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Forest Schools: A week of woodland games, whittling and wisdom sharing…

August 21, 2015

Written by Sophie Franks, Community Engagement Trainee. Surely that sounds like too much fun to count as training? Jack and I spent last week doing just that during our Forest Schools Level 2 training with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

In a beautiful Wiltshire woodland just outside Salisbury, we met our fellow community engagement trainees from Devon (Amy C & Jack H), Somerset (Abi) and Wiltshire (Keeley). It didn’t take long for us to make ourselves feel at home in the Oak House and go out into the woods to explore our surroundings after an introduction to Forest Schools from Dean, our trainer for the week.

Dean and the Community Engagement Trainees - Jack H, Abi, Amy, Keeley, Sophie & Jack B. Copyright Keeley Hampton

Dean and the Community Engagement Trainees – Jack H, Abi, Amy, Keeley, Sophie & Jack B. Copyright Keeley Hampton

We started off with the basics… what is Forest School? Forest School is an ethos rather than an organisation, with the main principle behind it being ‘process not outcome’. This means that it’s not the outcome that’s important, it’s the process behind it. Many children struggle in a classroom environment, but thrive in a Forest School Setting. There are no grades to be reached or set instructions that must be followed, but it allows an environment in which children can be children and learn about wildlife, other people and themselves.

Once we had a better understanding of Forest School (and several cups of tea!) we were off for our first walk around the woods. Along the way we would point out to each other any species we knew and state a fun way of remembering them. For example Beech trees have torpedo shaped buds, Hazel has furry leaves and Self heal was once used to heal wounds.

The next day, after a refreshing yoga session led by Amy C, we spent the morning learning how to use tools safely before going in search of a tree the land owner had permitted us to cut down. The Silver Birch would be used by us to make many different objects throughout the week using the skills Dean had taught us. Using tools may be an everyday experience for the practical trainees, but for us it made a pleasant change to be outside learning how to use them properly and putting them to use.

Jack B cutting down the Silver Birch. Copyright Jack Bedford

Jack B cutting down the Silver Birch. Copyright Jack Bedford

We made Forest School medallions decorated with our forest names (‘Sophie Slow Worm’ and ‘Jack Jay’) first of all. Followed by mallets which came in handy throughout the week, spatulas, frames and kazoos. Several evenings were spent learning and practising knots that came in very useful when we were asked to create a shelter

Our Creations - Jack

One of the main aims for all of us was to learn how to build a fire. Not only did we achieve a sense of pride from lighting our first fires, we could also enjoy a cup of tea afterwards thanks to the Kelly Kettles Dean brought along.

By Thursday we were all able to use a selection of tools (and give the all-important safety talk for each of them) and light fires successfully (always followed by a cup of tea). So Thursday morning was all about creating something to demonstrate our new skills; I used hazel, pine cones and string to make a wind chime. We spent the afternoon roasting marshmallows and warming popcorn over the fire before learning (and playing) a variety of woodland games that suit different children depending on their play and learning styles. Team Dorset won the ‘How tall can you make a tower out of sticks?’ game, woodland hopscotch got rather competitive and ‘hide and seek’ brought out many different techniques (run as far as you can as fast as you can Vs. stand behind a tree several metres away).

Before we all returned to Dorset on Friday, the morning was spent discussing our progress throughout the week. We realised that although we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, we had also learnt a lot without even noticing it at the time. The week wouldn’t have been complete without one more woodland game however… so half of us went running off into the woods laying arrows behind us to show which direction we’d gone, then finally decided it would be a good idea to hide in a patch of brambles… This was rather uncomfortable after 5 minutes… then another 10 minutes passed by before the other group found us. Clearly an uncomfortable hiding place doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.

The trainees - if you can spot them beneath the camouflage face paint. Copyright Jack Bedford

The trainees – if you can spot them beneath the camouflage face paint. Copyright Jack Bedford

Jack and I would like to thank Dean from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Rachel our Wildlife Skills Coordinator for a fantastic week, we certainly learnt a lot and had plenty of fun doing it. It has definitely been the highlight of our traineeships so far!

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