When dressing the Harding family Christmas Tree, I smile when unwrapping the brightly coloured papier-mâché hearts and stars and other handmade bits and pieces crafted by myself and my siblings in our earliest of educational years. Although cherished by our parents, one has to wonder how something so highly polished could have been produced by children who's hands at the time were plausibly covered in a continual smear of dirt, paint, glue and snot.
The realistic truth, hard as it is to imagine, is our adult helpers (with their best intentions at heart) heavily aided in its manufacture. I will be the first to put my hands up and say that I have been guilty of this in the past. But why do we do it? Do we feel judged through the work of the children in our care? Is the end product a reflection of our own practice? From a practitioners point of view, why must we tamper with a child's creative abilities, especially around this time of year when nurseries and schools alike face pressure to craft for Christmas? Furthermore, there is an emphasis on anything crafted to be of a particular standard before it is handed to parents - an unrealistic standard for our children perhaps. During this week's Forest School, this has been at the forefront of my mind. There is a case to be made, that the emphasis placed on arts and crafts at holiday times results in products that are aimed for the parents rather than children. Whilst it's great receiving something from your kids, at Free Rangers we fix our focus firmly on following the children's lead. We are interested in the intricacies of the processes and paths they take during an activity, and allowing them to explore in their own time, as the greatest amount of discovery and deepest learning takes place during the production. The end product - is what it is! Experiential learning (learning through experience) can only exist, if the children are given the opportunities to do so. So we let them!
Now, there is no written ruling requiring us to navigate feet into paint pots to make delightful Christmas reindeer or to tirelessly cut paper doilies and stick them to the windows for snowflakes. We do it partly because of the expectation and tradition of making and creating holiday-themed arts and crafts the children can bring home as I did back in my youth, children do now, and probably forever shall do — (in fact, I'm reasonably sure one of the Three Wise Men gifted the baby Jesus with an Angel made out of a yoghurt pot.) However, it's also a lovely festive gesture for our families to treasure and to remember their child's fleeting years at nursery or school. And to be honest, the children do enjoy it - especially if there is a degree of messiness involved. It's just the done thing to do at this time of year!
This Christmas will be our 4th here at Free Rangers. Each year I consider projects the children could achieve in the time we have allotted for Forest School. One of Forest School's key aspects is to make whatever you have planned achievable for the children to allow for success. If they don't succeed, that's also OK, but especially with our wooden reindeer and snowman activity planned for this week, timings were definitely key to success. With any tool-based Forest School session, we first need to introduce the children to the tools; in this case a hand drill (or 'brace') and various sized wood drill bits, a drill press clamp, secateurs, and hammer to tap in the noses for their projects. Despite the session being simple in design, and afforded all the children time to complete their piece, I still felt pre-sawing the Silver Birch disks would enable them more quality time on the drill.
To make their reindeer or snowmen, the children first clamped their piece of wood into the vice, deliberating over which way to spin the handle to close the jaws. Next, shallow holes were carefully drilled with the brace for eyes and deeper thicker holes for Rudolf's red nose or a thinner hole for a carrot nose for the snowmen. As the children span the drill we watched to see if it made any shavings. Here we explored the direct causal relationship between their hand movements and the effect on the wood. There were some interesting coping strategies adopted to make the drill work before finally getting the right momentum. Once drilled we worked on our hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor development as we threaded wool through the disks enabling them to hang, and a stick was offered to aid in pushing it through. Then we adorned them with either Willow arms or Willow antlers squeezed into pre-drilled holes at the top. Lastly, Reindeer noses were finished off with a splodge of red paint from a well-positioned finger.
The amount of work these activities produces is sizeable, especially in the preparation time to saw and pre-drill the disks ready for the children, not to mention the stress of gently coaxing the children's efforts in the allotted time. I wonder why I put the children and myself through the hours of crafting, but it's made crystal clear when we have parents and siblings of our present pre-schoolers return and rejoice in another wooden ornament for their tree. They tell me they cherish them in exactly the same way my parents cherished the crafts we brought home. It's a festive memento of their earliest years that they and their family can cherish for years to come, and what's even better, is the children made them. And remember: a child's artwork is for life, not just for Christmas...
I sincerely hope your child's wooden handiwork survives festive period and goes on to be a treasured part of your Christmas Tree decoration arsenal. The only thing left to add is that I hope you have the most amazing Christmas break and I look forward to welcoming our Free Ranger families back in 2016 for more Forest School and outdoor play!
Wishing everyone the merriest of Christmases and a very healthy and happy 2016!