Where should we explore today?

I am impressed. We're a few weeks into the start of term and we have welcomed in our new faces to the Den (preschool) room and the confidence and willingness I've seen from these children has really astounded me. This is a mixed time for parents and children, less so for the children moving up from the Burrow but more in regards to some of the children fresh to Free Rangers hallowed gates. It also sees Forest School start afresh, as we wipe the slate clean and take the children, new and old, back to the beginning...

It's an interesting time as the children who followed in the footsteps of our now leavers, have been promoted to take the newest recruits under their wings and show them the ropes. My basic principle for the first few sessions is to give the children the chance to explore on their terms. Where should we play today? is a question I asked the children before we marched off on adventures new. Inevitably the older, more familiar children forged ahead, setting course for their favourite areas in our Forest School paddock, the new faces following suit, taking lead from the older children. I also seek to install the important trio of Forest School rules:

1. We mustn't put things in our mouths (to which we discuss the things we can and can't on Forest School. We have some poisonous plants the children know not to eat such as Lords and Ladies being a common one)

2. We shouldn't run off without an adult (so we can keep tabs on the location of the children, so they don't wander too far. Our site is very accessible and we allow a certain extent of free exploration keeping the children just about in sight! Should they wander too far we initiate the "1, 2, 3, Where Are You?!" game.)

3. We should be careful around the Fire Pit (Having the children being able to experience Fire is superb, but they must show us they can respect it, alongside enjoying it, being able to explore what is does and why/how we make them.)

It takes longer for some to understand than others but they have plenty of time for it to sink in. The prospect of going on this mysterious thing called Forest School (especially when they've never been on it before) can be rather daunting for the children too. This is why for me, it pays dividends to get friendly and familiar with the children as quickly as possible so that they feel comfortable exploring the great outdoors alongside me. Furthermore, I took to simply calling it "Going outside to play" for their first trips, so that they could demystify what Forest School was once they were out and about and having fun. This first week saw the children fully exploring every inch of the paddock. No stone was left unturned, no area unexplored, no one child's clothing came back clean. Each group brought a different focus to the sessions. Whether it was looking for bugs, staining fingers and faces with blackberries, using the Tree House as a witches house/ice cream shop/castle/pirate ship, as well as making use of a few open ended resources we left out for them to access, like pots and pans and hammers. It was a positive week, and we got an excellent initial response from the children.

Week 2 of term bought with it more new faces, so week 1's open exploration continued, reinforcing the familiarisation of the site and them feeling comfortable with me and their new groups of Forest School friends. During that week we looked in greater depth at the rules, especially surrounding the Fire Pit through some extended Play Cooking to reinforce and role play in and around, but we also looked into the gross motor skills of hammering and let the children loose with some Red Fox home-made mallets! The play cooking (as always) is very popular and the children enjoyed being around the fire pit, using a plethora of utensils, pots and pans and found ingredients to create a mix of sloppy, elderberry stained recipes with smashed apples bobbing up and down. Off the back of this activity we made a few impromtu real fires where we began the process of talking about how and more importantly why we make them. Great fun. Furthermore several groups really got on well with the hammers, taking them out the context of the session (using them for hammering pegs and squashing berries/apples) and used them for "fixing the pirate ship" (cabin) or explored the sounds they could make by hitting them on different materials, creating interesting constructions and structures using the hammers to 'build'.

There was lots to take away from these weeks, and I'm really happy that the children are settling well. The Forest School groups might need a little tweaking in the forthcoming weeks to get a good balance of personalities and needs, so if you're wondering which session your child is on, just ask and we can let you know. It's also an exciting time as we welcome our newest member of staff in Jess Newman, who joins us our Forest School assistant and has filled the role most brilliantly! Do say hello if you haven't already! I hope you enjoyed the read and photos, and as always do please leave a comment!

See you in the next post,

Red Fox