No! It's Free Range children flying down the zip line with the greatest of ease! Over the past few weeks, our focus on Forest School has been all about challenging the children's perceptions of their confidence and physical ability and just how far they can push themselves to conquer fears.
Tackling a zip line or any fast/high piece of physical equipment can be a daunting prospect for children. Even some of my oldest Holiday Club Forest Schoolers lack the confidence to attempt the zip line. If you have ever been on a giant zip line as an adult, they can be a frightening prospect despite the safety gear and reassurances of the staff! The fear on the unpredictability is ever percent and the what if questions always circulate. The same happens for children as well! Zip line's are definitely great fun but a daunting prospect all the same. Check out this whopper in Wales. Would you be brave enough?
As with all of the Forest School sessions, the zip line was an optional activity for our preschoolers. We never force the children to do anything they don't want to. As always, they have the freedom of the paddock so they can go and explore and create their own games and play, using resources set out in the paddock like willow lengths, ropes, crates or tyres. As practitioners we value this play very highly as it's during this time that secondary socialisation, the formation of relationships, reinforcement and development of their imaginations and language/communication and some good old-fashioned cardiovascular exercise can occur. But if they feel inclined (excuse the pun) then they can come and test their mettle on the zip line.
It was differentiated for confidence/ability. Those not feeling very confident could grab hold of the rope and charge down on foot to get a feel for the movement and route. The next stage is where they can grab hold of the rope from the ground and bring their knees upwards, allowing them to float down at a gentle pace. When feeling a bit braver they can then navigate up onto the table where the speed and height is increased and length of time (and therefore the enjoyment!) on the zip line is longer. For the bravest of the brave they can then head up into the heavens of the Tree House and set off from the balcony; only a few dared to! At the bottom, a crash mat awaits them or, if they request, a member of staff to catch them. Because of the length of the line, trying to get it taut enough is always a pain (we utilise the truckers hitch to get some serious tension on the line) but inevitably, feet or bottoms will slow their decent before they get to the bottom as a handy built in safety measure!
Physical ability (core strength and grip strength), boosting of confidence and overcoming of fears were all factors that can be explored and boosted through this session, but as practitioners we were more interested in exploring the emotions surrounding the activity. Before the children set off, we quizzed them about how they felt and consequently, at the bottom, (through beaming smiles of relief and pride) how they felt afterwards. Furthermore, for those who didn't fancy accessing the zip line, we tried to arm them with an "emotional vocabulary" to help them describe how they felt about it. This over time not only has a resounding impact on the children's empathy but also shows their voice and opinions are valued, so when faced with difficult situations in the future, they can use this vocabulary to effectively describe their emotions and thoughts to their adults and friends. In an age where social media, body image perceptions and the plethora of other societal and life pressures await our children, they need to be seriously emotionally hardy to confront it, which is why relaying the message that discussing feelings is ok, is where sessions like this are paramount. In the nursery, we also use "emotion coaching" with the children, which follows similar concepts of exploring emotions to defuse conflict within children's play so the children already have a foot in the door with this concept.
The overarching principle of importance with sessions such as these is the enjoyment factor. The squeals and shrieks of delight and the consistent and repetitive turn-taking has really made us smile and quite frankly, filled us with pride directed at those brave enough to have a go as well as towards the children for being able to voice their feelings about it. And that's all we can ask of them. Try it once at least. I think we adults could learn a thing or two from some of these kids. This is the first time we've done this activity with this age group and they have really taken to it, like, well birds to the wing! We are extending the activity over the next week to include transportation of resources so that those children not wanting to travel on it, can instead make other objects travel in their stead! The 'slackline' has also made an appearance and we have relocated down to the Timber Trail to add further freedom to the physical element of the session.
If you want more information about any emotion coaching techniques, just grab one of the staff for a chat!
Thanks for taking the time to read!