What's on the menu this week on Forest School? Delicious culinary creations that's what. The children have been flexing their culinary and creative juices, stirring, mashing and boiling up some delectable dishes. In the rain. As per usual. With all the downpours and the related destruction the South West has sustained, I'm surprised we haven't all started to grow gills and fins. Despite this, we at Free Ranger Towers believe in no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing options. So togged up, we faced the storms determined to cook our way to forecasted oblivion. If we were going down, then we're going down cooking in blazing glory! The aim of this week was for the children to explore their creativity and expand their culinary vocabulary, putting meaning to cooking verbs. Water would also prove to be a popular part of this weeks sessions. As with the title of this blog, taken from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797–98), written in Somerset, the children remembered that this week's task was purely for play for fear of trifling with one's constitution!
The sessions began with a brief chat about the activity ahead, and the kinds of foods they might want to make. We also discussed what the children thought was a healthy and unhealthy option to cook. Cakes of various design featured heavily although some opted for a salad to go with their cakes as a sort of balance. We also discussed our Forest School rules as per normal, placing an extra focus on our Fire Pit and Not Putting Things in our Mouths rules as our fire pit hasn't really featured of late, and needed a bit of dusting off. The first task for the children was to add to the array of ingredients already available, including saw dust and wood shavings, cow parsley, pine cones, bark, and sand. A few collected more of the above but others found Buddleia seed, shrunken apples, pine needles, mud, grasses and twigs. Once collected the children headed back to the pop-up kitchen that had been created for them, so they could get on with the task at hand. The fully fitted kitchen included all your regular appliances including an oven, plenty of work surface, water bucket, guttering and fire pit. It was interesting seeing how the children went about their cooking. Some adopted a 'little-of-everything' approach, whilst others opted for a recipe (I use this word loosely), using a few ingredients. As they cooked, I hovered around the periphery, asking questions as to what they were making, how they were doing it, and what they planned to do next, supporting their creativity and thought processes, but not leading it in any direction allowing the children to carry the play.
Whilst most wanted to cook, there are always those who don't want to engage. When doing this activity previously, rainwater was left for the children to freely access in a large bucket. This meant the water very soon disappeared with other zealous cooks dunking whole saucepans into it. Now there's nothing wrong with that strategy, but I wanted to combat this, both to stretch the water a little further, but also to add a deeper context. So I created a sort of water contraption, where by the children would position their vessel at the bottom of a gutter, and climb up to the top where a bucket with a small cup awaited them. The children were asked to think about how much water they felt they needed, say 5 or 6 cups, pour and count the required amount down (maths tick!), then return to their cooking. This proved to work really well, a little too well perhaps, as some decided playing with the water was much more fun but provided a role for those who didn't want to cook. A few self-appointed themselves the Masters of the Water, and aided others with their liquid requirements. I also noted the power of imaginative play during their feedback. Whilst they reported what they had created, some referred back to their physical ingredients they had included, whether it be pine cones or mud, where as others listed chocolate, flour or eggs depending on the dish. One smart boy merged these two lines of thought together to make 'mud butter' for his cake. Clever sausage.
I was pleased with the outcomes of the week, and witnessed lots of co-operative play and personal learning. Some needed a little push to get started, where as some plowed straight on in. The children used excellent language development throughout showing correct knowledge of frying, whisking and mashing their ingredients, as others wrapped their treats in icing and chocolate. Around the fire pit, the children correctly recalled our fire rules and we discussed the differences between smoke and steam, as well as a hilarious conversation about weeing on the fire. Describing their meals also bore fruit as they children delved into sensory language like recounting the temperatures of their dishes, the smells coming from them and the textures they could feel or pretend to taste. Some created dishes with finesse, whilst others cooked but created no end dish, simply experiencing and exploring the materials at hand, using their senses to deepen their understanding of them. Soup was by far the most popular option, but my favourite gastronomic choices included: Apple and Mud 'Smash' Cake (made by smashing everything together with the masher), Banana Squablette (I have no idea...) and Black Soup. Appetising menu no? Recipes available on request. Unfortunately, a couple of sessions fell short due to the cold and wet. Even the hardiest of children turned their backs and called mutiny on Forest School, but I would rather they had a short positive experience outside, then a forced negative time. That would undo everything we strive for. Well done squids. Red Fox is pleased.
With all the negative press against the never-ending showers, I thought it pertinent to balance the tables in favour of the elements with Walt Whitman's poem The Voice of the Rain. It's beautifully written, my favourite part a description of the rain as the "Poem of Earth". The rain can have disastrous effects, but is also vital to life.
But seriously, I'd like some more Sun soon please Mother Nature. Thanks awfully.
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