Saturday, 19 March 2011

The delights of Spring and the warmth it brings.

I love this time of year -  Spring!

I write this on the eve of the spring equinox - when our day and night is equal and when the long awaited prospect of longer days starts to become a reality. Traditionally this is the optimum day on which to prepare the earth for new seasons plantings - see The Great Big Earth Dig for more details of a great project in South West London where they will be kicking off the new seasons growth with a wonderful Community Initiative.

There is a warmth in the sun today which is being much enjoyed by the earth and the greenery sprouting: Wild strawberries are in leaf, areas smell of wild garlic coming through and the nettle tips are all ready for adding to the soup and bright green dandelion leaves begging to be tossed into a salad. The upper branches in my wood are bright with budding leaves.Tonight, if the sky stays bright, there will be the presence of  a super moon - where the moon is extremely close to our planet and will look bigger and brighter than it has for many a year. I hope you are able to see it.

Today is also exciting for me, because our new flyer for Wacky Woods is hot off the press. Wonderful activities are planned with the children in the woods over the Easter School Holidays. I share it with you here.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Risk and children...and the great outdoors.

A bit of background to me, before I start:

As part of my professional background, I've felt honoured to have been a Chartered Member of the Institute of Safety and Health (CMIOSH), based on both arduous professional experience and studious post graduate education. One of the reasons I left the Health and Safety profession, per se, is because as an individual, I am not particularly risk averse...ok I may not do extreme ironing  (in fact I no longer iron at all, but that's a different discussion!). No: one of the main reasons was that I felt, in a working environment, that clearly, whilst protection from injury is paramount, increasingly bureaucratic risk assessment was taking over from individual behavioural safety based on intrinsic risk awareness. People are becoming not just more risk averse, but are becoming increasingly unaware of risk.

So it is true of children. There is much research to show that allowing children the freedom to engage in risky outdoor play develops both their understanding of risk and offers them the opportunity to learn their own limitations. Children do not, as a general rule, seek to get hurt. Providing them with situations where they can explore the relationship between safety and potential danger extends their problem solving skills, but more importantly allows them to develop judgements, and assess risk in a variety of circumstances.

This last couple of weeks, some children taught me a thing or two about risk, assessment,  safe systems of work  and more importantly  they taught me about trust and collaboration.

They wanted a zip wire in the wood....

There were several issues here that popped into my head: height, speed, rope tension, use of shackles, weight load, ground conditions, space..... and whilst I was caught up in their enthusiastic plans, a part of me was groaning at the thought of potentially having to explain away a broken limb to a parent. I was a the border of my comfort zone as far as risk was concerned. I put these thoughts to one side as we talked about how we would go about it and I decided to trust these 8 and 9 year olds....

The discussions finally settled on  the leaders being responsible for the safety of the knots and the rope and the shackle and the seat. But we made all of these together, talking the children through the best knots for each part of the structure and encouraging them to learn these. The children then worked out their own safe system of play. One person at the landing, 3 at the top ( one to hold the rope, one to check the all clear ( the spotter) and the rider). They worked out a safe sequence: the person holding the rope with the seat would wait till the all clear from the spotter, then get a signal of readiness from the person at the bottom. The rider would say "good to go" then count down 3,2,1 at which point the rope would be let go, the rider would be off, and the person at the bottom would get ready for the landing.

They agreed the knots, the rope and the shackles would be checked before each ride, and then we set about making sure we had a landing path that was free of stone/twigs. We agreed a procedure if someone fell off. And that was it.... we had a zip wire that was "good to go".

Friday, 4 February 2011

How long is a piece of string....

or....multigenerational learning and fun with a bit of twist!

Take a 2.5 kg ball of sisal and some balls of string and a bit of polyprop rope long is that string exactly?

Here are a few ideas.

I could..
Add a few twigs, learn some tripod lashing and snake lashing and make a bijou little salad table for camp fire lunch. That way the snow on the ground can't freeze the little raddichio in the bowl!

I could extend my fine motor skills by twisting the string to get a really good "thwang" for my bow and arrow. I could do exactly the same tight twist with a friend to make a fairly good woodland violin or bass guitar... I won't show you the missed target, and there's no need to comment on the February headgear!

And even in the depths of winter, I can feel beautiful knowing the string is tying my woodland crown together, secures my knife and holds my beautiful wooden pendant I whittled with a vegetable peeler. This is no ordinary fashion show.... this is a forest school fashion show!

Sisal in particular is wonderful for "holding" things in place. This gives endless opportunities for developing fine motor skills in undertaking the necessary "untwist" and "twist"... so we can create beautiful tree weavings, hanging decorations and den walls.
A woodland wall hanging of favourite pieces collected in an observation game

Teachers - proud of their well constructed den, make one wall of woven string filled with bracken

I often use sisal, string and blue polyprop rope to create opportunities for exercise. With so many schools struggling to provide the necessary hours of PE suggested by government, Forest School gives so many ways to jump, climb, run, bend, twist, giving wonderful hidden ways of improving cardiovascular health, muscle tone, physical co-ordination.... and sometimes a little bit of healthy competition! I use the blue rope to distinguish those structures and knots that need to be risk assessed and checked before each session - partly because they are load bearing: children swing on them, walk on them, jump on them. - and not always children!

String and rope as a fitness regime... go check:

Grandma on the rope swing!

Our woodland Basket Ball net!
For our basket ball we use leaves/ferns bound together with string.

Our woodland fitness course includes bars to climb over, wobbly bridges and a rope walk - The children time themselves either individually or in teams - they problem solve by working out the fastest way of getting everyone over the course in the quickest time.. and factoring in who will help who, when an obstacle is proving tough for someone. In an open, honest shared environment, children share their weak spots with others, identifying areas where they need help and acknowledging that help in achieving a team goal. This is a real life lesson - when children learn its ok and valuable to ask for help from their peers.

But do you know something.......
A piece of string lasts for ever when you use your imagination:

Its the sail of a viking longboat..........

And of course, you need string for the fairies to climb up the ladder to their fairy house - wood is far to hard for fairy feet!

Here the string provides the strength for the picture frame that shows the face of the big green lizard
( Lizard approaching from the right of the frame - see it?)

The lady of Shallott.....
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.

At Schola Foris and Wacky Woods, we call sisal, magic string... because we can do so much with it!

A 2.5 kg ball of sisal costs about £9.00 in the UK..........that one piece of string is more than long enough to start many, many children on a wonderful voyage of self discovery......for me, that's magic string!

Go on....stick a ball of string in your pocket and go play!