Liz McMahon is keeping a session by session blog with photos on the following website. Some of the content is copied from here:
The aim of providing these sessions is to foster resilient, independent, confident and creative learners, using a flexible approach and natural resources for inspiration.
Our focus tree – Ash.
Journey to Base Camp.
On our way up to our base camp we looked at the trees on the forest edge and stopped under an Ash. The children picked the leaves. Some children counted 9 small leaves on the main stem and others counted 11. They had a look at the shadows the leaves made. We could see the ash keys up high in the tree. As we continued up to the base camp the children found 4 more ash trees.
The children decided that we would make a cocktail tea of all the plants we made tea with so far – dandelion, gorse, pine needle and nettle, but as we were walking along we passed a hawthorn tree in full flower. We hadn’t yet tasted hawthorn flower tea. They were happy to change the plan and make tea from it.
Nettle Picking Challenge.
The children are teaching each other how to pick a nettle without getting stung. Each week yet another child tries this out. Of course some get stung along the way but they wear their stings as a badge of honor. When someone does get a sting everyone rushes off to get a dock leaf for them. This would not have happened during the first few weeks.
This was their challenge-
Work in pairs or groups
- Give a time limit
- How tall can you make a tower?
- Sticks must be no longer that your arm. Everyone goes off to collect loads of sticks.
- Start building.
- If your tower is toppling you can go back to where it is strong and go again from there, or you can make a prop for it.
- Make a flag for the top, with flowers, leaves or feathers.
- Have an exhibition
The children were given cut up beech and ash leaves to put together.
When some children were finished they they created pictures by adding new plants to their leaf parts.
We finished with a sit spot in the long meadow grass. It is not easy to see any children in these photographs.
Exploring the Forest Edge
Collect leaves of different shapes and put in the transparent bags, no two leaves should be the same.
Lay out the bags of leaves. Barter with each other. The aim is to collect as many leaves as possible from the same tree.
Drawing – Exploring Leaf Shapes.
With everything we find new things to explore. Séamus found a very interesting beetle. Braiden decided to put it in our ‘I notice..’ book so he made a drawing as Séamus described the beetle to him.
Todays plant was the Ribwort Plantain. It is a healing herb so the children tried it on their nettle stings. The learned how to play a game of ‘Soldiers’.
Note book – I notice …
On our way up to our camp one child found a leaf with patterns on it. During free play she asked to draw it in our ‘I notice…..’
The children learned a new game ‘Eagle Eye’. The eagle is on and the mice all have to hide.
Yesterday they were told about today’s theme – Camouflage. They were very excited and wanted to be camouflaged and play eagle eye. This was our focus –
Animal and Bird Watching.
“The best way to see birds and animals is to hide. But you need to see out from your hide so you can see them but they can’t see you. You need to camouflage your head.
Have a look at the colours and shapes around you? How could you camouflage your head to be almost invisible?”
The children were shown how to weave a circle with a long vine of ivy. They weaved other leaves and plants into the crown.
Contact Paper Mask.
The contact paper was cut to go around the children’s face with a ‘letter box’ space for the eyes. They collected plants before taking the paper apart and sticking them to the paper.
When we were all camouflaged we found some ferns, rocks and ivy to hide in while we watched and listened to the birds.
Finding ribwort plantain.
The class are very interested in finding plants, some that we have already focused on. They notice the changes over the weeks we have been here.
Today’s tea was nettle tea. The children found ways to gather nettles without getting stung. Anyone who got a sting didn’t mind as they wanted to try our ribwort leaves.
The sun came out on our way up to the base camp. They had fun making shadow animals.
During free play time I notice that some children have favourite places and keep returning to them. They are very good at close looking and find all sort of hidden animals.
Weaving leaves into ivy crowns
The children were so well camouflaged that a tree-creeper landed on two trees near them.
They stayed in their camouflage for their sit spot.
Senior Infants use all their senses as they journey up to their base camp.
Their skills of observation are remarkable. Have a look at the hairs on the new beech leaves that they showed me.
Our focus plant this week is the Hawthorn.
Wishing Trees, May Bushes, Fairy Trees, or Rag Trees are hawthorn trees where people tie ribbons to ask blessings from the local saints/deities/wee folk. The hawthorn flowers in May, time of the Bealtaine festival of rebirth. Local people still tie ribbons or strips of colourful cloth to the wishing tree as a symbol of their prayers or wishes. If you visit in May or June, you’ll find wishing trees covered in colourful fabric and rippling in the breeze.
The children found a fairy trail through this hawthorn tree. It was a big challenge to make their way through as there were nettles. They wore their nettle stings with pride. There were no dock leaves but we found plantain ribwort instead.
The children made their own wish rags. They collected lots of different coloured leaves, grasses, and flowers to print on to their rags using Hapa Zome technique. Hapa Zome is the Japanese art of beating up leaves and flowers with hammers, pounding natural pigment into cloth.
- White fabric
- Black markers
- Stones for bashing.
The children placed their plants between the folded fabric. They used a stone or a block of wood to bash it. They could see the colour coming through the fabric. They were given black markers to draw or write their wishes.
We hung the wish rags on the hawthorn tree so the fairies could collect the wishes. We sat quietly watching the rags in the breeze and thought of our more private wishes.
Making Hawthorn Leaf Tea.
A Quiet Time Thinking of Our Wishes.
On the way back to our base camp the children were more aware of colour than previously. Here Patrick was comparing the different blues in the bluebells.
They chose to finish with a game that they learned two years ago at Forest Friday – Eagle Eye.
More creations at the Meeting Point.
Discoveries of colour and pattern on our way up to base camp.
Our plant theme today was the dandelion. On our way up to our base the children we found lots of dandelions, some in flower and some had seeds. The children made wishes and blew the seeds. We collected lots of dandelion heads and put them in our tea pot. Children took turns pouring hot water into the tea pot, and had a taste of dandelion tea when it was brewed.
The Woodies felt very tired today so they had a nap taking turns in the hut.
“Is that a woodpecker we hear?” someone asks. The children suddenly stop their play and stay very still looking and listening.
The children continued from their village making two weeks ago. This week they added football pitches, a river and boats.
A Boat with Sail.
The child first tried a wild garlic flower and stalk but it was too wobbly. He was please with the feather.
A Vase of Flowers
The Woodies enjoying their play after their nap.
On our way up to our base the children noticed that there were a lot of yellow flowers but when they went up close not all were dandelions. We compared our flowers and everyone recognised the buttercup and Eve recognised the cowslip.
Tasting fresh beech leaves and climbing through the tree tunnel on the way up to base camp.
Making dandelion tea. This child is mixing the tea by swinging the pot in a full circle – very clever!
During the last session one child requested that he would like to skills to communicate with animals. We spent some time practicing owl hoots and pigeon coos. I think some children might get good at this with a bit of practice.
During their free play the children set off exploring and finding things. Most requested bug boxes.
This child found a fly that he couldn’t identify from our minibeast books so he decided to put a drawing of it into our ‘I Notice…’ book.
During class time in the morning the teacher showed the children a slide show of Land Art. Eve last week was concerned with materials we were using and how good they are for the environment. I brought up a book of Andy Goldsworthy. We looked the materials he uses to make his art and looked at the materials in our site. Could we make art from our materials? They children began to discuss ideas and work in groups with ease.
There were a lot of these flies around. We were all very interested because they stayed still enough to examine them. I looked them up – they are very interesting.
St. Mark’s fly, they emerge around St. Mark’s day on the 25th April are also know as the Hawthorn fly
Male St. Mark’s flies have clear wings, large eyes and long dangly legs. Interestingly, the male’s eyes are divided by a groove and have separate connections to the brain. This allows the males to use the upper eye part to look out for females and the lower part to monitor their position in relation to the ground, allowing them to hover in the same position. The shiny black male flies are very conspicuous, with long dangling hindcan often see them when they congregate in big swarms flying slowly, up and down, at around head height – trying to attract females.
The St. Mark’s Fly has a very short adult life cycle, being in flight for approximately only one week. The majority of their time is spent as larva in the soil. During autumn and winter, larvae feed on rotting vegetation which they chew with their strong mouthparts. In springtime the males emerge first and the females a few days later. After mating, females lay their eggs in the soil and die soon afterwards.
They are very useful creatures, they feed on nectar, making them important pollinators of fruit trees and crops.
We finished a busy day with a quiet time.
Arrival – work from the boxes
….and a hockey stick
Mapping the way up to base camp.
The children have given names to some landmarks on the way up. I love this – the ‘Stairs Tree’.
They are so good at finding interesting things
At base camp we put up our boundary ribbons and the children requested to play the game ‘Amach, Abhaile’.
We went further up the hill to the area where the gorse grows for our morning snack. The sun was shinning and we all noticed the lovely strong coconut smell of gorse. We collected the flowers to make gorse tea. It looked lovely in our tea pot. BUT! When we went to add the hot water from the flask there was none — no water- no flask. I checked my bags loads of times but it wasn’t there. I left it in my kitchen on the counter this morning.
The children were so practical. I had cold water. ‘Lets put in cold water and put it in the sun’. We did this. There was great stirring and sieving. We had a taste. Mmmmmm tasted like water – very nice.
We’re not a group to give up. Joan, SNA and always practical suggested we gather more flowers and she would make tea when they get back to school. I’m sure it tasted gorseier that our tea warmed by the sun.
While the children had their snacks I read the story Gorse Mother.
The Gorse-Mother lived hidden away in the middle of a big gorse bush on a hill. She was an extremely busy person, for, like the old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she scarcely knew what to do. She had not whipped them all soundly, for she had a tender heart, for all her thorny looks; but she had put them to bed. Wrapped in their little brown blankets, they lay in hundreds all round her. You would have called them buds, but they were little Gorse Babies.
The Gorse-Mother was tired, for the making of all those blankets had been a great work. But she knew there was no rest for her yet. “The sunshine grows hotter every day,” she said. “The children will soon find the blankets too warm. I must make their satin-tents.”
She set to work at the satin-tents. After several weeks of labour she had them ready. How beautiful they were! They were yellow and scented, with fluted sides, and a peaked top, and the daintiest green velvet mats for the floor. The children sprang out of bed and danced with pleasure at finding their tents all ready for them. And the Gorse-Mother’s heart was glad, for now for a while she could rest. The sun shone, the birds sang, the golden satin-tents swayed in the wind, and everybody was happy.
In the afternoon a bee came. “May we ask him in, mother?” asked one of the children.
“Certainly. He is your best friend,” said the Gorse-Mother.
They asked him in, giving him nectar from their little cups, and making him very welcome. As he left the Gorse-Mother said: “Tell the other bees that we invite them to a nectar-feast to-morrow.”
The bee flew off. He told the other bees of the Gorse-Mother’s kind invitation, and next day they came in scores to the nectar-feast.
What a day that was! Nectar cups were filled to the brim, and the bees were feasted royally. They stored the sweet juice in their bags for the hive, and filled their little hair-baskets with pollen. They flew from tent to tent, and became most friendly with the children.
Weeks passed by, and the Gorse-Mother roused herself to work again. “The children are growing fast,” she said. “I must make their elastic-houses.”
She unfastened the walls of the satin-tents and let them fall away. Where each tent had stood she built a green elastic-house. Strong and tightly shut were these little green houses; on each floor stood a row of tiny stools. The children were tired after their weeks of pleasure. They were quite content to do nothing all day but sit on their stools and grow.
“Sit still and be good,” said the Gorse-Mother, “and remember to grow big. Your houses will grow with you. As you turn brown they will turn brown, and as you turn black they will turn black. After that you may go out into the world.”
Things happened exactly as the Gorse-Mother said they would. As the children grew, their elastic-houses stretched so that there was always room for them. When the children turned brown the houses turned brown; and when the children turned black the houses turned black.
“Now remember what I tell you,” said the Gorse-Mother. “When your houses pop open, jump as far out into the world as you can, for if you fall close to me you will have no room to grow and spread. When you reach the ground, the first thing to do is to find a soft place, and the next thing is to grow. And don’t forget to grow plenty of thorns. Now good-bye. Make big bushes all round me, and I shall be proud of you.”
One by one, with a noise like tiny pistols, the houses popped open. The children remembered their mother’s advice. They jumped far out into the world, found a soft place, and grew. In a few years they were big bushes all around the Gorse-Mother, and she was proud of them.
We were almost in the story, surrounded by gorse and it’s lovely smell and we could see and hear the bees visiting the gorse babies.
We had a lovely time looking for gorse babies.
We went back to our base camp. There were two very small mats in our circle. Who were they for? Some thought the fairies and then we looked and saw we do have two very small people in our group – the Woodies. The Woodies belong to one of the children and I noticed the last time we were in the woods that this little girl experiences the world through the Woodies. They needed to be full members of our group.
Could we make shelters for the woodland creatures we made last time we were in the woods?
I showed how to make a strong structure of using a forked stick and adding two more sticks to it to make a teepee hut. James showed us how he made a circle with bendy wood to put over the top to hold it together. It is so interesting watching how the children work. Three girls formed a close working group. One boy built his hut beside them. It was great to see how the four of them began to share skills and resources.
The girl with the Woodies began to work with her SNA. First they build a hut. Then she said it was their birthday so I helped by bringing mud to make a cake. She added some candles.
Over on the other side there were two boys working well together. Another boy was hanging out and swinging large sticks. It looked to me that he had the energy to build a full size hut. However he began to join the other two and build a fire area. Then he joined it to the others with a leaf path.
Journey: To base camp.
Session 3 and the children already have their landmarks. They like to stop at their special place on the way up to our camp. The ‘tunnel’ is a favourite with everyone but not everyone went through it last week. It is a way they have found through several holly trees. You have to be tough to do this as it is very scratchy. But with help and encouragement from the others the children who were a bit nervous did it this week. This group are going great. There is good support for each other.
We tasted fresh young beech leaves.
This week they added a new adventure -a dead wood branch to be walked.
It was such a beautiful day we decided to have a picnic lunch up on the sunny rocks.
It was just the right place to tell the story ‘The Gorse Mother’
Looking for gorse babies.
Last week our focus changed to observing minibeasts. I was asked by a child if we could have magnifying glasses this week. I also brought some transparent containers so they could view the underside of their mimbeasts.
All but one child chose to work in pairs. We had card to draw what they noticed and also our ‘I notice…’ book to fill.
There is always something to wonder about. Look what someone found in the leaf litter. We gathered around to wonder together how this came to be here. It made us aware how close we are to the sea. Some thought that a person might have dropped it coming back from the beach. Another suggesting was that maybe a seagull dropped it.
We finished with a lovely quiet time. Each child found their special ‘sit spot’. They all noticed that there was more bird song this week than last week.
During our final circle the children shared what they loved about the day.
‘I found a spider’ Pascal
‘I liked going to the gorse for our story’ Seamus
‘I caught a buttlefly’ Isabelle
‘We made a bug hotel and lots of people put their bugs in our hotel – we loved that’ Jack and Patrick
‘I liked climbing like a Koala’ Penny
‘I loved naming my woodlouse coco bug’ Pai
‘I liked finding and drawing bugs’ Eve
‘ Next week I’d like to communicate with birds and animals’ Braiden
Eve commented on our plastic containers to view bugs during the bug hunt, ‘It’s not good to use single use plastic’
We had to have a bit of a change today as due to staffing difficulties the senior infants couldn’t go to the forest. So, we brought the forest to the classroom. It was a lovely wet day and I had lovely rainy day ideas for the forest so I thought we could bring the rain into the classroom.
The Rain Storm.
The children were at their table groups, six children to each of the five tables. The ideas is that I start a sound using my body, table 1 copy me, table 2 copy table 1, table 3 copy table 2, and so on as the sound travels and changes around the classroom. I would keep changing the sounds and the storm builds up, and finally dies away.
We had to do a bit of a practice first so that each group would understand. I began with some movements until we all got used to passing the movement on to the next group. We then practiced some rain sounds together.
· Rub hands together
· Snap fingers
· Clap hands
· Slap thighs
· Stomp feet
· Slap thighs
· Clap hands
· Snap fingers
· Rub hands
· Hands on lap
We were ready.
I explained, very quietly, that last night the forest was still, some birds and animals were asleep and the nocturnal one were out hunting when –
I began to rub my hands together. The sound circled the room, as I changed the sound to the first plip, plop of rain drops and on to the sound of the rain getting heavier and heavier around the room until it began to gradually die away again.
We did this a few times and we got better and better. The rainstorm was in our classroom.
Before we captured our rainstorm in charcoal we took time to explore making marks with the charcoal. The children tried making very light marks by drawing very gently on the paper and dark heavy marks by leaning heavily on the piece oftried it on its side and twisted and turned it. Some said it looked 3d. They used their fingers to smudge it. Finally I gave them rubbers to draw into the charcoal.
When I felt they were comfortable using charcoal and rubbers I gave out new large sheets of paper.
I asked them to listen as I made a rain storm with my body. As I made each sound they could draw it.
When I finished making the sounds we looked at all the drawings of the rainstorm. I asked them to think of the rain falling in the forest. What would it fall on? Would the birds and animals find shelter? Where would they find shelter?
They continued their drawings using charcoal and rubbers.
Today the children took turns to lead the way up to our base camp. Each leader took twenty steps and found something to share with the group. Our first stop was on a slope with very slippy mud. The children took turns going up and down practicing theirnext leader led everyone through a ‘tunnel’ in a holly tree.
Last week children kept bringing me things that they had noticed for me to photograph so this week I brought a little note book, a pencil and black marker – the ‘I notice…’ book. I really liked that the children asked for the notebook rather than having me photograph what they noticed all the time.
We were just passing a lovely clump of wood sorrel. What about wild food tasting? They were very enthusiastic. We examined it very carefully. What shape are the leaves? What is the flower like? How does it feel? How does it smell?
Everyone liked the taste of the leaves. I reminded them to check with me before they eat any wild food.
When we reached our camp we gathered together to make our plans for the afternoon. We decided to collect pine needles and make tea first so that it would be brewed for lunch break.
After lunch break we gathered in a circle and we brought a rainstorm into the forest using our bodies. As I made a sound the child to my left copied the sound and continued with that sound until I changed. Each child had to watch and listen to the child on their right and start that sound and continue until it changed. We build up our sounds until we had a rain orchestra.
· Rub hands together
· Snap fingers
· Clap hands
· Slap thighs
· Stomp feet
· Slap thighs
· Clap hands
· Snap fingers
· Rub hands
It sounded great after a few times, when everyone got used to paying attention and being ready for each change.
We needed to make a shelter to keep the rainstorm out. We stayed in our circle to come up with the plan. Where could we build our hut? What could we use to build the main structure?
Children came up with suggestions and then voted on the best place. Cleverly they chose an bent tree as the main spine. They went off to collect wood for the ribs. The whole group worked really hard helping each other carry huge logs andgot a good structure built.
As they were rolling one very large log they got more interested in the minibeasts they found. At this stage I think they had run out of physical energy so having found something else interesting they happily moved their energies and interests. So the hut didn’t become waterproof, but everyone was very happy with it.
Some children spent the rest of the session examining the minibeasts and some asked for the ‘I Notice…’ book.
As usual the time went so quickly. This group are already planning their own sessions. They have requested magnifying glasses next week to be able to get a closer look at the minibeasts in the forest.
The sunshine welcomed us to the forest. We got straight into being creative during the gathering time.
Today was a very much a time to explore our forest using all our senses. We stopped regularly on route to notice interesting things. Children took turns to be the leader and point out something they noticed.
– lots of birds
– squirrel running around on a tree
– the sun made me feel happy and warm and safe
– saw some birds and heard some
– the sound like an ice cream van
– loads of birds cheeping
– the birds in the sky and when the sun came out, they flew back to their home
– a rabbit jump
– heard a person walk
We finished the day by sharing what we were grateful for and walking back to the car park via the ‘leafy forest’ we had found on the way up.
We’re grateful for:
– being in this world and in forest school
– for being in this group
– that we can crawl on that log
– being in this world and we’re just starting forest school
– to spend time with you all
– making the animals
– making these clay creatures
– everything – making the camp and the coat stand
It started as a day of celebrating leaves.
We found so many leaves we liked.
We liked them so much we felt like making big piles and jumping in them!
We were looking for small details and found lots of interesting things whilst exploring.
I think we also have an album cover for both a solo artist and a band!
At the very end, we made a group shadow photo.
We were very grateful:
- we got to tie learning and playing together
- for the trees and the animals who welcomed us into the woods and for whoever/whatever planted the trees many years ago and for the people who take care of the park.
- for the robins
- to be allowed to play and climb in the forest
- for learning about edible shamrocks, beech nuts, blackberries, the rubbery leaf plant and the woods
- that we got to explore and have fresh air and that we were split into smaller groups so that we weren’t crowded and we didn’t have to wait for lots of people all the time
- that we got to be with this group because we worked together and we didn’t fight or argue
- for what a great forest this is and that I found an acorn vacuum cleaner
- that all the groups had different experiences and that we got to hang out together in a small group
We got so focussed on using our magnifying glasses and exploring and playing games that I didn’t take very many photos.
Reflections about Forest Fridays:
- I’m glad we got to be outdoors and it’s so much fun and you get exercise. I feel fitter now.
- I enjoyed spending time with my friends, not in the classroom, and I noticed more things in nature than I normally would.
- I prefer that we didn’t just go walking around a random park. I like that we got to go into places and make stuff like clay faces and swing apples.
- I liked that we didn’t just have the normal people we’d always hang around us in our group. We got to hang out and get to know better other people we wouldn’t usually hang out with.
- I liked that we got to go to unusual places and off the path and off track and on the rocks and away from the usual paths.
- I learned lots of nature words in English.
- I learned lots of new things about nature and had lots of fun.
- I liked that we learned in a different way to how we learn in the classroom. Instead of talking about something or learning about it, we got to do it and see it and touch it.
- I liked that we got to make things with our surroundings using what’s around us to make art.
- I noticed I am better at running around not on paths. I seem to have better grip on uneven surfaces.
We started the session with the children showing what they noticed on the way up to base camp. Slug trails and sun baths were order of the day.
After free play (with the very able children being teachers!) everyone got busy with setting up a Halloween themed woodland. Swing apples has been a game played around Halloween for centuries in Ireland and these traditions are best learned about by continuing them.
There were beautiful broomsticks to be seen with odd creatures sometimes flying around on them.
And some scary creatures appeared with slime and webs galore.
Around the same time, we began to notice some very scary monsters on the trees.
Some people considered this the scariest one of them all as it reminded them of a president somewhere!
6th class wanted to lead their parents blindfolded to base camp. They stopped at something interesting to touch, allowed the blindfolded person to touch it and describe it and imagine it in their mind’s eye before removing their blindfold to see how their imagination matched what they saw.
Free play involved the children showing all their favourite trees to climb and jumping over the ‘bonfire’.
Lunch on the rocks is always stunning and made even better when you get to share it with people you love.
We then set to creating a Halloween fairy village. Lots of strange creatures appeared.
And we played some traditional games including swing apple and conkers.
Some Halloween themed ideas for you to try at home!
These are all available on the amazing nature detectives website.
Here are a few more wonderful ideas from the Forestry commission to enjoy nature over the Halloween break.
Today was a day of preparation for the children welcoming and leading their parents in the woods next week.
We started by playing lots of games for us to choose which ones we wanted to teach and play with our adults.
We noticed lots of interesting things on the way to the base camp.
There were slugs climbing on one tree. We thought they might have been practising their bungee jumping or sky diving!
We took a sun bath.
We found puff balls and made them smoke!
And we found jelly ears which felt just like their name!
We then planned for next week’s Halloween creative focus for our adults.
We finished by creating a circle game.
This group discussed how we wanted to bring our parents to basecamp. They came up with the idea of blindfold guiding! This involves being guided to something interesting, touching it, imagining it in your mind’s eye, describing it and then opening your eyes.
We had free play and planned for our parents visit. We played jumping over a fire!
Following on from our exploring day last week, the children asked to move to a different area to have a sit spot. We found lots of rosehips on the way.
This week’s session was based on a very simple and profound Mary Oliver poem.
The focus was wandering and mapping. The children got to choose where to go and how to go, keeping in mind our golden rules of keeping themselves safe and happy, each other safe and happy and nature safe and happy.
This week, as we broke from ‘routine’ (isn’t it wonderful that spending 2 and a half hours in the woods each Friday is routine?!), I got to notice how much of the Forest Friday ethos the children are living.
Forest Friday ethos
“We will have fun, play games, create, learn skills, make things but above all the focus will be on connection; connecting to yourself, connecting to each other and connecting to this wonderful world we live in.
The aim is to foster resilient, independent, confident and creative learners, using a flexible approach and natural resources for inspiration.
– creativity as an intrinsic part of every session
– taking appropriate risks and enabling the children to assess risks for themselves
– nature connection
– games & fun
– expanding our senses (lots of games and activities to encourage this)
– harvesting (gathering, enjoying and reflecting on what we have learned and enjoyed)
– unstructured time (to allow for the key principles of play – freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivating)
– gratitude (explicitly encourage gratitude)
– flow learning (inspiration, excitement, movement, focus, relaxation, celebration, reflection and integration)
– 50/50 model (Plan for 100% but go with the flow and energy of the children)
– starting and ending in circle”
In witnessing the children bubbling with excited memories of the way their old base camp from 2 years ago, I was amazed how deep the connection still was! These are visceral memories that the children have been allowed to experience with their whole being. Their observation skills and curiosity were evident as they shared their memories, noticed changes and helped each other reconnect with the place.
When the children arrive, they go to their mats and try to figure out how to tie the knots. They are improving every week.
We have been learning these knots over the last few weeks:
Though we have been learning specific knots, the children have also created their own ones.
As the children wandered to their old base camp, they spotted old friends on the way. It seemed as if each rock, tree and stump had a name. Can you match the photos below with any of the named places on the maps the children created? Entrance rock, Squirrel Bath tree, Mud rock, Slimey Fungus tree, Cliffs of Destiny, Art stump, Split tree, Root tree, Goose bump tree, Mud slide path, Zebra tree and rock roulette were just some of the important markers I was introduced to in what was maybe a 200m walk!
The maps which highlight the amazing connection the children have to this place.
We decided to spend some time in the old base camp rediscovering memories and places and played some games together.
We then chose to go up to the Witch’s Hat. The sun came out and we had a great time on the pyramid. We had our sit spot in the sun admiring the view from a new location.
Time flew by and soon it was time to go back. We went down a different path.
We started in a circle to make some agreements before we set off. We heard from everyone what they would like their day to include and then we made a plan that everyone agreed to. The group decided that they would like to visit their old base camp and to go to the obelisk and to play a few games. They agreed that they would not have leaders but that everyone would stick together.
Within a minute or two of starting to draw the map, some children realised they’d started too big and wouldn’t have enough room. No teaching needed but lots of learning happening.
Once at base camp the memories flooded back. “I just have so many memories of this place.” The excitement was palpable when they discovered their old den complete with kitchen area where they had made jam.
We found the old way up to the pyramid and obelisk and had lunch.
After lunch, we decided to play tip the can. And then had a beautiful sit spot in the sun with a view of almost the entire city and the feeling of the warm wind blowing. Some of us found really squishy cushion grass and others sat on hard rocks beside blackberries.
We found a very strange spider web with thousands of moving tiny creatures inside.
We found a creature that I couldn’t find a name for on this rock. Looks like a type of ladybird.
We were grateful:
- we all got to decide where we went together and we didn’t have one leader.
- we got to play hide and seek
- we got to explore a bit and go to other base camps
- I found a fuzzy weird plant
- we got to walk around and explore more
- we had a lot of freedom and choice
- how wandering allows your mind to wander
- playing a new game
- we could explore
We went home happy after a session wandering together and a sense that we want to explore more!
The gathering activity in the morning is learning new knots.
Benefits to learning knots
- Tying and securing sail ropes on a boat
- Securing luggage
- Putting up a swing
- Tying down tarps over loose outdoors items before a storm
- Tying gates or loose section of fencing
- Making a secure, makeshift leash for your dog
- Securing thin ropes to the backs of art work for hanging
- Making jewelry
- Making the knots between pearls or other loose beads
- Tying ropes to create home décor such as tassels
- Securing the rope to the beginning of an object for rope wrapping
- Creating rope sculptures
- rock climbing
- keeps your fingers nimble is important fine motor control-oriented tasks such as typing or playing an instrument.
- Practicing rope knots on a regular basis is a great exercise for fingers, and can help strengthen them.
- Tying rope knots can be seen as a type of puzzle.
- Learning a new knot will force you to stretch yourself in a different way, which will help to keep your brain function strong.
Fun and enjoyment
- Learning any new skill can provide hours of fun and enjoyment.
- Mastering each knot, practicing on various types of rope, and implementing what it is that you’ve learned can all be sources of enjoyment for you.
Free play is an important part of each session. Here the children get to follow their curiosity and playfulness, individually or together.
Swinging, climbing and carrying are frequently part of free play.
This week, the innovative Blackberry spa opened in our base camp. On offer were facials and manicures. A facial cost 3 acorns!
Focused activity – making hanging land art
We learned to use palm drills safely to make a hole in an acorn or conker. We used our knot skills to create mobiles.
While waiting to use a scissors, one child used his ingenuity and creativity to create his own tool and cut string with a sharp stone.
Individually or together, we made land art that used natural objects and knots.
We had a beautiful sit spot and went back to school happy.
Balance and climbing are choices for 6th class during free play.
Using the skills of our wonderful volunteer parent, we learned to make dream catchers using ivy as the circle.
Others chose to interpret the challenge of making hanging land art using knots differently.
During our sit spot, once again we noticed a bird hovering and then three crows/rooks came and chased it away to a new location. We’ll need to bring binoculars to figure out what it is. It might be a kestrel or a sparrowhawk.
Change and continuity
As we moved into the fourth session, we notice how some things change and some remain the same. The mushrooms we saw last week have changed completely. New fungus has sprouted in other places. The sea looks different moment by moment. Bray Head remains in the same place! Small logs have been moved. The weather is different every time we’re up here. In going to the same place at the same time with the same people week after week, a richness and depth of learning happens that cannot happen in the once off sessions. We build layers of knowledge and knowing and experience and sensations each week on top of the previous experiences.
Instead of saying “Be Careful”
We are learning to take good care of ourselves and others and to assess risks for ourselves. Instead of saying “Be Careful”, our leaders try to help us to learn the skills of taking care of ourselves by using phrases like:
“How could you keep yourself safe?”
“How can you keep others safe and happy around you?”
“Do you feel safe there?”
“Take your time.”
“I’m here if you need me.”
“Please find a safe spot for your stick while you’re running.”
“What’s your next move?”
“Stay focussed on what you’re doing.”
“Sticks need space. Look around you – do you have enough?”
“Do you feel balanced?”
“Do you need more space?”
We started our day using our imagination to warm our hands by the fire we found.
And we quickly learned a new woodland animal game that warmed us up further.
Observation & curiosity
These were just some of the things we noticed on our way up to base camp.
During our sit spot, we noticed:
- that there was a tree that had brown needles instead of green
- how calm the sea was and the sun reflecting off the sea
- some of the grass was much longer than other grass
- when you follow dead looking trees up they can have leaves at the tip
- a lawnmower cutting grass
- that it was quiet and nice and peaceful
- that there was only a little bit of wind and that the tree whistled with the wind
- the warmth of the sun on my back
- people’s footsteps and kids voices
- birds tweeting
- how quickly everyone became calm
- a wasp flying around me and making a buzzing noise
This week we became the story tellers, learning the story of the apple star. We paired up to learn it and to put a bit of drama into the telling.
We created some land art to understand the life cycle of the apple tree and then created books.
Some of the beautiful books we made to illustrate the life cycle of the apple tree.
We are grateful:
- that me and Ruby got to act out the apple story
- for coming up here and having the sunshine
- for what a lovely sunny day it is and that the wind was calm whenever we sat
- for how different all our creativity looks
- all the games we can play especially owl, mouse and blackberry game
- learning something new every week about nature – this week it was about beech mast or beech nuts
- for the games we play especially you’re only safe if
- for doing the land art this week
- for all the different stuff we’re doing every week like base building and hammock making
- for the games at the beginning of the session
- for the weather and there not being a cloud in the sky
As quite a few of us said we were tired when we checked in at the start of the session, the group asked to have a longer sit spot. This is a very lovely time when the children get to spend time with themselves and what they notice around them. It can be very relaxing and peaceful. When we checked in at the end of the session, the most common feeling was relaxed instead of tired.
In English the plant in the pictures below is called navel wort or wall pennywort. Wort is an old word for a plant, especially those that were edible or medicinal. In Spanish we were told it was ombligo de orion or ombligo de venus. Either Orion’s or Venus’ bellybutton! If you want to know more, have a look at http://www.wildfooduk.com/hedgerow-food-guide/pennywort-1-hedgerow/
Drawing the life cycle of an apple
Can you guess which stage of the life cycle of an apple tree is represented by the following land art?
We tasted apple tea and shared what we noticed during our sit spot and what we were grateful for to end the week.
As it was windy and wet this morning, we changed base camp to a more sheltered area. This meant that we got to explore a new part of the woods.
We got muddy hands in the process – always a good sign. (This photo was taken before we washed our hands for lunch!)
We were fascinated by the fungi that were found this week.
We created a living room, bedroom and bouncy castle for the fairies on the bracket fungus in our new base camp.
We noticed other fungus growing on sticks and leaves changing colours.
During our sit spot we noticed:
- a silver spider crawling up a branch into a hole in the tree and the tree I was leaning back on I thought was dead but I followed it up and at the top were loads of leaves so it was alive
- saw and heard raindrops dripping on the leaves
- the different coloured leaves
- little bushes everywhere that were the same plant
- dogs barking
- people talking
- sounds of the leaves hitting off each other
- the wind blowing against the leaves and branches
- that sometimes it’s completely dry under the tress and then the wind comes and blows the rain off the leaves and we get wet.
- the nice peace and quiet
- the many varieties of trees
- lots of leaves on the ground
Our new base camp was under a horse chestnut tree. Some were twins or triplets!
We worked really well together making hammocks. This was a chance to learn the skill and to figure things out as we went along. The knots that we’ve been learning each morning before we go to base camp paid off.
We are grateful:
- that we get to be up here unlike other schools and that we made hammocks
- for making hammocks
- for this weather because it’s exciting and we got a new base camp and it’s fun
- how lucky we are and I’m grateful that Forest school wasn’t cancelled as I thought it might be because of the weather and I felt annoyed when I thought it might be cancelled
- for the treecreeper we saw and for the lady who told us what it was
- for building
- for moving into a new area
- for playing with my friends at a time that we’d normally be doing work
- for exploring a different area
- for shelter from the rain and wind
- for all the sticks
- for a lovely apple drink at the end
The weather had changed for the better by the time 6th class came up to Killiney Hill so we returned to our base camp.
Look at all the different types of fungus sharing the woods with us!
We spent a bit of time climbing and building.
We learned how do to some of the knots and were even able to do them with our eyes closed.
And then we started to figure out how to make hammocks.
During our sit spot we noticed:
- Out at sea there was lots of wind and loads of big waves kept crashing on the rocks
- That there were kinda parts in the sea that were darker than other parts
- A bird gliding trying to fly into the wind but it couldn’t so it was just gliding
- The plane flying above me
- It was a house or a castle hidden in the trees
- A bird that had been flying in the tree up higher
- The bird that was just staying still
- The bird but I thought it was a drone because it was staying in exactly the same place
- The sea
- On the beach there was a dog that was chasing the waves and then a giant one came in and crashed over the dog
- The wind moving the grasses coming in gusts
We are grateful:
- That we actually get to come to come to Forest school and that we get to come to Killiney hill rather than do it on the school property
- That we get to come to forest school and that it’s so much fun and that our school is very special like that
- That we get to look around and don’t have to stay in one place
- That we have bases
- We get to go to forest school because we get to be in the forest
- Because we did hammocks
- That it was windy today and it gave us a different experience of forest school
- That it didn’t rain again and it looked like it was going to
- For the beautiful view when we’re at our sit spot
- For the activities that the teachers come up with for forest school
15th September 2017
We are grateful:
- That we go to Killiney Hill every Friday and we make dens and have sit spots
- For coming here and having a good time
- For having all this nature around us
- What nice weather we have today
- That we made dens and for our camp
- For people looking after each other and keeping everyone safe and happy
- That we can use nature for art and that it’s not just for looking at
- That we’re so lucky to be with nature in this way
- For having Jenny as a teacher
- For all the stuff we’re allowed to do
- For being up here with my class
- For the peace and quiet and lovely company
Experiential, multi-sensory, active learning
During our sit spot we noticed:
- Dogs barking
- The sound of the wind
- A magpie jumping from branch to branch
- Birds singing
- The alarm call of a magpie when a man threw the ball for the dog
- Pink flowers near me
- All the life around us and that we’re not the only thing alive here and that the birds were talking to each other and that everything else is living around us
- People from beach school
- A magpie eating things from a dead branch
- Clouds moving extremely fast
- The sea was incredibly calm and beautiful
Creating and problem solving
We quickly got down to making a den together. This led to lots of discussion about inclusion and whether or not people could have their own ‘places’ inside and how to be fair about who gets in! Together we came up with solutions that everyone agreed to.
Leave no trace
We also had a big discussion about whether it was okay to leave banana skins or orange skins or apple cores behind us. Lots of reasons why and why not. We decided not to leave anything behind and even left the place better than how we found it by taking other people’s litter away and putting it in the bin.
One of us noticed that the inside of the stick we were using to help tell the story of the bundle of sticks was really spongy inside. This led to lots of questions and observations and fascination. We noticed that there was a green layer just inside the outer bark and that there were red strips on some of it and that you could push out the spongy bit inside and leave the stick hollow. We then used a twig identification chart to try to figure out what tree it might have come from. We think it was an elder which is the same tree that the elderberries that made our tea today came from.
Appreciation of beauty and nature, wide angle and close up
We are grateful:
- that no one was arguing. We all got on well
- for the tea at the end which was really nice
- for a relaxing time
- for sitting in a sit spot
- for making a base
- for moving base
- for time and space in nature
- for having places like this in our area
- for all of the things here
- that we got to do den building
- that everyone was included in different ways
- listening to humming at the sit spot
- a butterfly landing on my shoulder
8th September 2017 – Pine base camp
Working together – We worked hard together to create a den for our whole group. Lots of good communication and figuring out of how to keep themselves, each other and nature safe doing this.
Creativity – We found forty shades of green in nature and then had a go at creating them ourselves.
Sit Spot I noticed:
- The way the sea was moving, like the waves on the sea
- The colours of the sea
- The greenness of the view
- The birds flying above
- The sea was separated, some parts were green, some parts blue and the other white
- The other group howling
- The sound of the other people walking by
- A bird hovering above the trees and being taken up by the air currents
- That the tide was in
- The waves moving
- There were a load of spikey bushes
I’m grateful for:
- Having a good group
- To able to go to Killiney Hill
- To be able to do forest school and to sit on the rocks
- For building a den together
- That everyone worked together rather than being separate
- To spend time with you in the woods
- Got to build a base
- That we have a good group
- Everybody got to work together to build the base
- To spend time outside
- The forest because I love trees