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Forest school in a post Covid world – what does it mean?

Forest school leader – Syreeta

I tentatively began running small group sessions over the summer having no idea how it would go. Would anyone show up? Would kids be afraid? Would parent’s be shouting “2 meters!!” every 20 seconds. Would it be like normal? Would anything ever be normal again?

I survived the hard winter months doing my first year of freelance Forest leader work, only to be robbed of the good seasons. And my purest hell, not being able to go out. For the families who had been coming to me since October, I am sure they felt it the hardest. After the struggles of overcoming the heightened anxiety of doing something new, in a new location, with a bunch of people they didn’t know, to have it ripped away again, was incredibly difficult. Most of the children I work with do not attend school. They mostly have alternative provision and in this situation, being able to socialise with other children is challenging. Then the pandemic hit, and we were all now isolated.

SENsory forest school had it’s first official session last week. But it was not as we knew it. The scout hut where we used to run before March 23rd, was still not open, so it has been moved to a 20 acre arboretum 20 minute north of Bristol. There are native and exotic trees, a stream, a round house, therapy goats, a lake, a bamboo forest, an extensive climbing area and a number of swings. There are three fire pits, two in open air and one under cover. We have resident Muntjacs and hares and bunnies and a plethora of birds to investigate. In short, we have had a massive upgrade.

But the core ethos and rational behind the group is the same: Be yourself, be kind, get involved, be curious, enjoy nature. The sessions are designed for children on the Autistic spectrum, but open to all. Because, mostly when you design for inclusion, it benefits all. Our children are not experiencing the world in the same way we did. I was chucked outside every day after school. I was encouraged to go out and explore, preferably as far away from my parents as possible and until tea was ready. Children today are having a solitary, two dimensional experience of the universe through a screen. And although I am not saying digital culture is entirely bad, I think it is bad for our soul. And the thing with lockdown was, apart for 1 hour a day, what were we forced to do? Put our kids in front of screens so we could work from home.

Brothers on the new swing

Being able to run forest school sessions again has unlocked the pure joy in laughing with friends, it’s not the same through zoom. We have relished running our hands along the horsetails, hugging the goats, climbing the trees and discovering a bird’s nest. We enjoyed sitting around the flames of a fire and talking about our dreams, even if it is 2m apart. We have all loved the river walking, eating blackberries from the bushes and feeling the sunshine on our faces. We are able to be human again.

Exploring the wonders of nature with a microscope

None of us knows what the next few months may hold, but for now we are enjoying the present. It is called so, because it is a gift.

Tortworth Forest CIC Wotton Under edge
Sessions for SENsory forest school are Fridays 1pm till 3pm.

Why is outdoor education more inclusive?

I am often asked why I chose to leave Secondary schools to work in AP (Alternative provision). “It is broken” is my short answer. I have worked in a variety of schools for 16 years. I love working with young people. I loved teaching DT which is a really creative and flexible subject, and because it is non-compulsory, there is not much pressure for results. I only realised in the last six months that I was never really teaching, I was coaching, which is an entirely different kettle of fish, if you understand it. And as I now know that I have a son who is not neuro-typical, I now acutely understand that actually, there is a whole bunch of kids who are entirely failed by “the system”.

Icarus – clay and feather sculpture

Today I ran a “forestry fun” session for BAP (Bristol Autism Project). This is a fantastic organisation which is set up to run free events for Autsitic children and their siblings. I have been fortunate to have been working with BAP since January. I never really know who will turn up because Autistic kids have high anxiety for things which are new and given 15 weeks of lockdown, just going outside can be too traumatic. I am told 10 kids should turn up between age 4 and 18. What actually may come is 6 kids of age 6 to 10. I have to improvise and be responsive to their needs. And “Autism” is a massive umbrella term. It is almost meaningless, it varies so much. Two teens spoke to me continuously for 20 minutes to catch me up on the last 6 moths of their lives, talking over each other. It was a test of my multi- tasking skills. One child who I had not met, I asked his name and he did not possess the language to tell me. I understood he loved the fire, although he could not tell me. When I put it out, he stood in the smoke, trying to taste it.

Flower queen

One of my favourite revelations, in training to become a forest school leader, is that for the first time, being brown and small was a GOOD thing. I can lie hiding for HOURS and no one finds me. In my processional life, being small and brown was a significant disadvantage.

Today a took a beautiful 4 year old on a flour trail to find 10 Hydrangea flowers. She was so content to wander through the woods of Ashton court and find the treasure. Back at base camp, she and I made a crown for her from a Laurel twig. It was one of the most beautiful moments of 2020, which may sound super melodramatic, but given how hard I have found it, it truly stood out.

Tree climbing

So this is the thing. If a child needs to spin. Cool. If a child just wants to wander off and lie down and stare through the leaves, amazing. If you need to just stare at the flames of a fire for a while, no one batts an eye lid. But the gentle suggestion of a good forest school leader, to collect fore wood, kinding, or to search for a forest treasure, that is a skill they definitely don’t teach in teacher training. There is no discussion of considering the mood, feelings or emotional state of the children in your class.

I have some families who have been coming to me since October, and talk of the definite transformation of their child. Given time and space and the gentle guidance of a trusted adult to focus on a task, for a purpose, do you know what?? They learn that they are not useless, or stupid, or without value to society. They learn that they are not demonised, that they are not an encumbrance to their family. They are told that they view the world through a different lens, and their is no right or wrong lens. And each lens is unique, and valued and highly important in some way. If the lens is understood, it could be the very best and amazing contribution to the world.

There are definite challenges to having an Autistic mind. I know that there are some things my son will never do. But he will equally do many things that I have no ability to do. Our job is to allow them to shine in their own way, not an OFSTED way.

The Science of Rainbows

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Yesterday, the boys and I made this collage rainbow. It was a nice sensory activity and younger son enjoyed wrapping himself in the different fabrics.

Last night I could not sleep and it occurred to me that the rainbow seems to have become the symbol of lockdown 2020. I am slowly reading “The walker’s guide to outdoor clues and signs” by Tristan Gooley. I had happened to be at the section which explains how and why rainbows occur. Every time I pick this book up, I am just blown away with his observations and it is by far the most interesting book I have read in years. I thought I would share some of the science with you.

We all learn from childhood that we do not get a rainbow, without the rain. But two other elements are required: the sun and an observer standing between the sun and the rain. The time of day is also part of the magical equation so it is not surprising that rainbows are a fairly rare occurrence.

Rainbows don’t appear as a constant size and this is to do with your altitude. For a rainbow to occur, the sun needs to be behind you and the rain cloud in front of the. The light reflecting through the raindrops acts as tiny prisms, splitting the light. If the rainbow were a whole circle, the centre of this circle would be exactly opposite the sun and this is called the antisolar point. Not only is the centre of the circle predictable, it will have a radius of exactly 42 degrees. In laymans terms, this is four extended fist widths.

Diagram curtesy of Tristan Gooley

This information tells us a few things. Firstly, rainbows cannot occur in the middle of the day. When the sun is high in the sky, the centre of this circle would be under ground. Therefore, you will only see stunning rainbows towards either sun rise or sunset.

If you can fee which way the wind is blowing, the rainbow gives you one of two weather signals: it is either about to start hammering down, or it is about to rapidly improve into glorious sunshine! If the wind is coming towards you from the rainbow, get some weather proofs on. It the wind blowing towards the rainbow, enjoy the sun.

Rainbows can also appear very vibrant in colour, or quite pale and watered down. This is to do with the size of the raindrops.

“Very bright violet and green bands, with a clear red band, but very little blue OR the top of the bow appears less bright – Raindrops are big, over 1mm in diameter.

Red is noticeably weak in colour, but still visible – medium sized raindrops.

The bow is pale, violet is the only bright colour, you see a distinct white stripe or red has disappeared – Raindrops are small.”

(The walker’s guide to outdoor clues and signs, Gooley,T, 2014)

And what about this? The double rainbow. You often get a bright conventional rainbow, with a paler inverted colour rainbow and a very dark section of sky between them. Why would this occur? This, if you were lost out in the wilderness could give you an excellent clue as to a significant land mark as these can only occur where there is a large and still body of water such as a lake, or calm sea.

All the science aside. Who does not love a rainbow? It seems to be a universal human truth that we see them and stare in awe. They are special and exciting and rare. So during our lockdown time, I am trying to view all this family time in a similar way: special, exciting and rare.

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“Swallows and Amazons” learning day

Living under lock down conditions is really hard for me. I hate being in the house under normal conditions and if I am in the house past 9:30am, I am most likely ill. I have always felt my mental health improve just for a drive to a new location and a long walk. I am energised by people. I am a social person and love the company of anyone. So, my usual bag of mental health tools are now totally useless and I am having to create new ones rapidly.

Other ideas: I am better with a project/ focus. But, I am very impatient. Learning a new language or instrument, are not instant enough for me. I find it difficult to see progress and wallow in the parts I am failing at. I think my kids/ most kids are the same.

This week I have asked my two boys to come up with 5 themes for each day, and I would devise activities around the theme. Luckily, because I am a big hoarder, we have a lots of kit and materials in the house, so you may not be able to do some of them, but on the whole I am trying to use basic household materials so that others may be able to do them too.

Yesterday was “Swallows and Amazons.” We watched the film recently, and for a few days after, I would come down to breakfast to see them watching it again and again. I think they liked the idea of escaping from their parents. I think they also liked the “battle” element between the two groups.

I remembered in my childhood using a used tea bag to make paper look old, and then burning sections with a lighter. We did this out on the balcony with a damp cloth and the boys delighted in making a map of the house. They enjoyed using this to hide Daddy’s birthday presents and making him find them using the map.

I asked them both to think of a country they would love to explore in the future and then use this to have SCREEN TIME (a rare thing in our house) to research it. I asked them to draw the outline shape, add major cities, find out the capital, draw the flag, investigate the language and find out how to say “Hello.” “Goodbye” and “Thankyou.” I then realised that I would have to give them separate further tasks as older one needed more challenge. 9 year old loves Football, so we used this as further research and older 8 year old loves nature, so the Amazon readily provided a source of interest. You tube provided some good 5 minute films about their chosen countries.

9 year old’s research on Denmark

Feeling smug at having shoehorned in some Geography and ICT, I decided that I would get them to find a national dish we could cook for tea. T had to find a main course and Z a pudding. The challenge was finding something they could make with what we already had in the house, so this proved more of a problem solving exercise than you would already imagine.

Danish meatballs for dinner

Home schooling my kids is probably a lot easier for me than most. Firstly, I cannot really work form home at the moment and I only work on day a week usually. Secondly, I have been a teacher for 16 years and thirdly, I have already been home schooling my younger child part time since September.

Atfer a chat with my friend in Italy, it only then become obvious to me that everyone else does not have this skill set, so I thought I would put together some top tips to hopefully keep you sane!!

1) Don’t expect them to do more than 2 hours total of “Proper work”. It’s not the same as school. 1:1 is intense and exhausting. I realised this when I started doing 1:1 tuition. I went home and had to lie down for half an hour, and I am the adult!

2) Get your core learning (writing, reading, maths stuff) done early morning. If you try and do it after lunch, you will find their minds have switched to ‘lift music’ and you will both get frustrated.

3) Use the afternoon for physical/ creative activities which is still learning, just using your left side of you brain. Right side has gone for a mental vacation.

4) Try as much as possible to make the tasks real, hands on and meaningful. I told the boys they were cooking for the family and sneaked quite a bit of maths in with the measurements. I set them tasks to write to Grandad or make a shopping list. They enjoyed making pop up cards for Daddy’s birthday on Sunday, and it involved a fair amount of DT and science.

Boat design

5) You may find you need to reframe how you view “learning”. Worksheets are not evidence of learning. They are evidence of obedience and they are designed to show OFSTED that “progress” is going on. If school has emailed a load over to you, you are not obliged to do them. The school will be struggling on how they can feel like they are helping you, and sitting a child at a table and making them fill them out for hours is not how you want to remember lock down.

During the boat building, we talked about buoyancy, surface area, centre of gravity, materials, ballast and steering. They investigated sailing, submarines, catamarans, tillers. Filling out a work sheet with a sentence with words missing, (but cunningly typed out at the bottom!) does not make the learning more valuable or memorable.

I am taking lots of photos, partly for the blog, but also because we are recording all we do in a scrap book. This is my project and this is what helps me stay happy during lock down. Enjoy!

Any thoughts? Send me a message. X

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Coronavirus policy update

Morning lovely people. I have been having a think about a sensible and rational policy regarding the Corona virus and reading up on scientist and government advice (Not media hype) have decided the following: We will suspend cooking/ eating activities until pandemic status has been dropped due to working on multiple sites with no running water. Ensuring we have enough water with us for people to wash their hands for 20 seconds is a LOT of water to carry. But we will still carry on with Forest school activities.

Having considered a detailed risk assessment for possible transmission of the virus, we have assessed that the food preparation, cooking and eating present the most significant chance of cross contamination. Games, tree climbing, den building, craft work etc, present a very low chance of transmission either by contact or close working proximity and therefore at this time are permitted with the usual health and safety boundaries as set out by the forest school leader.


Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Please give me a bell: 07747776958


Syreeta
Director of ‘Into the Wild’

Source:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-from-the-four-uk-chief-medical-officers-on-novel-coronavirus

https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm

What have we been doing at SENsory forest school?

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Week 1 theme: Light and dark

Art activity

We had two rolls of paper, one white sugar paper and one black sugar paper. I have made some willow charcoal and brought some chalk.

Nature books for inspiration

Sensory bin

Pumpkin carving and cinnamon.

Resources: One knife, ice cream scoop, plastic bowl.

Making activity

Willow lanterns with tissue paper and leaves, petals etc to decorate.

Resources: Willow, cutters, scissors, tissue paper, PVA., masking tape

Cooking activity

Pumpkin cake. See recipe.

Resources: Weighing scales.

week 2:  WATER theme

Art activity

Water painting. You use a big brush or sponge to make

Resources: rolls of sugar paper, masking tape, brushes, pots, poster paints.

Sensory bin

Water beads. Fran is preparing and bringing.

Making activity

DIY water filters.

Resources: Old plastic water bottles, sand, stones, pebbles, cotton wool.

Cooking activity

Fruit wands

Resources: Water melon, oranges, grapes, pineapple, cookie cutters, kebab sticks.

What went well?

The boys were dead keen on the water filters and love science. They are drawn to the big construction tasks. The girls gravitate towards arty and fine motor skilled activities. Nana loves cooking.

Week 3: SPACE

Art activity

Blow painting to make aliens.

Resources: Poster paint, biodegradable straws, googly eyes, black paper, toothbrushes.

Sensory bin

Sand and rocks to mimic the moon.

Making activity

Zip line rockets

Resources: String, card board, tapes, balloons, books for inspiration.

Cooking activity

Moon rock cakes.

Resources: Flour, butter, sugar, silver spray.

What went well?

The space ship building was loved by our 7 year old and he spent an hour constructing one. He was sad he did not have time to cook, but super happy when an older boy shared his with him. This boy is building really strong relationships with the three adult/ leaders. Our 13 year old girl did some nice mentoring with our 9 year old girl (who does not speak) The older ones chatted to younger ones about their experience of autism.

Week 4: Mine craft

Art activity

Design a mine craft book mark.

Resources: squared paper, felt tip pens, mine craft print outs.

Sensory bin

Material excavation.

Resources: 3kg of clay, bits of rock, plastic, pewter, coins. Tools for excavation.

Making activity

Lego day

Resources: Lego, bell tent, bell tent carpet.

Cooking activity

Pizza.

Bread flour, cheese, yeast, kettle, measuring jug, weighing scales.

Write to parents to bring toppings!!

What went well?

The pizzas went down a storm. We did get them to get involved in cutting vegetables they would not normally eat. R and Z loved the excavation. We have time in the end to pick an interesting lego shape and push in clay to make a mould.

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Why schools are failing

In my day, everyone was not diagnosed with something. There is a label for everyone now. “

In my day, you were just stupid. We didn’t call it dyslexia.”

Me: In your day, school was a very different place because in your day, there was no OFSTED and no league tables. Kids were not tested every week. We did not get assigned reading levels. We were not told we were failing all the time. We did not have homework from the age of 4. There was no literacy hour nor numeracy hour. We learned through projects. We were left to our own devices a lot. We had unstructured play and a lot of time was spent outdoors. We were not pacified with screens and we mostly had our mum’s at home, to drop us in school and pick us up. Mum’s now have to work just to pay the obscene mortgages we have hanging round our necks. Kids are spending 10 hours a day at school.

In our day, we were not bombarded with adverts and pop ups and billboards selling us messages of a lifestyle we would never have. Adverts, by their very nature are designed to make you feel sad. If you liked yourself, you would not need the face cream, perfume, or holiday abroad. But by being told you are ugly, smelly and depressed, you spend money.

This generation are guinea pigs for how phones, tablets, laptops and 24/7 TV can change brain architecture. These are tools for which often kids have no respite. And we constantly wonder why young people are in an absolute mental health crisis.

This picture is of my son before he started school. He looks very different now. Today I went to see a prospective secondary school. They showed me the isolation room. They explained the detention system. DETENTION, a word we use for prisoners.

I went for a coffee with a lovely friend afterwards. “What changed a few years ago, Sy? Why are all these kids suddenly not coping?”

We started trying to solve a behaviour without asking what the reason was for the behaviour. In simple terms: we stopped listening.

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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.

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/