Huddled around the fire circle, we discussed how to stay safe when using fire. We then thought about the Fire Triangle - what three things does a fire need in order to burn? 1. Oxygen - plenty of that around; 2. Fuel - first job for the children... collecting wood of appropriate thicknesses; 3. Ignition - using fire steels today. After a couple of false starts with the wet wood, we got the main fire going and then it was the children's turn to have a go at igniting tinder using fire steels. This was not an easy task and, after much perseverance, trial and error and teamwork, gasps of fear-tinged excitement could be heard around the fire circle as bits of tinder burst into flame!
With the main fire now burning down to embers, it was time to prepare for the most important event of the whole 6-week programme...roasting marshmallows! For this, the children needed to whittle pointy sticks and, remembering the safety principles of tool use, they eagerly set about their task.
The session ended with lots of sticky/ashy fingers and mouths, happy faces and positive reflections of their Forest School time. I shared some of my own thoughts and feelings: how proud I've felt at their response to the trust shown in them and the difficulties they encountered; how impressed I've been by the way they have worked together; and how reassured I've been by seeing each and every one of them explore their own capabilities. Their challenge to take away: to use the confidence and self-awareness gained as a springboard in other areas of their lives.
Rocks, soils and fossils
We started with some discussion about the underlying purpose of these sessions: fun - yes; practical / survival skills - yes; but let's also think explicitly, with examples from previous sessions, about the more hidden but possibly more important skills of teamwork, independence, resilience, problem-solving etc... not easy for a 7/8-year-old but worth bringing to the fore occasionally!
With this session linked to their Science topic, we moved on to a group game of Rock, Paper, Scissors which got everyone warmed up and laughing.
Before then handing over to the children for the rest of the session, we did some wondering, questioning, thinking and explaining about rocks, soils and fossils with the aid of some real-life examples borrowed from school. The children had obviously been well taught as were able to talk confidently about igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks using a range of vocabulary such as permeable and porous. Good reinforcement.
The children then chose from a range of activities including:
- making clay fossils
- finding and comparing different rocks and soils
- making their own river system
- making Roman mosaics
- working on an archeological / paleontological dig
We finished with the usual hot choc, snacks and a review of their activities and experiences. The various bones and skull fragments found in the digging area unsurprisingly generated the most discussion!
After last week's development of 'micro' skills, this week was all about 'macro' skills - teamwork and construction!
After a review of last week in which everyone shared something they were proud of, the group faced the challenge of making shapes with a rope as a group. This was hard enough when they could see what they were doing but, when the blindfolds came out, they really began to appreciate the value of patience, clear communication (speaking and, more importantly, listening) and strong leadership.
Then came the old favourite - den-building. In two groups, the children worked hard to find a suitable site, work out the group roles, collect natural materials and construct a den.. all the while knowing that their construction would be tested for waterproof-ness at the end with a bucket of water.
After some useful reflections on how the groups performed in relation to teamwork and planning such a project, the test duly took place, causing much hilarity both for the braver souls inside the dens and for the more sensible observers!
Session 2: Bugs!
Being the first time the group had attended a session at the fire circle in the Scout Area, we discussed some safety rules about the fire circle. We then explored the area by playing a game called Ants and Centipedes, imitating as a group an army of ants collecting material and then a centipede (eyes closed apart from the leader).
Next came bug-hunting, not an easy task in January with all the little creatures lying low but the group did very well, finding plenty of evidence of bug life including worms, slugs, snails and woodlice. We looked very closely at their body structures and methods of moving.
Inspired by what they had found the children then got creative with tools, clay and natural materials and made a variety of imaginary and realistic bugs. They showed great perseverance, risk-management and teamwork when using the tools and were very proud of the results!
With temperatures hovering just above freezing, the hot chocolate and snacks were very welcome and we finished with a warming game of Spider and flies.
After playing the Animal Name Game to get to know each other a bit better, we discussed the purpose of Forest School (not just about survival!) and then thought about what the risks might be in the Chalk Pit and how we could mitigate them. The children came up with lots of good ideas and we agreed on a code of behaviour in relation to various matters including boundaries, how to move around safely in the woods, hygiene, litter and natural resources.
Next, to practise staying in contact with one another and to explore the area a little, we played a version of Hide and Seek called 1, 2, 3, Where Are You? Those in bright pink clothing were at a distinct disadvantage!
Once everyone was safely accounted for, a Treasure Hunt sent the children to all corners of the Chalk Pit looking for various natural treasures - surprising how many brightly-coloured items could be found even in January.
Finally, the children had their own time to explore and find their own treasures which they attached to their Journey Sticks using wool.
Unsurprisingly, the slopes of the Chalk Pit were the biggest source of pleasure - I just hope parents will forgive the state of the children's clothing!