Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Forest school

Now this is a bit of a bizarre update as it has nothing to do with the cottage garden but it is something which is playing an increasing part in our lives and I think is worth talking about. For those of you that don’t know I work in a primary school and my daughter attends a nursery nearby. Both offer forest school as part of their provisions. What is forest school I hear you ask? Is it the latest parenting trend? We didn’t have forest school back when I was at school, why do we have it now? Well the truth is, in my opinion, that childhood has changed somewhat over the past few years. I worked in a secondary school for a number of years and over that time I noticed that children were becoming increasingly isolated from each other. For boys in particular this was a problem. They would spend hours and hours every day in their bedrooms playing computer games or on their phones and iPads. Alone. Inside. Not engaging with anyone else apart from online. Forest school is basically taking children outside (ideally to a forest of course) and re-introducing them to nature. Frequently there is a fire and a fire circle of logs surrounding it forming the centre of the ‘camp’. Fire based activities tend to include gathering logs (the lighting of the fire tends to be left to an adult) and various forms of cooking. I’ve seen popcorn popped (using two metal sieves attached together at the end of a long pole to hold it over the fire), marshmallows toasted on sticks as well as soup and pasta cooked in a more traditional way.

A common feature of a forest school is a mud kitchen. Now I don’t really remember having much of a play kitchen when I was younger, but that could be old age catching up with me, but we definitely did lots of making potions in the garden. A mud kitchen can take various forms. It can be as simple as some pots and utensils that children can play with or as fancy as a proper wooden outdoor kitchen. Mud kitchens have become very trendy at the moment with various companies charging not insignificant amounts of money for high end personalised ones. Children of all ages seem to really love them and a quick search on Pinterest will bring up a vast array of homemade versions. I have ambitions to create a covered one for C in our garden this summer out of pallets but haven’t finalised a design yet. I’m looking at putting it into the corner of our orchard and so far have out a base of four pallets down which I’m planning to secure together. The walls will pretty much be pallets stood on edge with some shaping and a window cut in maybe. Then I’m going to use the corrugated iron for which currently tops our coal shed as a roof. Ideally I’d like to create a kitchen bench type thing inside using our current kitchen sink and making a hob of some kind. Or at least thats the plan. I’ll start working on it sometime when the evenings start getting lighter so watch this space.

I can’t put up any photos up from my forest school experiences for child protection issues so I’ve added some of my random favourites in just to add a little colour. Forest school at a nursery level involves lot more crafty activities. Some of the ones I’ve seen include:

  • Taping a piece of paper onto a tree and using crayons to do bark rubbings.
  • Painting using mud as the paint.
  • Making a bird feeder by threading cheerios or similar onto a pipe cleaner (great for those fine motor skills too).
  • Using circles of cardboard and strips of sellotape across it to make a ‘stained glass window’. Stick leaves and twigs and other things found in nature onto the sellotape then backing it with more sellotape.
  • Using sticks to draw shapes in the mud.
  • Making faces and collages using twigs, leaves and other things found in nature.

The older children love building dens with ropes and tarpaulin and creating pretend battles. I’ve also seen children pretending to be dogs chasing each other and children digging for bugs and building homes for worms. What really stands out to me though is that forest school seems to be a place where children can just be children. Away from technology and the pressures of our society, children really relish the chance to just be children. The chance to let their imaginations take hold. Whilst it is amazing to see and be a part of, it saddens me. The fact that such activities don’t exist as part of childrens lives unless we specifically arrange it is a pity. Seeing how some children struggle to play outside without the structure we often give them just reinforces to me how much we need to keep making sure kids stay as kids for as long as they can. That they don’t miss out on being outside and enjoying the wonder that is nature. That’s my rant over. I promise my next post will update you more on what the cottage garden trio have been up to.

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