Little pinkies out! Let's have a cuppa! Anyone fancy a brew? Our Forest Schoolers however haven't been drinking any old builders swill. We've been foraging for the freshest, most delicious greenery in our paddock to make credible cupped concoctions to sample.
This week was a marked difference from the bug hunts, but the children enjoyed the exploring element of searching for things on the site, and I had also noticed a pull towards the fire pit and in fire making too. Making simple natural foraged cups of tea would be an excellent way of tieing those interests together.
We began by discussing our Forest School rules as we do every session. In particular we paid close attention to how we behave when around a fire and what we should and shouldn't put in our mouths. The latter is particularly important during sessions like these as we have a few plants that wouldn't be great if they were ingested, namely: Arum Maculatum otherwise known as Lords and Ladies/Cuckoo Pint. The whole plant is poisonous and grows readily on site so we are keen to make sure the children can independently recognise it (we discuss it every session), and can avoid picking it. We'd much rather the children be able to autonomously understand why they need to avoid the plant than us remove the hazard completely and the children not know what it is. After the Forest School rules have been discussed and understanding confirmed, we roamed the site in pursuit of the aforementioned plant so we could reinforce our understanding of its characteristics. It has largely died back now leaving a cluster of green berries behind, which will shortly turn red.
Then it was onto the great forage. The children didn't believe me when I told them we were picking Stinging Nettles to make a cup of tea. But we'll get stung?! was a common reply. Well, yes. Essentially that is a risk. But we risk getting prickled by a Bramble in the pursuit of blackberries do we not? And I think a little sting helps embolden the "stiff-upper-lip" spirit! If you can be stung by a stinging nettle and learn how to deal with it then that child is truly confident and stoic in the making. Adults modelled the best way to pick the stingers (firmly underneath the leaves, pulling upwards) and then let the children have a go. Inevitably, most stung themselves a little on the fingers. But what was excellent to see was how brave your little foragers were whilst doing it. We witnessed children running off to pick Dock leaves to aid their wounded comrades (yes it's a placebo, but I still think it holds a certain merit in being able to deal with a sting); the shock and then giggle as they described how the stinger had nibbled them, and a few tears as well. But they soon got over it, only to want to go back and have another go to conquer that rascal plant. We also gave the children the choice of whether to pick the nettles or not. Most did once they had seen it modelled, but a handful chose to watch the others pluck leaves and add them to the bucket. Once a dozen or so nettle tops had been plucked, we moved around the site also gathering a mix of Bronze Fennel, Mint, Lemon Balm, Blackberry leaf and Raspberry leaf to add to our tea pot (not all at once), using all of our senses as we travelled.
Now, I've read a lot of "herby" webpages with claims of Nettle Tea's powerful medicinal properties with an absolutely huge host of benefits for the user. I take a lot of these with a pinch of salt because they are largely unfounded, and not based on any longitudinal study or research. What I do know is that's its packed full of minerals , vitamins and nutrients especially Iron, it's great for your insides (Number 1s and 2s!), and has shown to lessen the susceptibility of pollen effecting those prone to Hay-fever. Furthermore, I also discovered there is a competitive eating event unsurprisingly called the World Nettle Eating Championships. Ah the good old South West. You can always trust something peculiar to come out from a pub in Dorset.
Once the foraged leaves were picked, they were washed to remove any creepy crawlies, and unwanted bits and then it was back to cabin to make our fire. To boil water on Forest School we use a Kelly Kettle, which is a very effective method of heating a large amount of water fairly quickly using thin dry burnable material. Of course, it being Forest School the children help every step of the way to further their understanding, safety and confidence of fire and its use. We talk about what is needed, (Air, Fuel and Heat Source) and set about getting a steady burn going before placing the top half on the fire base. As the water neared the boil we listened for the change of sound the water makes inside the water chamber. The leaves were then steeped in the hot water for several minutes whilst the children gave the mix a stir with just a scant teaspoon of organic honey to take the edge off. We found the longer it brewed the stronger it tasted and the children's palate suited a subtler refreshing infusion. Such fussy kids!
It was an implicitly simple week, but we touched on a plethora of bases especially the senses. They used their sight to ID plants as well as noticing the changes of the fire; they felt the sensation of the tingly stings and the heat from the flames, they smelt the warm aroma of the tea as it brewed and their fingers after picking the mint; they listened for the gurgle of water from within the kettle as it boiled and tasted the cooked nettles after they had been soaked. Now how's about that for some holistic learning. I hope your children have regaled you with entertaining stories from the week, and have enjoyed it as much as I have. Well done Den children!
Thanks for reading as always and please feel free to comment and share!