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SENsory Forest school

What is the rationale for forest school programmes?

Forest school sessions are about using outdoor environment and adventure experiences to nurture people in a holistic way. Activities are ‘learner led’ and often involve creativity, problem solving, play, cooperation, and meaningful human interaction. The purpose of the activities is to build self esteem, confidence and happiness in a calm and inspiring setting.

The sensory nature of Forest School can be very therapeutic for children. Screen led learning is a two dimensional and adult led. In the outdoor setting, one can smell the wild garlic, hear a cacophony of bird song, feel the grass below your feet and see the trees dancing in the breeze. It is a feast for the senses. A strong connection to nature helps one to feel grounded and in tune with the world.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Children are in fact just smaller versions of ourselves. The answer to the question about how we learn best, has the same answers as if you asked an adult. Within the boundaries of safety, we don’t believe they need to learn to obey, sit still, be silent or be confined to learn. Real learning does not happen from a book or a screen. So here are what some of the children said:

When do children learn best?

  1. When they are interested. Is it fun? Is it inspiring? Does it foster my curiosity?
  2. When they are involved. Can I touch? Can I smell? Can I ask questions?
  3. When they have choice. I would like to burn some energy. I would like to do something calm. I would like to eat.
  4. When they can be creative. Can I express myself? Can I tell a story of my experience? Can I hear my friends tell interesting things? Can I just experiment?
  5. When they are valued. Can I tell you my knowledge (it may be more than the “teacher’s”) ? Can I help my friends and work in a team? Can I be told when I have done well? Please get to know me.
  • For some children, school in an incredibly challenging environment. It can be too loud, noisy, busy, bright. For some, if one of their senses becomes over stimulated, it can send them into meltdown or just a type of shut down.
  • Sensory art and science is a club in which we try, as much as possible, to follow the children’s lead. We will often have three activities on offer, all of which are optional. It is intentionally placed on a Friday, where lots of parents tell us is the day in which children have become most tired and over stimulated. Our philosophy is that education is about using all of the senses and about using nature as a source of inspiration and creativity. Kids today are also over stimulated by being digital guinea pigs. Phones, tables, computers, and games consoles are often contributing to feelings of anxiety and sadness.

By having fun, creative and sensory stimulating activities in which the children can learn together, we hope to create a feeling of calm and happiness which will linger on into the weekend. Fostering strong and meaningful connections to others is at the core of the sessions through communication and humour.

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Being neuro-typical is definitely over rated.

“You don’t look people in the eye. Your son must get his autism from you.” I am not neuro- typical. My husband is not neuro-typical, neither are my two kids. I have begged my sister to study our family because we are like some crazy, messed up case study for a neuro diverse family who constantly trigger each other. My sister is a Psychology specialist.

My younger son has recently been diagnosed with ASC (Autistic spectrum condition). If you ask him what this means, and he is only 7, he will say ” People are ‘getting me angry’.” What he means is ” I sometimes have no idea what people are trying to communicate, so I then throw furniture.” My husband relates to a lot of his behaviour. And suggests this as “just normal”. Normal is a very relative term.

I know I have a tendency to not give people eye contact. The truth is (And I have pondered and hyper- analysed myself to the umpteenth degree.) If you are talking to me, I can give you eye contact endlessly. If I am talking to you, I find it incredibly difficult . And the reason is that I have no ability to multitask. It is NOT to do with not understanding your non-verbal communication. It is to do with being able to read every facial expression, every gesture, every minuiti of detail in your subtle and often very personal communication. I cannot construct an intelligent sentence, while simultaneously reading in your face that you are in pain, struggling and worrying about your car MOT which you pick up later. It is for me a sensory overload.

Sometimes I am slightly jealous of people in my life who cannot read these signs. Imagine just talking about the weather, without seeing that your friend has been living with acute sleep deprivation, loneliness, and relationship problems. Myself and bigger son FEEL acutely. And it feels like a painful space to occupy. Bizarrely, my husband thinks that I do this with everyone APART from him. Imagine just talking about rain??? or snow?? or wind?

To my friends I am: Loud, in you face, no holding back, honest. I am “Feisty”, Face like a window, tell it like it is. I am also a great listener. I turn up at people’s houses saying “You’re not yourself, you can tell me to f off, but I was worried. ” I regularly have people crying on me. It gets a bit intense, tbh, but I think “I am definitely doing something of importance.” I have a face which instils trust.

So I am not neuro typical. A really special friend of mine refers to it as “her inner eye”. Another bestie calls it being an “Empath”. I can only be myself, so I hope to think that for my weirdo kids, in their weirdo family: It’s ok to be weird, and it’s ok to not be ok.”

Keep talking people. The problems always start when we stop talking.

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Nature therapy as a cure for mental burnout

It can be really hard to convince people that they should go outside in February. But this week I have been reminded that if you ever need to rediscover your Joie de Vivre, see the world either through a small child, or through someone on holiday.

I am very lucky in that I have always worked with young people. To them the world is full of wonder and magic and they are full of joy and optimism. Rachel from ‘Wild wood adventures’ who I work with every Thursday, really blows me away with the range and planning of activities for Bristol Stenier school. But every week I am struck with how much pleasure they derive, just from stroking some grass, or climbing a tree or lighting the fire. As adults we stop taking the time to experience the world in a sensory way and get sucked into “getting things done.”

Last Saturday I was booked to take three lovely Aussies on a trip of the Welsh waterfalls. I don’t mind saying that I was slightly worried. These guys were coming from the height of summer in Aus, to our bleak, cold, grey and wet February. The treeless valley has lost it’s sparkle. The river is probably about 3 degrees and the idea of sitting out to have a picnic, would be mad even by British standards.

But the 5 mile able along to the local pub was slow as they took in the wonder of being in an exotic location. My assistant Jem and I had a giggle when they were taking photos of moss. They had endless questions about the rocks and the lichens and the birds. I explained that we were walking through wild raspberries and hazelnut trees and if you came back in the summer, you could fill your pockets with treasures. We looked at the indicators of ancient woodlands such as the heart tongue fern, and they were intrigued about the remains of the very old railway from the quarrying days.

As we sat and ate the lobster and other local foods I had brought, they asked me what these little mounds of earth were around us. “Oh, they are mole hills.” I replied. “There will be a whole network of tunnels underneath our feet connecting them.” And I went on the explain what they ate, what they looked and felt like and answered questions about if they damaged the tress. “All of nature lives in a symbiotic relationship. I mused. And then we talked about the mycelium network with which the trees communicate with each other.”

To this family, it was the most exotic and beautiful Safari tree in a magical green fairy landscape. They loved the clean air and the refreshing swim in the waterfall lagoon (yes! They went in). And building a fire at the end as the sun set was a lovely bonding experience.

This experience was a reminder that the work I do now, is absolutely essential. Every Wednesday, I watch a group of women come home transformed for a few hours in nature. I am not a councillor, nor a trained therapist. Nature is the therapy. I am just here to point out some magical things you may not have noticed. I am here to answer questions. I am here to remind you of a truth that you already knew. You don’t always need £500 worth of therapy. Sometimes you just need to have space and calm and feel listened to.

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Wild Women escape: Waterfalls

Mother’s day, women only event. Let me drive you from Bristol to a landscape of incredible waterfalls, ancient forests and wild rivers. We will feast on Lobster and prosecco cooked on hot coals. I will then guide you on a 5 mile walk through the Wild Welsh landscape. Half way we will stop for gin and cake, if you would like. One the return, I will point out the unique and intriguing flora of the woodland valley along with fold tales and medicinal aspects. There will be the option for wild swimming in a lagoon, with the largest fall cascading in the background. We will then journey home.

Robert1 February 2020 5 Star review

Robert

“A wonderful experience throughout. Sy took us to a beautiful and special location. She went out of her way to be flexible and accomodating, and allowed the day’s walk and other activities to flow naturally. Sy and her assistant Jemma were delightful hosts – friendly, informative, considerate and above all, fun. The day was finished off in style with a delicious selection of local produce, expertly cooked lobster, and wine. We dozed contentedly on the way home. A highly recommended experience.”

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Teaching is not about having the answers, it's about having the questions

This is what I woke up to. This is my seven year old. It is 6am.

Me: “What are you doing Zephaniah?”

Z: “I am making potions.”

Me: “Cool. Where are all those bottles from?”

Z: “From under the sink.”

Me:”Do you know what they are?”

Z: “No. “

Me: “Do you think any of them could be dangerous?”

Z: “Which kind of dangerous?”

A great question, I thought. We then went on a exploration of Hazchem symbols and talked about being toxic, explosive, corrosive and discussed volatile organic compounds. He liked the symbols of the bottles, as he hates reading. He was upset to discover that some were poisonous to wildlife.

I then pointed him to a food drawer. You can use anything you like from here. I explained. He and his brother played with bicarbonate of soda, fizzy tonic water, food dye, flour, yogurt. I gave them some Calpol syringes and eye goggles from a wood work set they had from Santa. They squealed with delight at it bubbling over and changing colour, and becoming thicker. This went on for over an hour.

“What did you do at school yesterday?” I asked casually. “I played computer games in the inclusion room and I did a bit of maths.” I sighed.

People often are curious what we do on our home school days. The answer is, all kinds of mad and unpredictable stuff. “How do you know how to teach chemistry? I would be scarred I was not covering the right stuff or telling them something wrong.” I have had this a load of times. The problem with education is to me a really simple one. We have stopped thinking of kids as just smaller adults. They are still people, and there is not fixed amount of knowledge they absolutely have to have in their heads in order to be functional and happy adults. If you want categoric evidence of this, central government change the primary syllabus every year so it can’t be formulaic.

Octopus dissection.

If you were at work and you did not know the answer to a problem or question, what would you do? You would probably google it. Or ask someone who has the knowledge, or go to a library. Teaching is exactly the same. Even teaching my specialist subject which I have been doing for a million years (well sometimes it feels like that) I do not know that answer to every question students might ask me. And it is only a good teacher who is willing to admit that to their class.

Students are not vessels which we pour our knowledge into. This would be a fixed and static thing. Students are the drivers of a mad space rocket and we are merely passengers. Our job is to make sure they don’t crash and die, or get completely lost. And if we have done our job, they should be much better drivers than we ever were. The student should and must excel the teacher. This is how humanity drives forward.

What is “Child led learning”? You would think the answer is obvious. Last Friday I took Zephaniah for his home school session. I asked his teacher what their topic was for the term: South America. Interesting, since he had thought “it was to do with planets and stuff.” Zephaniah had been really interested in a story I was telling him earlier in the week about a Phoenix. While I made lunch, he watched a short documentary about animals in South America. We then went down to the city farm and fed the goats and sheep and pigs and he noticed how llamas are not that different to sheep. We then picked his brother up and went to a small shop run by a Venuzulean family. The man there showed us his empanadas and churros and we discovered some interesting Argentinian sweets. We brought some home. Zeph and I made a collage of a Phoenix and then researched and compared South American mythical creatures with British ones. He made this …. wall hanging?!? Possibly more achieved in 6 hours than 6 weeks of school. This is child led learning. It is experiential, hands on, negotiated, fun and memorable. It involved: English, ICT, Citzenship, Geography, RS, Art, DT, Food, Science (biology) And languages. It didn’t involve a work sheet from twinkle.

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Into the wild – January Newsletter

My singular aim in the last year, has been working towards a goal of using the natural English countryside to educate, engage and inspire both children and adults. Previous to this I had been a Secondary school teacher, working in a variety of different settings in the South West. In January 2019, I enrolled to become a Forest School leader (Level 3) after realising that I was only truly happy outdoors, and by Easter I had decided to leave teaching to try a new way of working with people.

I started writing an adventure and nature blog in March (https://into-the-wild.org.uk/) which soon snowballed into a website and a small business. In September I began working at Tortworth Arboretum as a Forest school assistant on the Hawthorn project. This is a CIC set up to allow women recovering from addiction to heal, connect and feel they can be themselves in a nurturing and supportive environment.

In October I started a nature inspired educational session designed for children on the Autistic spectrum (https://www.facebook.com/intothewild.org.forestschool/). Each session has a theme based on one of the kid’s “Special interests” and myself and two lovely volunteers, have around 10 kids who regularly attend. We have 5 drop in places.

Also, during October I was accepted by Airbnb as an “Experience host” (www.airbnb.com/bristolwaterfalls). I organise and run trips to Welsh waterfalls for small groups of adults. I cook Lobster on a fire and provide a guided tour of the Geo park.

This January I hosted my first big event. On the 2nd of January, myself with two volunteers, ran a forest school session for 30 children and their parents at Ashton court, Bristol. I was commissioned through an organisation called BAP (Bristol Autism project) who put on free activities for Children with ASC and their siblings during the school holidays. (https://www.facebook.com/events/937756706600149/) I themed the session on the local tale of Goram the giant and we made clay sculptures, built dens and had s’mores over the fire pit.

A child’s depiction of Goram

Everyday I wake up excited, enthusiastic and filled with inspiration. But I have had to admit my own personality flaws: I am incredibly impatient, I talk when I should listen, I over share and it does not come naturally to be to be commercially minded. I get very emotionally connected to those that I work with and this is a double edged sword. I could not be as good at what I do if I did not get to know the families, but it is hard to put down that emotion and responsibility at the end of the working day.

Vegan meatball stew for Hawthron Project

Some of the seeds of projects I planted back in September have now just begun to come to fruition. And even though I was feeling at Christmas like I had failed at everything, I can see now that so much has been achieved in what is only really three months. So onwards and upwards! I have really seen the impact that working as an independent educator has had on the people involved, and I feel honoured to be part of this amazing journey. Thank you to all who have been on this incredible ride.

New year's re(s)volution

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This blog was started on April 1st last year. This was the first image I uploaded. What happened in between was as they say, history.

On the 1st January 2019, I vowed to have 52 new adventures in 2019. I have to tell you dear reader that I have failed. I got to 48. Illness, autism, work, madness and life got in the way. But what an adventure the last 12 months have been!!!! I just don’t think I can put into words the gravity of change and enlightenment (I am not keen on that word but cannot think of another comparable one in English language) that has happened.

In January, I signed up for a course “Level 3 Forest school leader” on a slight whim. I craved change. I loved working with young people, but I wanted to do it in a way that meant I was impacting on mental health in the positive way, rather than negative. I only feel happy outdoors, in natural environments. I felt that this could be an avenue I could explore and it was a tenth of the alternative I was considering, a masters in educational philosophy. I had asked my place of work to allow me time to study for this, and they said no. It retrospect, it was a huge favour.

By Easter, I had given my notice. My 52 adventures had actually changed my mindset entirely. I was looking at life through a new lens. “Shall I write these 30 reports, or shall I take my paddle board out for an hour?” Neither brought financial reward. I choose the latter. “Shall I sit at my desk and produce a worksheet for the next lesson on post it note holders, or shall I eat my lunch in the sculpture garden and bathe in glorious sunshine.” No one would notice if I did either. I chose the latter. And so went the year.

In choosing joy, I reawakened my joie de vivre. I rekindled a connection to my children. And although I felt guilt, because it is inherently English not to feel alive unless you are suffering, I realised that my being grumpy, miserable and angry was actually benefitting no one. So many people have written to me in the last four months telling me how much it has affected their families, that I have started working in forest school. I can think of one letter I have received in 16 years, in which a parent talks of gratitude for my teaching their child. This is in part, due to expectation, but also because I could not really do what I could do, given the limitations of “education” as it is.

New year’s resolutions have a bad wrap and I think bring out a lot of anxiety in adults. The thing is this, they should not be a noose around your neck, and they should not be another yard stick by which you measure failure. They should be a zephyr by which you embrace a new chapter. I have always loved new year’s resolutions, not because I always complete them, but because I love the concept of rebirth.

How to love Christmas

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This time of year is stressful, manic, sensory overload and emotionally charged. It usually results in too much being said after too much alcohol. And the high expectations can leave everyone feeling inept and remorseful at not being or having enough. And it is a time of reflection about people who are no longer here or about where we thought we would be now but have failed.

Forest school philosophy is about reconnecting with nature and people and building meaningful relationships. Christmas should also be about those things: Good food, trees, friends, family and laughter. Doing and being together. We all know this but I am sure most of us still get caught up with endless shopping (for stuff that will just go to landfill), spending money (and probably getting into debt) and drinking too much (to cope with the stress of the above). So how could be press the “reset” button?

Play with your children. Don’t give them things to play with. They think they want all the plastic rubbish, but let’s remember that their brains are the most susceptible to media and advertising. One of the things that blows me away when I am working at Forest school, is how quickly the children form bonds with us. I think it is sadly quite rare that kids get an adults undivided attention. We have such lovely chats, while collecting fire wood or cutting oranges, or flipping pancakes or playing ‘catch the flag’.

Choose the gift of spending time with people. We invite families round for Sunday lunch, or an evening meal fairly regularly, but “dinner parties” seem like an antique from the 70s. You will be amazed how happy it makes people feel. Let your kids choose a friend for a sleep over one night. You will be the biggest hero in history. You kid will be a celebrity.

Food bonds us. Cooking a meal from scratch is a rarity these days. Because people are strangled by mortgages, they are then shacked to long working hours. The knock on effect is that most families don’t have the energy to cook an elaborate meal. It’s not really about time. It is having the mental capacity and the emotional energy left to invest. If you bake someone a cake or slow cook a stew, one feels like they have really, really “given” something valuable. Sharing that food together takes away the guilt if you cannot reciprocate that gesture.

On two occasions, I have spent a Christmas eve preparing and cooking with a fellow woman. I can honestly say, it was one of my most treasured things to do, and it sounds crazy, as I am sure this was what people did everyday, historically. We laughed, chatted, listened to reggae and peeled a million spuds, baked a ham, cut crosses into sprouts. We seem to have become caught up in a kind of competition, akin to British bake off, rather than seeing it as a process we all invest in. It can lead to a lot of resentment.

This year, I will try to see Christmas not as some kind of act of endurance but as a time to build new memories. I will try to slow things down. Appreciate the small stuff. Go out and run along a beach rather then queue for an hour to get into a shopping mall. Walk through a forest, rather than clean the house to perfection. If I achieve these things, it will be a first. But as always, it is a work in progress.

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What is Forest school?

Just to address a few FAQs, I thought I would start with what Forest school is NOT.

1) It is not a bunch of women all getting naked in the woods together.

2) It is not just about toddlers playing with mud.

3) Some stuff you could do for free anytime, but someone is trying to screw money out of you for spending time in your local park.

I help run three very different forest schools. One is for women (adults) and takes place in 20 acres of arboretum. https://www.thehawthornproject.org/. On a Thursday, I assist with Wild wood adventures, who facilitate an excellent Forest school for the Steiner school kids at Wraxall piece. And on Friday, I have set up “Sensory Forest school”, designed for kids on the autistic spectrum, but open to all. My three days are very different but amazing, awe inspiring and life changing (for me, and for those taking part).

Some weeks I am busy devising interesting craft activities. Other weeks I am developing new recipes which will work on an open fire, and others I am learning new skills so rapidly, I barely have time to take stock. No two days are the same. It is a crazy, wonderful and mind blowing journey in which we are all passengers, and no one is actually steering the ship.

But don’t let me tell you how wonderful I am 😀 Or how brilliant Forest school really is. Let me show you…

“Can I say wow wow wow , I’m totally blown away. I am still trying to get my head around today….it’s really shown me how amazing a teaching setting can be when it is right.”

S Mum of 13 year old.

“I had to leave when I did as I was near to tears as it’s been at least 18months /2 years since I’ve seen this Oliver. I was totally blown away.”

S mum of child who has been out of school for 7 months

“I love being here because it is the only place I feel like people understand me and I feel accepted.”

Z Adult participant
Octopus dissection

Forest school is a holistic development of the participants through connection to nature. All activities are optional. The activities are ‘learner led’ and non competitive. It is about developing skills, taking risks, building self esteem, team building and collaboration. It is mostly set in an inspiring outdoor environment and fosters a sense of wonder and awe about the world. It is about making meaningful human connections. It is about laughing. Sometimes crying. Occasionally singing.

“I love the woods. I just feel calm and peaceful and get respite from my mind.”

G Adult participant.

“This is the only time I go out all week. This is the only time I talk to people. I am happy here. “

B Hawthorn Project

“How many octopuses do you get in the blooming woods!” I was asked last week by my biggest critic. That’s not the point. I tried to explain. There was one boy who had barely slept, for three nights he was so excited about Friday group. He had made his mum read loads of facts about Octopus from the internet. Three boys had spent 40 minutes, delicately taking the two beasts apart, step by step. We talked about food webs, and jet propulsion, and the fact that they have 3 hearts and 6 brains. We talked about organ functions and evolution and camouflage. And all this from three boys who cannot be kept at a desk for 2 minutes, in their school classroom.

With the adult group we make fire, and tea and talk. We talk about politics, and love, and philosophy and parenting. Sometimes, like today, we talk about farts and neighbours and art and tinsel. We arrive one person, and leave a different one. The second person is more at ease with itself. It is more resilient. More connected.

If I asked the participants a singular question of “what is Forest school?” I guess their succinct answer would be…

Forest school is my happy place

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D is for dick head

I have been quiet for a while. But today I feel compelled to speak. D is also for diagnosis and if you have had a child who is different, who struggles and has been a source of worry for you, you may have come across a short film called “A is for autism.” It was made a long time ago and explains a little of what autism means.

This week we sat in a consultant paediatrician’s office where she delivered the results of 12 months of testing. “Your son has Autistic spectrum condition.” She then paused to see f I would burst into tears. After 4 years of wondering wtf was going on with this child, it has not come as a surprise to me. I have read every book in the library, I have joined all local support groups and been on a 5 week course. Friends and family have asked me how I feel. Some days I feel blessed to have a child who views the world through a different lens. Other days it feels like a death sentence. Having fought so hard for a diagnosis, it can now not be taken back.

My brother came round recently to play Minecraft with the boys and from the kitchen, I heard one son ask “Can I make an axe?” My brother answered. The spectrum son asks “Can I shave a panda?” On days like this we laugh till we cry, and he is able to join in with the laughter. On another day, he would smash the house to pieces and cry for 20 minutes.

But I feel that very, very few people know even a tiny bit about Autism but feel compelled to give you their opinion and advice regardless. Schools are the starting point for this mis-information and 80% of teachers have had no training on it whatsoever. I say this, having been a teacher for 16 years. So I just want to give you a few pointers, just in case someone you know is dealing with a similar situation to us.

1) Don’t say the sentence “Well, we are all on the spectrum.” No we are not. And by saying that you are not showing empathy, you are demeaning the experience of someone who finds some things absolutely crippling.

2) Don’t talk to them about Rain man or ‘The curios incident of the dog in the night’. They are both works of fiction which cannot accurately represent the multitude of ways in which Autistic people experience the world. This can range from being non-verbal to being Prime minister.

3) Don’t give parenting advice. My child has not slept through the night in seven years. He wakes somewhere between 4 and 5 but it can be earlier. He does not go back to sleep. There is literally nothing I have not tried. Please don’t talk to me about sleep routines or behaviour boundaries.

4) Don’t ask what things the child struggles with and then reply with “Oh, MY child does that. ” If I tell you he cries on the way to school, I doubt it is in a neuro typical way. He cries about finding socks, about the toothpaste being too spicy, about dropping some breakfast on the table, about not finishing the programme he was watching, about being too cold, or too hot, or because it is raining. He can cry 20 times before 8:30.

5) Most of all, please don’t alienate us. There is a lot of writing about how Autistic people feel left out and lonely. But this can actually be applied to our whole family. I know there are friends who invite families round for gatherings, and I know that we are not invited. We miss out on Halloween parties, birthdays, and New years. We know we can be really challenging to deal with, but we will take ourselves off if it is becoming difficult. We want to feel part of the community too and have love to offer.

This year, I have put my career on hold slightly, so that I can fill out the millions of forms and attend the multitude of meetings in order to find some provision for my son that works. I have started my own Sensory art and Science class, design for children on the Autistic spectrum. Each week we have 9 children who vary in age from 7 to 14. We have 4 activities, all of which are optional. There is one art/ creative activity, one science build, one sensory bin activity and one cooking and eating table. These children are beginning to free themselves of the idea that they are a burden on their school class, make real meaningful friendships and learn in a relaxed and child led way. Each week I theme the sessions based on one of their “Special interests.”

Last session, I asked the class (both children and adults) to write on a post it note, one thing they like about the sessions. This is something I learnt during my Forest School training and it absolutely blew my mind. I had never done anything like this in my teaching career. I was in charge, I did not care what their thoughts were on the session. Well, I did, but it is not standard practice to ask children what they actually think! What a crazy idea?

And so, in conclusion, D is for dick head. Not for the professionals who did not spot my son’s difficulties, not for the families who ostracise us, and not for my son who can drive me to the very edge of my sanity. I am in fact the biggest dick head of them all. Because if I can be a teacher for 16 years, and not see this shit coming, it can definitely happen to anyone.

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Man down!

This week has been an emotional roller coaster and I think it is true to say that the world seems to be having a collective mental breakdown. I don’t know if it is the full moon, combined with Winter solstice or if the ridiculous political pantomime we have going on in the UK is just sending everyone over the edge. My children have cried approx. 500 times this week. Twice, the adults in my Forest school sessions have broke down in floods. I have a number of friends reaching out for help. I too felt utter helplessness last weekend. The world can feel overwhelming.

I think there is a reason, why throughout history, we have a big celebration right in middle of winter. We need it to get though the bleak season. We have evolved to over think everything, but animals can actually point us back in the direction of listening to our instincts. At this time of year, birds fly south. “Bugger this for a game of marbles!” they think. The flightless mammals build a den, get a load of food in and sleep it out till April. The deciduous trees drop everything and going into suspended animation. No more work till spring. Nice idea nature.

Snail and babies hiding under a log till it’s warm.

But most of us cannot do all those things. What we can do is slow down. We can appreciate the last bird song of the season. We can plan to meet friends and reconnect with some good nurturing autumnal food. This week I made smores with my Friday Forest school group. One of the parents said her daughter was looking forward to it all week. Next week I will plan a fire pit feast and a mindful walk in the local park and we can all hug it out around the flames.

When a beautiful lady cried at my adult session, I brought her a hot coffee and let her spill her heart. Then we went out as a group hunting fungus. We found a fairy den and inside were hundreds of coral fungi growing. I told a story about doing my scuba diving training at this time of year in Devon and being amazed by swimming through a kelp forest. Even under the sea, the plants go all the rainbow colours in Autumn. That spurred others to tell stories and we walked and talked and laughed.

And yes, dear friends, that is a picture of me with some cone fungi on my boobs. Because sometimes adventure is the answer to your problems, and sometimes having a laugh is. No one could resist laughing at my rendition of Madonna’s “Like a virgin.”

Last week I was selected as one of the top adventure blogs in the UK. https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_adventure_blogs/ Which is wonderful and fabulous and helps me in my mission to connect people with wild places.

But this week I was reminded that it is our connections to each other and not the places we go that make us happy.

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Thunder thighs

A Bikini, my worst fear

This week I was trying to think about ways in which being out in nature is so relaxing. On Wednesdays I work with adult women doing forest school. Pretty much regardless of the weather, you see them transformed for spending a few hours in a beautiful arboretum. Tortworth forest centre is a 20 acre site, just 20 minutes from Bristol city centre.

I have always struggled with living bang in the city centre. And I can distil it down to one reason: reflective surfaces. I don’t think of myself as a vain person, but I can’t seem to stop looking at my reflection in the reflective surfaces, and they are EVERYWHERE. Each parked car, each shop window, every house. Behind the counter at the green grocers is a huge, wall wide mirror. Why? I don’t really need to be checking my hair while buying potatoes. And this constant looking at one’s self really does cause a lot of introspection and self loathing.

At the arboretum, one’s mind wanders through natures awesomeness and beauty. You find delight in the small creatures and can often be struck about how little we still know about the world. Do these ancient herbs hold the cure for cancer? And you find yourself child like and playful.

We all have one part of our body which causes huge amounts of self loathing. For me it is my thighs. I can remember being about 14 years old, sitting in assembly, looking down at my thighs and thinking “Why are they so big? Everyone else’s are not like mine.” I have spent a lifetime selecting clothes on their ability to hide them. I curse having to find a wet suit. When at a swimming pool, I practically sprint out the changing room and into the water. I once heard the former president of Italy, Berlesconi describe Angela Merkle as “An un-fuckable bag of lard.” And that is how I feel in a bikini.

But I was recently somewhere with my husband, and he was telling a story from when we were 17. I challenged him to race me up Westbury white horse, probably the steepest hill in the county. He was saying that I beat him, not by a small amount, but by a long way. My husband is probably the most competitive person I know, so he made me do it a second time, and a second time I thrashed him.

This year I completed a challenge which I have wanted to do forever! I had always wanted to complete a triathlon. My aim was to complete it before I turned 30, but I missed that goal. I then moved the goal post to 40. Last January, I realised that my 39th birthday was approaching, and I still had not got my act together. In may I came 47th in the off road triathlon (with paddle boarding rather than swimming) and it was a massive challenge for me.

So when I am suffering with some crippling self hatred, I will try to remember that these thighs get me up mountains, they can run 8 miles and they take me mountain biking, all of which give me so much pleasure in life. Sometimes I need to appreciate them for all their imperfections, and wobbliness, and asymmetricity. I will never love my cellulite. I will still buy A-line dresses and boot cut jeans. I just need to spend more time in nature, away from the reflective surfaces of introspection, and focus on the positives.

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The gift of time

Let me drive you from Bristol to a landscape of incredible waterfalls, ancient forests and wild rivers. We will feast on Lobster and prosecco cooked on hot coals. I will then guide you on a 5 mile walk through the Wild Welsh landscape. Half way we will stop for gin and cake, if you would like. One the return, I will point out the unique and intriguing flora of the woodland valley along with fold tales and medicinal aspects. There will be the option for wild swimming in a lagoon, with the largest fall cascading in the background. We will then journey home.

‘Into the wild’ has a singular aim: to improve participants well being by being in an inspiring outdoor environment, building communities, feeding the body and nurturing the soul. I want to create a movement which reconnects people with nature and the outdoors. I have lived in Bristol for 16 years. During that time I have spent every spare day travelling the local wild places to explore forests, beaches, mountains, waterfalls, rivers and gorges. I love all things outdoors whether it is walking, cycling, swimming, paddle boarding, scuba diving or canoeing. I am a qualified teacher having specialised in wood working for 16 years. I am level 3 Forest school trained and I have outdoor and paediatric first aid. I set up my business because I passionately believe in connecting with nature.

http://www.airbnb.co.uk/bristolwaterfalls

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Running away from it all

Some days it is true to say that I wake up and wish I was in Brazil. I was not really prepared for being an adult and all it entails. I have had no training in parenting, I still don’t understand Brexit and I still have not developed the ability to poach an egg, despite having 20 years trying. I am reminded of the blooming maths test I was made to take at University three times, and still failed three times (even when I cheated!). To this day I cannot do calculus and still don’t actually understand the point.

This week for Adventure #46 (52 Micro-adventure in one year) I went trail running in Blaise Castle estate. It is open free access to rivers, gorges, castle, forest and open grass land. I used to do quite a lot of trail running ten years ago, but then I let excuses and martyrdom get the better of be. This week has been hard work and I literally felt like running away and joining the Russian circus (or something). I put on my tatty shoes and squeezed myself like a sausage into some running tights and went running through the Autumn sunshine. It felt glorious. There was not really anyone about but a few dog walkers. I would sprint for a while, then stop to look at the ponds. Then hike up the hill. Ponder the view.

Running (and runners) can be quite competitive. Last week I was asked if I was a runner. I did not want to engage into a conversation about how slow I run a 10k so when he asked the question “Are you a runner?” I replied with “No, I am just mental.” I made a mental note to myself that I really need to work on the question “What do you do?” now that I am no longer a teacher. I was asked this yesterday and faltered. People then tend to fill in the blank with “Unemployed.”

The new me is trying really hard not to apologise for my existence on planet Earth and instead be more assertive. So here goes I am…

An adventure blogger, Forest school leader and outdoor activity coach.

Last week I had my first bookings for my new business: http://www.airbnb.com/bristolwaterfalls

I have to say, it was absolutely thrilling, wonderful and reassuring. Looking forward to the future, rather than running away from it. But if you are feeling in a negative head space, I can thoroughly recommend going out for a trail run. I came back feeling elated.

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Dreams become reality

On January the 1st 2019, I set myself a new year’s resolution: To have 52 new adventures in 2019. My husband asked me if I was going to complete my challenge yesterday. Like all resolutions, I had kind of forgotten about it. But not because I had given up. It was because it had snowballed into something entirely bigger. This blog started out being called “52 micro adventures.” And has now become an entire forum for my new career, business and philosophy on education.

In January, I signed up for a training course. I remember pressing the “checkout” button and whooping with fear/ delight. No one was around to see me do this. I was sat in my office, hating my job. Said office was a dark, underground room I referred to as “The dungeon.” In March, I started writing this blog, as a dare by my friend Helen who said that my facebook posts were inspiring people. In April, I handed in my notice. In July I completed the practical training to become a Forest School leader. In September, I registered my company ‘Into the wild’. I got my first paid gig at Tortworth Arboretum. I woke up everyday excited! I loved my work with adults. In October I started my own child led Sensory Forest school for kids on the Autistic spectrum. And Airb&b signed up my “Wild escapes: Waterfalls” experience. https://airbnb.com/bristolwaterfalls

I write this blog not to brag, but in the hope that someone reading this will be inspired to start their own adventure, be it in the great outdoors of otherwise. I think that we can easily slip into a rut where we 1) Stop taking risks and 2) Put up with being treated badly. The media has us believing that our jobs are fragile, and that if we don’t follow the “rules” everything will be ripped out from under our feet. It also has us believing that we cannot be happy until we have the right House/ Car/ bust size/ life style. And we seem to be in a mental health epidemic.

I think it took me 39 years to realise what makes me happy. I just love being outdoors exploring forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, meadows. And when you use this space to educate others about nature and allow them to challenge themselves, you watch their self esteem grow and blossom. Ironically, I felt this was the opposite of what I was doing when working as a Design Teacher.

I remember a conversation I had with my other half 10 years ago. He said “You want champagne and rainbows everyday Sy and you just can’t have it!” Today I sit here smug as a Unicorn. It transpires I bloody can. I just had to realise that no one was going to hand that shit to me. I had to go out and find a way to make it happen myself.

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Loving nature and nurturing love

Getting away on a “mini break” can be an absolute relationship saver. No one feels truly connected to their partner while discussing taxes, Brexit or the fact that fridge needs cleaning out. But this is also true of our friendships. Every once in a while we need to do something in the wilderness with people who are important to us. To experience something special and unique together.

Last week I started working as an adhoc, outdoor instructor. I felt like a little bit of a fraud, given that even though I have run numerous obstacle races and triathlons, and even though I seem to have amounted a ridiculous amount of activity qualifications (Scuba diving, sailing, Forest school, outdoor first aid) I had not really “coached” anyone else before. I have an exceptionally high pain threshold (Childbirth was my proof) and I don’t really feel the cold. I am an animal when it comes to mud and water, I will do literally anything. During one particular race, we had to go through barbed wire and underwater obstacles. But encouraging others to do these nutty things, is a whole different matter.

The lovely guy in charge put me on a technical and fairly high risk obstacle. In my head I completed a “dynamic” risk assessment: Drowning, concussion, shock, heart attack. The weather was pretty horrid and us instructors were all clad in our best wet weather gear.

At one point, the man who runs the event said “last year I had four squaddies manning this one. They literally stood in the water and shouted at people till they did it.” Well, that’s totally not my style, I thought. Over the walkie talkie I could hear someone requesting an urgent medic on another stage. I tried to stay focused on my task. I could hear that a group of lady medics in matching black tee shirts were going round. Each stage reported their arrival. When they finally got to me, they felt like old friends.

“You can definitely do this!” I said to them. “Over the big, under the small.” They looked at me, slightly broken and said “What?!?!? put out heads right under?”

“You have come this far. You are going to be so proud when you have completed this. I am right here if you need me. “

“I wish I could take a photo, one lady said.”

“I will take a photo” I said, like an idiot, realising that I did not know them to send it their way.

“Find me on facebook.” She said. So I took this brilliant picture.

Bristol Dental Specialists

To the Bristol Dental Specialists: I salute you. Keep taking risks, challenging yourselves and nurturing the sisterhood! You guys were fab!

The rest of my week was spent with my family in the forest of Dean, seeking new places to explore. We walked through cascading golden leaves, stomped through gushing streams and walked up steep old drover lanes. Time spent together in nature is never time wasted. And we even found a hedgehog! Something I have not seen (even as road kill) for 25 years. My hubby and I were convinced the son had found a dead one, but no, there he was just roaming around. It felt like we had found a fairy or a unicorn, the stuff of magic.

And if the great British weather is a bit inclement, well, just make sure you end the day in one of our bloody brilliant pubs. A glass of wine and a log fire will surely cure all ills in the world. Chin, chin.

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Resilience by Nature

This is a tiny ballet shoe which I bought a few years ago. I have a lot of nostalgia for red ballet shoes because it reminds me of a childhood dream. People often comment about the shoe when they see it in my house, but no one has yet asked me why.

I always loved dancing and from the age of 3, my mother took me to classes. At age 8 I was doing really well. I had two distinctions and if I got a third, it meant a scholarship to London to study at the Royal academy. My dance teacher was fantastic and was so encouraging of me. Then, she moved away. My mother found another teacher, but this one told me, point blank, in the first few lessons that I would never be a professional dancer because my little toes curled outwards.

Looking back now, it was a ridiculous statement, but as a small girl, it was easy to totally shatter my dreams with one comment. The teacher was angry at herself, I would imagine, at not having had the success she dreamed of. My first teacher saw the potential in all and saw her success as measured by our achievements. The second saw us as competition. I bought this little shoe to remind myself to never let anyone tell me that I cannot do something. I had a whole wealth of evidence telling me that she was wrong, but I let her poison my confidence in a instant.

Tortworth arboretum

Today I have been applying for what I felt could be my (2nd) dream job. Then I had a “Ballet shoe” moment. As an adult, I have been trying to devise ways to overcome the shoe. My current mechanism is to go off into nature. It is both humbling and inspiring to stand in amongst giant Oaks which have been on the planet for 200 years. I walked though a rainbow of leaves. I doubt very much whether the maple has a crisis of confidence about dropping it’s leaves for the winter. I somewhat struggle to imagine, a mushroom having an anxiety attack about whether it is time to pop out and spread it’s spores. The squirrels don’t produce an excel spread sheet about how many chestnuts they have collected.

In nature, things just “be”. Seasons change, winds blow, rain falls. Does the nut hatch mourn summer? Maybe. Is it stressful trying to feed and shelter their families, probably. But there must be an acceptance about the inevitability of it all. And I think that we must all try to seek the evidence of our talents and abilities and achievements, without the shadow of doubt eeking into and spoiling it all.

This week I will be inspired by nature to just “Be”.

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Learning to take risks and living with disappointment

This  morning, I should be taking 7 ladies on a walk round a mountain range. I had bought bacon, gin, bread and worked hard on getting guides and maps laminated. Tomorrow I have a meeting with a guy to see if I can start of project with which I would have a lot of autonomy.

It is weird because when I was a teacher, I had spent years telling kids to “Be more resilient”, and to “take more risks.” I had lots of training on developing a “Growth mind set” and it is only now I realise that I have never done any of those things. Starting a small business means doing all this stuff on a daily basis. You don’t need a degree in business to succeed, just a big pair of balls. I am on a humongous learning curve.

The met office have issued a yellow weather warning with a big pink blog right over the Brecon beacons. It is one thing to be a pansy about British weather. It is another to risk hypothermia and getting lost in the name of resilience.  But it leaves me with a growing doubt in my mind about trying to carve a new profession which could be so seasonal.

Trying to stay positives about the victories this week, I loved my Wednesday and Thursday work. I honestly wake up excited and look forward to going to work. I devised this weeks creative activity. I was inspired by a conversation I had with my brother earlier on in the week and used this to create a “Bristol rocks” idea. I did not know if grown women would go for this, but it was lovely to see them show enthusiasm, and when I went back and told my brother about it, he also wanted to make one.

The idea is that you decorate a pebble or stone. You can write a message on the back if you want to and the idea is that you hide it somewhere in the city for someone else to find. They can take a photo, upload it onto the Facebook “Bristol Rocks” page, and then they re-hide it in a new location for someone else to find. A simple idea, but with a lovely message.

My Thursday forest school was all about running about in the woods with 6 and 7 year olds all with a dragon theme. I got to draw dragons on trees, turn knots into dragon eyes, play catch the tail and drink fiery dragon brew (ginger tea).

Taking risks and doing new things takes tenacity, grit and resilience. All of the things I have managed to avoid doing to 16 years, but if I can do it, everyone can.  

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Wild Women Escapes – Mountain

Let me drive you from Bristol, take you up a waterfall, across moors, up two peaks and around a lake. At the second peak I will cook fresh bacon butties washed down with G&T. This is a chance to challenge yourself to do something new, or maybe rekindle a love of the wild. We will go at a pace that suits everyone and all support each other. Come and escape for a day.

How to lose ‘weight’ through adventure

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Eat lunch in the park

I have lost 4-5 lbs this week but I have not changed how I eat nor how I drink. This is not a blog around women getting “beach ready”. This is a blog about women challenging why we need to be a certain way in order to have the right to be on a beach.

I was recently chatting to a really good friend about having put on weight over the last 5 years. I asked her what she thought were the psychological factors that were her downfall and I spoke openly about mine. For me, I find that it is around 4-7pm. I have taken kids to school, micro-managed 20 different daily things, cycled to work, dealt with my students worries, concerns, and problems, I have cycled home, picked up my children and then set about cooking three different meals. At this point I am physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Brain says “You lack energy, you need to refuel.” Body reaches for the cheese.

The Greeks apparently have seven different words for “love.” I think we need seven different words for “tired.” And this effect, I think, is particularly acute for women.

Ride a bike for no functional purpose

So what changed this week? Well, I have escaped a job which was causing me huge amounts of stress. I have had a job interview and got offered it. Spurred on by this success, I have written project proposals for two new clients and had an immediate positive response. Everything this week has energised me, rather than pulled me down. So many people have said “You seem so happy! I have never seen you so happy.” And I really am. My micro-adventures have led me to this path and given me energy.

So, here are my top 5 micro-adventures for being a woman. (And if anyone wants to chuck the equality card at me, I am happy to take it.) Until we have equality everywhere, we continue to need women only supportive networks.

#1 Go on a bike ride with a friend. You will both feel like you are 12 again. Take a picnic. Choose a goal to reach. Take a traffic free route and you will chat and laugh the whole way. I am meeting my extreme sports partner in crime tomorrow. I am soooo looking forward to it.

#2 Walk around your area at dusk. You can totally nose into people’s houses because it takes them a while to realise that they should have shut the curtains. I often invent a pint of milk or a loaf of bread I have to buy so that I can escape for half an hour.

#3 Take some cheese and biscuits and go and eat them with a great view.

#4 Involve your kids with some beach art (or on your own). Just collecting beach treasures and making a temporary instillation is really nice. Take a photo. Remind yourself during the week that you don’t just work and pay a mortgage.

#5 Choose not to eat cold flaccid sandwich at your desk. Go out and bathe in glorious sunshine in a local park. No one will thank you for sacrificing your 30 minute lunch break. You will come back refreshed and happier and most likely be more productive.

Enjoy a sunset

And just like me, you might magically find that actually it is not that you have bad genes that have given you hip dips, and cellulite and pendulous breasts and a stomach that somehow resembles a sad looking anus. It was that you were emotionally drained from a lack of fun in life and by taking control and making your own fun, the need for food and booze solved itself.

The subtle art of being skint

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How to live life on the edge of your pants when you don’t have shed loads of money to throw at fancy trips.

Becoming a parent is absolutely humbling. That, and just about the most challenging thing any of us would ever have to contend with. Just imagine someone gave you a precious sports car and told you to drive it through the Namibian dessert at night. Not only that, you don’t get a map, you have never had a single driving lesson and you actually have gone temporarily mad due to 3 years of sleep deprivation and worry about said trip. Your body will feel like it has been battered with a hammer during said torture and you have forgotten what a hot meal is. It’s a winning combination for success. If we approached the work place with such a lack of preparation, it would be insane, but instead you have to study for years, get some experience, have a mentor check on you and a bi-annual review.

My children are constantly re-educating me on how to be a human. Hedonism is something which is slowly drilled out of us as we get older. My quest this year to complete 52 micro adventures has led me into all kinds of new and terrifying experiences. We also stop taking risks and I think as we do so, we progressively stop believing in ourselves. The biggest asset my new year’s resolution has given me is a massive confidence and happiness boost.

I am currently at adventure #41: Go on a cray fish hunt.

Here are some of our best family Micro adventures (with minimal cost)

#1 Go fossil hunting. My kids genuinely thought they had found a fossilised dinosaur poo. They were thrilled.

#2 Make art on a beach with found items. It never ceases to amaze me how children can only concentrate for 10 minutes in a classroom but hours on a beach.

#3 Breakfast picnic. Our favourite is to go to a bakery early (one of our kids wakes at 4am) and sit in the park on a sunny morning in complete solitude apart from us four, the birds and the flowers swaying in the breeze.

#4 Climb a mountain (or big hill). You may have to invent a creative game to entice them up, but the views are humbling to all. Seeing places you recognise gives you a humbling reminder of perspective in life.

#5 Go on a fungus hunt in a forest. My kids get points for each different type and bonus points for especially ugly, colourful or massive ones. It is amazing how attentive they are. They nearly always triple my score.

#6 Tell a shared story around a fire. Anyone can make a fire and we could all make up a tale, but google has replaced creativity and experimentation. Sometimes I long to not know the answer to a question, to ponder and consider. Some of the times my kids have absolutely laughed the hardest is about one of my ridiculous stories.

#7 Make dinner together. We have arrived at a really strange state of cultural climate where it can feel like our offspring are small princes with which we constantly serve. Kids these days don’t seem to do chores, partly because the likes of dishwashers, washing machines etc have made life easier, but I am constantly astounded at how the art of cooking, a basic human need, is one which we leave too late to teach. Kids bloody love cooking!

#8 Collect forest treasures. The world is full of wonder and awe when you are 5. I have rediscovered my inner child by finding pleasure in examining acorns, looking for four leafed clovers and singing Victorian songs long forgotten about nature.

#9 Draw an observational sketch of a found object. There is a great deal to be gained from slowing life down and disconnecting from screens. Children’s vocabulary is suffering in this digital age. The sheer act of using language to do art together is deeply wonderful. They will disclose all kinds of weird and wonderful thoughts about the universe.

#10 Watch clouds. Do you remember that? Being bored as a child and finding the mundane fabulous. Nebulous thoughts are so relaxing. Sharing this moment with your children is an act of bonding.

So let’s try to stop distracting our kids so we can “Get on with stuff” and realise that perhaps it is the stuff, which is distracting us from our kids. Because they are the most precious and important thing we have in our lives. Everything else is just glorified dust.

Fire up your soul

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The lost art of fire building

One of the very things that makes us uniquely human, is our ability to make fire, and yet we so rarely use it these days.

I don’t know anyone who says “I hate fire”. There is something primeval and spiritual about sitting around one, whether it is in a home, while out camping or one a beach. It brings people together and opens up conversation. Or it allows people to sit together silently watching the flames flicker. Not that long ago in history, it was the only way to cook, heat water and warm your home. Everyone was taught from a young age how to light one. Now it is a lost art which you can pay a lot of money to learn on a bush craft course.

Fire pit bread

I recently took my two boys to a “Story telling in the woods” holiday session. At the end of the walk and story telling, a fire was lit and the children all made stick bread. It probably cost pennies, but they went crazy for it. Even if it was too doughy or singed and crusty, it tasted of success. Everything tastes better from the fire. There was no shoving or arguing. They helped each other. There was something beautiful about it.

On holiday recently, I spoke about how we made a fire on the beach and cooked scallops, venison sausages and sardine fillets. I was worried beforehand that I did not how to do it. Which way do you put the sausage on a stick? How do you know when the fish is cooked? Am I going to poison everyone with the shellfish? Turned out, we all got involved and did what people have done for thousands of years, we put it on, if it wasn’t working, we changed the plan. We used intelligence and problem solving, we had to be resourceful with what was around. Are we gong to set fire to our sticks, who knows? I know, lets soak them in sea water first! The boys loved this improvised group learning. The reward….an absolute feast, washed down with a mini bottle of prosecco.

We wandered home with salty lips and smoky hair and slept like babies, dreaming of adventure.

At my forest school training last week, we cooked every day on the fire. Everyone got involved and helped in some way. The food was delicious and each person contribute a different food item. Traditionally, I am sure this was how we were meant to cook and eat. The conversations around the fire varied hugely each day, but they were all punctuated with laughter and camaraderie.

I now wonder if this missing piece is contributing to rising mental health problems? You just don’t get a sense of achievement from the ping of a microwave. You don’t squeal with delight when the gas hob lights. No one feels they have earnt the central heating warmth, like you do when you have walked through a forest gathering kindling. These small achievements lead to a shared group/ family experience which leaves us all with a warm glow on the inside too.

Re-wilding a woman

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A micro adventure is a journey you go on which is less than two hours from home, allows you to explore somewhere new and bring you joy. These three things are the core of my new career and it is about reconnecting people to nature. The other two things I feel passionately about are fuelling your body with food that has soul and building communities.

This week I took my first group of women on the first “wild women escape”. The idea of these events is to get women to have some time out of their busy and normally stressful lives and reconnect with an inspiring and often unknown stunning location. This trip was all about waterfalls, wild swimming and walking. I prepared 3 lobsters from my local fish mongers, packed two bottles of prosecco and a range of tasty tapas foods for the arrival. I had my 6 first volunteers to try out my business idea and was nervous as hell.

The concept was quite simple. I plan, drive, lead a walk, cook food and take you home again. You can just relax, enjoy the experience, eat the food make some new friends and talk, walk and laugh. On the way home, I am not going to be offended if you sleep on the drive home, having exerted yourself from the five mile hike and the wilds swim to the waterfall.

I could not tell you why, but for some reason I was really anxious. The weather had been absolutely glorious in the few weeks leading up to the trip. Then, a few days before, lightening storms were forecast. I was wracked with a crisis of confidence. “No one will come.” my internal monologue was telling me. “This whole thing was a ridiculous idea. You live in the UK, you idiot, where it rains for 80% of the year. You can’t run a business which is so seasonal. It’s not going to work.” I actuality, all of the participants came! I was so eternally grateful. “You have to be braver.” I told myself after.

I lit the BBQ and smeared the halved lobsters with garlic butter. The ladies enjoyed the prosecco and olives and bread and snacks which the lobster cooked. When I brought it over to the table, it looked like a sight to behold. We feasted and chatted. One of the ladies had just got engaged, one had just announced being pregnant and the next day was my birthday. We had so much positivity to share and so much to celebrate. We were uninterrupted by impetuous children, undistracted by the pull of house chores and unencumbered by workplace to do lists.

For two and a half miles, we walked along the Eidir trail to a glorious pub bathed in dappled sunshine. The path required you to watch your feet and was moderately challenging which warmed us up and required our focus and attention. All around us was ancient woodland filled with Oak and Hazel and Beech and the river flowed by sometimes in torrents which took your breath away and sometimes in calm, rippling pools.

There are about 6 waterfalls on this walk (depending on you definition), four of which are named on the map. Each one sings a different song, each has a different character. At one point, a lady pulled some medowsweet from the bank and a fern and decorated my hair for no reason. At many points, women talked about how they would love to come back and share this lovely place with their family. Your walking partner changed along the route and we all got to make new friends.

The last waterfall is probably the most spectacular, and has a deep lagoon below. This was the place I chose for our wild swim. We had seen very few people along the paths and we were alone for a quick change into swim gear. The water was icy! But it has been well documented in recent years as to the mental health and physical benefits of cold water swimming. The usual human reaction is the yelp, scream and laugh. Two of us decided to just go for it and I am sure our laughter could be heard for miles. I have a lasting image of one lady in my mind who waded round to the far side of the waterfall with a new found friend and she stood fully under the full force of the river cascading down. The look on her face was pure unadulterated joy! I knew that she had been having a difficult time of late, and just to see her let it all go and do something magical, was a pleasure like no other. I had achieved my aim.

And so to new beginnings. Be they scary, daring, challenging and emotional. Let’s take them on together.

SENsory Forest school: Bristol

SENsory forest school is run every Friday from 1-3 in St. Andrew’s scout hut. The activities are designed for children on the Autistic spectrum with comorbid conditions such as ADD, Dyslexia, dyspraxia and social communication difficulties. But the group is open to all. Each week is themed and the themes are based on the children’s ‘special’ interests. It is experiential, child led learning covering most areas of a normal school curriculum, but with no tests, no competitions, no levelling. All activities are optional and each one involves sensory emersion in some way.

Hello lovely families,
Happy new year, If I have not seen you yet!
After taking January off to refresh, complete my forest school qualification and to have a million meetings and forms to sort out for Zeph, I feel that I can give Friday club the concentration and energy that it deserves.
Fran, Vikki and I have decided to change things slightly having had time to reflect on the progress the kids made last term. Firstly, we have decided to make it a closed group because we saw how the kids would make real progress with their social and communication skills, but then would revert back to before, if a new group of people come.
Secondly, it was originally set up for 7 to 11 year olds and as time went on that got flexed. But the point at which we had 4 year olds and 14 year olds, I worried that I could not guarantee everyone’s safety. As my expertise is with teenagers, it makes more sense to gear activities in that direction and from what I hear, this is where the need is highest. With just the older ones around, we can go back to using fire, tools and knives. People seemed to like the themed weeks as being able to manage expectations helped with kids anxiety. As always, Forest school philosophy is about learning being “child led” so feel free to throw ideas at me. As the weather warms up, I would like to use the outdoor space more for learning. Mike says he is up for us being able to have some ownership of it.
If you think this is something you would like your kids to be involved in, please let send me a message via the contact page.


Look forward to seeing you around soon.
Sy

https://www.facebook.com/intothewild.org.forestschool/