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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.

Featured

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”.

Education rebellion

Why children need to be taken into the wild

Running through Wild garlic flowers and woodlands

Our children are growing up in a digital age which we have no experience of. They are guinea pigs for smart phones and 24/7 media. I am trying hard not to be the bastard parent who won’t let them have any of this stuff but I am failing miserably. My boys are 7 and nearly 9. Because I have worked with teenagers for 16 years, I have some strong opinions about the impact of “screen time.” Firstly, 4 out of 5 training sessions for work last year were on the rising child mental health crisis. I had workshops on mindfulness and dealing with grief and talking about self harm. The government has really pushed the agenda on rising anxiety and depression in childhood. But I feel we are looking at putting a sticking plaster on a problem, rather than asking why the problem is there in the first place.

My family when the boys were 2 and 4

Last week we went camping with my Dad, my cousin and her children. It was pretty full on with 5 kids from age 3 to 13. We were staying on a simple campsite on Hayling Island. My kids love being outdoors, understanding they can go off, climb trees, have fights, play games, make friends and collect dead crabs. (Don’t ask. The small one has some unusual ideas). Their cousins were not sure what to do when you don’t have WiFi, well apart from the 3 year old. He roamed around barely eating he was so excited. Trying to rewild a teenager is much more of a challenge. She seemed to speak a different language which consisted of text speak and American acronyms. FOMO?

I love my cousin to death. We laughed, we cooked, we gazed at the fire. There is nothing like two women watching their kids wade into the sea up to their knees and think “why?” We literally told them there were no spare clothes. And then proceed to watch them get drenched up to their elbows. We stayed up looking in awe at the starry sky. We made up fire side tales. We ended every day with salty hair and rosey cheeks and clothes bathed in wood smoke. We ate a LOT of cheese. Because calories consumed outdoors just don’t count. Kids toasting marshmallows after dark don’t count as bedtime pudding.

Fire. An essential element to a micro adventure.

We have taken our two boys into the wild from the week they were born. By the time little one was three, they could cope with a 5 mile walk thanks to a carefully constructed tale (lie). In your pocket hide 10 foil wrapped chocolate coins and tell them about the forest/ beach/ river goblins. These goblins hide treats for children, but they run away if they hear moaning or whining. Tell them that the goblins don’t really like people, so you have to go far from the car parks. When your kids start to flag, say “ooooohhhh. This looks like goblin territory. See if you can find goblin chocolate.” I recon, I have got my two to run the next 3 miles looking for the foil in tree trunks, under stones etc. …you’re welcome.

But let me come back to rewilding. Yes, it is a word. It is a very necessary word. Eventually, after three days and sunshine, and laughter, and fires the teenager relaxed. She slept better than she had done for a long time. She enjoyed playing croquet more than anyone. Pleasure we all got from scrabble was silly. Our hair was messy and wild. And in the middle of the night we walked barefoot in the dew to the toilets, amazed by how much shadow was cast by moonlight. No torch was necessary.

Brunch on the beach

We made our own rules and we made them as fun as we could make them.