I am writing this as the dusky night is moving in. There’s a glow in the sky from the departing sun, now below the horizon, and still lighting the sky but now, not the earth.
It’s a time of day that usually sees us moving inside, especially in the winter, but has so much to offer for the outdoors. Recently I have been co-leading some evening Forest School (FS) sessions. I love my work at any time of day, but the extra thrill and anticipation of going out to the woods in the dark is so fresh and enlivening, that it reminds me of what the heart of Forest School is about.
Venturing into the dark, where the familiar has changed, where challenge is heightened and where every one of my senses is refreshed leaves me feeling more … me. That’s the feeling we want with Forest School. The key difference between it and other approaches is that it is, if nothing else, a Child Centred approach.
There are plenty of discussions in the FS community about structure, tools, activities and values; a wide spectrum of approaches, but it does boil down to thinking and acting to enable children to learn, explore and express in their own way, at their own pace, and developing their own particular self esteem, regulation and unique creativity and personality: Wellbeing.
I trained and qualified in 2009 as a FS Leader, taught by inspirational, skilled and caring staff from Bridgewater College (one of the first to bring Forest School ‘over here’ after a visit to Denmark in 1993).
I am a member of the Forest School Association, and you can read more about the key principles here:
and more on the history here:
I had been searching for the time and funds to take the training for a good few years beforehand. The tutors emphasised the need to care for the human inside, respect for each and every one, how to give genuine, appropriate and positive feedback to the children.
In practice it takes an enormous amount of energy and time to give time to each child, observe them, reflect with them, listen, and involve them in the group to the point that you are as far from ‘leading’ as you can be, whilst still having a ‘hidden’ grip on safety, timing, team and practicalities. Then reflect on your own practice and challenge yourself to develop, too.
All this and tools, mud, fire, play, nature, fresh air, sticks, creating and more: it is a wonderful, privileged and ultimately really useful thing to be a part of as a Leader. And here’s the thing: it is not just for children. For me, it has influenced all my working practice and of course the process of our Wildcraftynation itself, because it ultimately speaks to the Inner Child in all of us.
Right, it is getting really dark now, mystery and adventure beckons. Time for some roamin’ in the gloaming.