Clad in waterproofs and united under a muddy cause, we once again played host to a hoard of faces, here at Free Rangers for another week of exciting Forest School Holiday Club.
And nor did those faces disappoint. It was fantastic to see so many faces new and old, especially so many of our pre-schoolers who have just left (they were obviously missing us!) There was a vibrant energy throughout the week, which although left us all exhausted, allowed for some fantastic outdoor play and creativity. As the importance of Forest School and outdoor play continues to grow in around the world, and its benefits are made readily apparent, I felt it was a good idea to highlight a few of the reasons why we at Free Rangers feel that Forest School and outdoor learning/play are so important and are held in such high regard throughout our practice and ethos:
Cooperation/teamwork: Forest School and outdoor play, in its essence, needs associative/cooperative play for the children to develop ideas and to respond to and make sense of the world around them. This isn't to say we don't allow the children time to reflect personally on their experiences; often children take themselves off to a quiet spot to decorate some elder beads, to have a little moment to process their feelings, and to decide who and where to play next. Through peer learning and the open-ended nature of play in the outdoors, a great deal of socialisation & relationship building, empathy, respect and personal gains are free to blossom without the need for adult inference. It's always rewarding to see new friendships grow during the Holiday Clubs, especially as our groups often are very mixed in age and development.
A small group of older children set up a pulley system in one of our large Ash trees, initially to build a rope swing using slack-lines, a pulley and climbing rope. Once they had sated their need for scaling each other up into the air, their focus evolved to "let's see what we can lift!" and a variety of heavy objects (including myself - no comments thank you) were tethered to the rope in a bid to hoist it into the air. The most remarkable was an incredibly heavy log. Virtually the entire group of 15 strong little bodies came together to achieve this shared goal. Such proud faces beamed as they excitedly shouted in unison "it's moving!", as it slowly began to rise. Undeterred by this weight the two activities united as they organised turn-taking to lift both it and children up, with a little adult assistance, but with great amusement. Especially when it took them for a little ride along the ground! This all took place over a good hour and half of solid associative teamwork and play, with minimal adult interference.
Confidence/self-esteem: A lot of my practice both during Nursery sessions and the holiday clubs is based around endorsing risk (or what we at Free Rangers call "everyday play!") Whether this is through the use of tools, through fire making or perhaps climbing over slippery logs, I am there to say to the children: "It's OK!" "Have a try!" Facing manageable risk not only aids the development of gauging personal responses to risk (e.g. When falling they ask themselves if they are OK, instead of waiting for an adult's response) it also provides them with the confidence and self-worth to try new activities. There is nothing worse in my opinion than a fully capable but undervalued child. During half term, we did plenty of risky activities, most of them originating from the novel appropriation of Forest School resources by the children. As mentioned earlier the children excelled together on the rope swing/pulley, but this was soon superseded by a zip-line.
This proved somewhat daunting for many who queued up in the lofty reaches of the tree house awaiting their turn. And yes a few fell off, but importantly those who did had another go, instead of being defeated. It was especially successful for the group of reception children who came to visit; they were just the right weight and size to really maximise the speed of the zip-line. Stopping at the bottom? A whole different story! Alongside this, we also introduced several children to fire making, knife work and tool use although most have become somewhat adept at it already, having experienced it with us at the nursery or on previous Holiday Clubs, but hey there's nothing like practice right?
Physical/Mental development: There is an ever increasing push to get children back outside into nature to play: to 'unplug' and 're-wild' their childhood. The benefit of this? The outdoors is inherently 'risky' as aforementioned but the benefits of being regularly exposed to navigating slippery logs, jumping from height, ducking through low hedges on hands and knees, scaling tree branches, or running full tilt over rough, stony ground not only develops physical and sensory motor skills but spatial and bodily awareness/capabilities, core strength and agility and stamina. After all, healthy bodies equate to a healthy mind right? Forest School demands a lot from those who attend, mentally and physically (I'm sure all your children slept well after a day with us. I certainly do!) Many our Forest School activities require a serious amount of cognitive ability and hand-eye co-ordination, for example, lighting a fire requires a fire steel being angled at just the right degree, it requires being close enough to the tinder for the sparks to land on it, it requires the tinder to have been fluffed enough to catch the spark, having the right sized kindling in the right places so not swamp the tinder, and dry firewood chopped and ready to add, not to mention favourable weather conditions. With the correct preparation, Bingo! You've got yourself a blaze! But you can imagine the sense of personal achievement for a child, to have mentally been able to process all those variables and to have a fire in front of you and your friends. Makes for a very proud Forest School leader too.
Creative development: The busyness of Forest School can tire the most energetic of children and occasionally children often find a little quiet time is appropriate to sate their creative needs. We like to facilitate this by leaving a box of loose parts for them to access such as Elder beads, wooden disks, pencils/crayons, wool and clay, but we also like to ensure that all creative ideas are confidently voiced and always facilitated. We welcome the challenge of trying to make an even better bow and arrow/cross bow/sword or even a bed for a fairy. Whatever the children can think of we can arm them with the right tools, both physically and mentally, to try and achieve this. Providing real tools (literally) not only shows the children we trust them in their use but also it enables them to make tangible the blueprints in their heads. We like to say yes to any suggestion, no matter how ridiculous or far fetched. We are enablers of creativity and play.
So you can see, Forest School and outdoor play are pretty important for your children's holistic development, and I've only really touched upon the tip of the iceberg here. All the more reason to keep sending them back right? Who knows what benefits your children might glean from their next visit?! Thanks for stopping by, and we look forward to welcoming you back to Free Rangers for our one-day Festive Forest School Christmas Special on Monday, December 21st! Bookings will be taken very soon!
To view all the photos taken over the holiday clubs, click this link here: Free Rangers Flickr Page