The Smiles Still Don't Lie

When I last ran this week's activity, it brought to my attention the extent of how children (and adults) are hugely emotive beings. When they are unhappy or cross, they will frown. When they are sad or hurt they might cry. When they are happy, they smile. They are largely not aware they are making these telling facial expressions that we use as a visual signifier of mood change. We see these ranges of emotions daily in a nursery, and in the cases of smiles, never more so than on Forest School this week. I have always been one for challenging children's perceptions of their abilities. Children are inherently cautious about new experiences, especially if it means going beyond what they feel is comfortably within their boundaries or risk. Forest School in its nature is a risky business but children learn not just about the world in which they inhabit but also how they perceive themselves in it and the ways in which they can interact with its physicality. This week we moved on from the elemental facets of fire and pancakes, but linked back to it through continuing to look at ourselves, in particular to "health". This wasn't planned as I wanted many of the new children who had begun to move up from the younger rooms, to begin to get a handle on the routines and localities of the Forest School Paddock here at Free Rangers, but furthermore to learn methods of traversing our assault courses.

At the start of each session we discussed what we had done during the previous week. We looked at what it meant to be healthy and indeed what healthy meant. I received replies of "healthy food is food that tastes good!" which I think is a good dietary stance for a 4 year old, but also the children knew fruits and vegetables were 'good' for them, probably because that's what they've been told. At Free Rangers we like to delve deeper with the children into the details of the their food and we cross examined each ingredient that went into the pancakes and whether we thought it was good for us, and what it offered our bodies. However we mostly came to the conclusion that pancakes are delicious and no more should be said about it. The conversations were quickly brought round to exercise, and whether they felt it was a healthy thing to do and explored the link between our food and fuel and mirrored this with their knowledge about fire and how it broadly needs the same things we do. Fuel and Air to burn. Without them, they can't move.

Then it was time get some exercise! We started by stretching our bodies making sure they were ready for some physical development. Some children led the stretches too, displaying some rather peculiar and humorous warm up techniques. As aforementioned, the aim of the session was to arm the children with techniques for manoeuvring themselves across the assault courses or log piles. Obviously, we are not in the business of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs' and many of the children, especially our oldest, can quite easily climb and navigate themselves, but the actions we would teach them would allows us to not only communicate effectively with them when we give them commands (should we need to), but they can enable us to help them slow up a a little. Once a child becomes comfortable with the assault course, the over familiarity breeds contempt, and we often see children not thinking carefully enough about their own risk as well as those of the children around them. Therefore these actions help us to help them. So we stomped like dinosaurs, tiptoed like mice, prowled like lions, hopped like bunnies and leaped like kangaroos around the paddock before I asked the children to swing like monkeys. This was met with curious and confused looks. "Butthere's nothing to swing on!" was a popular response!

We made our way to our Ash tree where I had roped up a simple pulley/rope system so the children could be raised and lowered as well swung to and fro. Sitting in the 'bowline' loop I had tied I hoisted myself up off the ground to show the children how it would work and was met with the majority of the children also wanting to have a go (some wanting to try and pull me up as well!) The idea of the activity was for the children to decide how high they felt they wanted to go, which meant effective communication was key. The children had to ask if I was ready and I would reciprocate asking if they were too as well as if they were comfortable and then I raised them a little way off the ground. Once up, the children would either be smiling and giggling, as well as those who weren't so sure! Either way it was important to read these expressions to gauge whether the children wanted to come down or not. Many went back up several times, but initially not all the children were keen. What I tend to find is, our kinaesthetic learners (generally the more boisterous boys but DEFINITELY not exclusively) went up first, whilst the others (visual/auditory learners) who were not so sure decided to watch before building up the confidence and reassurance they could participate too. Then there were some who felt it was too much to confront to which we made a point of telling the children this was OK. Pushing a child to partipate would only have a negative effect on them and that's not what Forest School is all about. We had also set up a little swing underneath the apple tree and it was lovely to see some of the children aiding each other on it, as well as using the low swung branches as their own little swinging posts. What I found most interesting is the more outwardly confident children would go less high then those who stood back and built up the confidence to have a go although we weren't short of dare devils who wanted to survey the Forest School paddock from way up high, and feel the breeze racing through the trees. Once the children had sated their need for heights we let them loose on the assault courses to try out our new moves. And very well they did too!

More movement exploration next week I think...

Thanks for reading!

Red Fox