Forest School this week has revolved around the brand new Fort that now adorns the paddock. Up until this week the children had only seen glimpses of the wooden hut that proudly stands as the cornerstone of the bigger and more challenging assault course currently being made! At Free Rangers we have never been practitioners to shy away from a challenge, and we also like to project this onto our provision with the children. The nursery as a whole has challenged the children whether through navigating the tall grass of the paddock on the first assault course we made, but as the weeks and months went by, we quickly realised that the challenge of the assault course wasn't enough for some of our older pre-schoolers as I noted in a previous blog post. With the demise of the allotments, the Forest School team moved in and we hired the services of a local friend of Free Rangers (A man who can - basically with a tractor) to come and landscape the ground and move some hefty looking logs into place to create the layout. This was incredibly helpful as to have done this by hand would have taken months. With the logs in situ and the 'Sisters' in place calling an end to stage 1, stage 2 commenced: The Fort!
Spearheaded by Vince, wood craftsman extraordinaire , we set about buying, borrowing and recycling materials from both the farm as well as few helpful donations from friends and family, to make the plans we had on paper a reality. I was keen not to let the children play around it too much before letting them loose, especially in the final stages of the development where Vince (and Vince's coerced Brother!) masterfully added the roof and final touches to make a cabin to end all cabins. There were a few instances where they kids were allowed to sit on the deck just to gauge how they dealt with the height, and to see what the space was like with a group of kids and true to form our little adventurers loved it.
With the final touches in place, the children this week were released on the Fort. We piled into the cosy cabin and tucked into our snacks, and went through the Forest School rules as normal,but we also discussed how the children were going to use the Fort and how it was best for them to navigate their way around. As the weather had been particularly inclement this week, the children recognised the wood would most likely be slippery and walking up and down the Giants Causeway, scaling the ladder or crossing the hidden bridge would have to be done with care, and due respect for other children using it. Now with the excitement of having this new play equipment there were a few occasions where two children tried to use the ladder at the same time or met head on in the middle of the bridge. This is a great opportunity for the children to practice their conflict resolution and in fairness to them they did very well portraying plenty of sharing and cooperative play. With the aforementioned weather too, the children have also started to don their full thermally lined waterproofs. This does unfortunately take a little longer to get them outside, as well as to get them changed afterwards (including a hose down in some instances), but it's essential to me they know they can get muddy and remain comfortable and warm whilst they do it. We do like the children to get themselves changed as it both allows them some responsibility over their own welfare, but also means we can get out the door quicker! The clips are quite tricky so it adds a little challenge for the children as well. It also highlighted just how poor some children's outdoor clothing is. Many of the coats that are supposedly waterproof, are in fact only showerproof having a saturation point. It's definitely worth spending a little more on a fully waterproof coat to enable more protection and longevity out there. We are considering naming and shaming a few brands and styles but I digress...
The main purpose for this new assault course is to work as a step up for the children who have conquered and out-challenged the smaller one. There are of course children who find the smaller much in their comfort zone, but we are all for gently pushing their limits. The Fort is higher than anything else we have for them to climb on, and if they can stand tall on that they are halfway there. The benefits of physically challenging the children like this, in an natural outdoor environment are vast. Mentally and emotionally, benchmarks will be set as to how far or high the children think they can go, but when they push themselves to go past that, the confidence and esteem that can be garnered from this is huge. Throw into the mix the fresh air and the hardening of the immune system, stamina and physical development being boosted, socialisation and relationship skills from aiding each other up and down or across the various sections, the children's own concept of risk and how to self manage it being developed, creativity and role play from playing 'families' or 'guard towers' for instance, or the strengthening relationship and respect towards the environment through a tactile and kinaesthetic approach to the session, you've got a pretty big tick in the "DO MORE OF THIS" box. I was expecting some children to not want to go up, but every child who went out to the fort, went up and enjoyed their time there. A few needed a little assistance in the first instance, but once they hit that bravery switch and overcame that little bit of fear, they were, well, like children in a new purpose hand built fort: Happy.
I guess you could say at Free Rangers, we put the 'fort' into fortitude! (sorry...) Onto the next project! Again, sorry it's a secret...
Have a glorious weekend all.
I would like to say a massive thanks to Ann Cooper and Dave Bruton from Brington Engineering for their continued support and generosity. You guys rock! :D
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