, chain link, stackable crates, folding spades, pots and buckets, bungy cords, and a plethora of pieces of wood. Oh and the great outdoors too...
We showed them the ropes (no pun intended) and suggested a few actions they could try with the few resources set up. Then it was a case of letting our Forest Schoolers loose. As a Forest School leader, there isn't a lot of conventional 'leading' to do during a session. Much (but not all) of what we do is supervise their play and let the children direct their own investigations, aiding the facilitation of their ideas, discussing their thoughts, and options for how they might tackle problems when they arise. With this week's activities, the children had plenty of time to access the resources and fully explore the possibilities. As the week progressed, different groups added their own personality to the sessions and shaped the way the area was used and left for the next group to access too.
Despite giving the children free reign of the paddock, the majority of the play took place around the Tree House. We set up zip-lines for the children to pull up bottles full of water and soil to send them shooting down the rope crashing at the bottom, 'slacklines' were ratcheted tight for the children to navigate across, pulleys and ropes for pulling materials up and down and left and right, spades for digging underneath the Tree House, crates for stacking, and ropes, bungy cords and chains for creating their own pulling and tying games.
Role-play ruled supreme and the tree house underwent various transformations: A palace, a castle, a pirates house, a pirates ship, a pirates ship during Christmas, and the grand residence of Mr Tiger; The pulleys, ropes and buckets were used to heave treasure from the sea, lug tools to the worksite, haul up rescued animals and lift presents and Christmas tree decorations ready for the big day; Ropes, bungys and chain were used for tying and wrapping, blocking off entrances and exits, for creating make shift pulling devices, for releasing the anchor into the sea with a 'splosh'; The spade was used to dig up treasure, and the spoil from this labour was used in pots and pans for cooking and to fill up the bottles for the zipline; the zip-line was used for racing the bottles from top to bottom and to fire cannon balls down towards the stacked milk crates of a castle wall and tall towers were created only to be toppled as soon as they were made.
I can quite safely say that this week has struck a chord with all the children who have come out to play. For me a real joy during this week was witnessing all the learning opportunities happening:
- Motor skills were tested, with fine threading, looping, lashing, pouring and knot-tying, and big pulling, pushing and climbing actions,
- New relationships and friendships (and Pirate Ships!) were made through problem solving and likeminded play, as well as developing an understanding in patience and persistence to see their decisions through to the end,
- Hand eye co-ordination, physical strength and stamina, balance and confidence in movement through the muddy, slippy conditions, both on the ground and on the wood/logs around the Tree House,
- Investigations into the physical world: exploring the physics behind the tangible world around them by putting trial and error into their play and learning through the "cause and effect" of their actions. In turn, this paved the way for effective and creatively rich play,
- Active risk assessment, ranging from sipping their hot fruit tea at snack times, to traversing the slippy terrain, balancing along the slackline and assessing the building/stacking of crates.
Despite the weather being slightly inclement on occasions during this week, turning the ground into a muddy slippy mess (I'm sure some of you know this all too well!), the sun has been making appearances providing some much needed warmth and longevity to the children's time outdoors. It has been an excellent start to Forest School in the Den, and feel very rewarded that our little Forest Schoolers have responded so positively and openly to the sessions I've planned. I've set a high bar to follow so here's to next week!
I hope everyone has had a super start to 2015, and I would like to welcome all the new children who have started at Free Rangers, especially in the Den. If you have any questions regarding Forest School, or you would like to come along to a Forest School session to see what we get up to, do get in touch! That includes YOU parents!
Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos, and have a lovely weekend outdoors!