Forest School….

So if you already follow me on here, you’ll know I have been dabbling in a bit of Forest School. A PE teacher by trade, but I fancied upping the ante a little bit. So, in February I embarked on my Level 3 Forest School leader training.

If you’ve never heard of forest school, it is really hard to describe without sounding like a bit of woodland weirdo. But there are so many things I enjoy about forest school! The comradery that forms between children, the confidence and resilience it develops through risk, learning life skills such as making fire, tool work, building dens, there’s just so many. Forest schools education explain it well here.

Back in February I started the course and boy was I a rabbit in headlights (I still am sometimes!). The course is not for the faint hearted, it’s been a big learning curve for me and a steep one at that, but over the past 6 months I’ve come to enjoy learning new skills and practising them, but most importantly I cherish every moment outside with my children. Now H and L are regular forest schoolers as they are very lucky to have weekly session at their nursery. But they have loved going out into the woods with me and learning / trying new things. They relish the chance to collect sticks and forage for silver birch bark.

On completing the training element of the course, five of the most intense days of my teaching career to date, I was sent away to try and complete my portfolio; 61 pieces of work (yes 61!). I started off with great intentions but as usual life just got in the way and my discipline to forest school wavered. Come June, I was called back in to complete my Outdoor First Aid certificate which was absolutely fantastic. Our Dave, the instructor had great fun making us over during our casualty simulation. I was given a burn, someone else had an amputation, and there were lots of other injuries with varying degrees of severity.

Fast forward to the summer holidays and I started flapping that I was nowhere near done on the portfolio and assessment week was looming. Over the summer, I think I managed to complete between 10-12 assignments before the practical assessment. This meant working for 1-2hrs of an evening after having the children all dat. September 10th saw the start of the practical assessment and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified!

Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th – thank the lord these were revision sessions, but Dave (our instructor) definitely put us through our paces! We practised tying our knots (timber hitch, alpine butterfly, trucker hitch and a quick release knot), making and keeping a fire going for 10 minutes, boiling water in a kelly kettle, putting up shelters and using some tools; the bowsaw, billhook and sheath knives. It’s safe to say I was exhausted after day one and two BUT I had a fab time rekindling my love for forest school (ok maybe not whittling!) AND best of all having a great time with my fellow forest schoolers.

Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th – now these were the real deal, our actual assessment. My peers and I had gotten ourselves a little stressed about Wednesday as who doesn’t get a little panicked by a ‘test’. Now today was going to be a real test of not only my forest school skills but my time management. We’d been split into 3 groups, a starter, main and dessert. Throughout the day each person had to demonstrate how to use knots: putting up a shelter, making a low ropes course, making and keeping a fire going for 10mins using their own foraged materials; cut, split and whittle a tent peg, show how to clean and maintain the tools, teach another person for 5 minutes AND if that wasn’t enough, we also had to heat water in a kelly kettle in a group, make a piece of furniture and cook a course of food whilst managing a fire for TWO hours. I think it was safe to safe we were all flabbergasted at the extent of tasks for the day. I don’t think I stopped at all well apart from to eat all our delicious food. We made vegetable soup (from scratch), Gaelic mushrooms on toast, chicken and chorizo risotto and chocolate cake cooked in oranges with hot chocolate. Everything was absolutely delicious. With Wednesday and all the individual tasks out of the way, that meant only Thursday was left. Today we had to lead a session for a group of children. Easy you say, as we had all lead 6 sessions as part of our portfolio leading up to the assessment week, BUT this was Little Acorns ‘Stay and Play’ session! Now if I lived closer, I would taking my little ones to stay and play every week. Between myself, Abs, Jen, Ruth and Hannah we ran a ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ session for 2hrs. Well, what an amazing experience! It was so so different leading an already an established session and I learned a lot. Being a teacher I’m used to planning my lessons and 99% of the time they go like clockwork BUT forest school is so different. Whilst the sessions are planned, the plan isn’t the ‘be all and end all’, I enjoyed the challenge of mixing it up and going with the moment. I’m really lucky that my children attend a fantastic nursery near to where we live, one which uses a ‘planning in the moment’ system. It’s so so important to allow children to discover things and engage with what they want learn. So it’s ok to sometimes go off piste and I did just that today. I was able to work one on one with a pre schooler using a tube we’d found. We tried putting things through the tube and seeing which would come out the fastest, and rolling things down to discover which rolled the furthest. A child’s mind is like dry sponge and as adults we need feed them droplets of knowledge to allow them expand their mind and grow into well rounded individuals.

Now my assessment week is complete and date I say that I enjoyed it. If it wasn’t for all my fantastic and hopefully lifelong friends, I might not have survived the last 6 months with a smile on my face. I am astounded and excited that going into my 11th year of teaching I am doing something new AND that with a huge sense of relief, a big slap on the back I have PASSED the practical assessment of my training. Now with a kick up the bum I can begin motoring through my portfolio and finish those pesky 61 assignments!

Watch this space, who knows what the future will be for me!