Tessa’s first Woodland Adventurers
My daughter runs delightedly down the path towards the river, following a group of seven other two year olds, her fellow Woodland Adventurers. She pauses once or twice to glance back at me, then carries on, her small legs carrying her surprisingly quickly over the uneven ground, muddy ground. We have walked this same path many times together, with Tessa mainly in the sling and Hector by our side, at the start of a dog walk in the Peak District. However, this is the first time that Tessa has explored this area with her peers, a novel experience for us both. And she loved every minute of it.
Joining a woodland group
There were moments of uncertainty when I saw her brow furrow as she puzzled in the new experience, as if shocked to find herself with other children in the woods. At other times her eyes shined with amazed delight and wonder that she was now sharing this experience with others. All day she kept repeating ‘Mummy, children‘, as if entranced to be out here with someone other than her big brother and parents. I assured her that yes there were other children with her, and asked her if she liked it. Her vigorous nod and empathic ‘liked it‘ assured me of how positively she found the whole experience.
Last child in the woods?
The woods is familiar territory to Tessa, a place she feels secure and settled in after two years of exploring them with her family. She therefore accepted the morning as simply a natural extension of her everyday life. But for us both being in the woods with a small group of children and adults was a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening experience. This first session wet our appetite for many more happy woodland explorer mornings to come. I was also aware that for many children being in the woods was quite a rare and indeed unusual state of affairs very different from their everyday lives. This is brought home to be on our many lone jaunts into the woods, barren of any other children. It is then I wondered where are all the children and start to believe in nature deficit disorder. Are my children indeed some of the last children in the woods, to quote Richard Louv? This realisation further fuels my desire to work in this field, in order to offer a little of the wonder of nature back to the younger generation, many of whom are more likely to experience walking through a woodland in a virtual reality game than in the flesh.
Out of the conventional classroom environment
The morning also confirmed my desire to work with children in an outdoor environment, allowing me to prepare myself mentally for the road ahead, that of training to be a forest school practitioner. As a teacher, I have worked with children in a conventional classroom setting, a role which I have found both challenging and rewarding in a myriad of ways. Yet working with children in the woods is a completely different experience.
Like my daughter, I feel at home in the outdoor environment, unlike the classroom where I have at times felt stressed and under pressure. The woods offer space, calm and wonder for both student and teacher in equal doses. Tasks are far more open-ended, exploratory and child-led. The woods is also nurturing and therefore confidence building in a way the conventional classroom cannot me. Indeed, the many qualities of forest school are why we as a family have gone very much out of my way to send Ewan to forest school and why I am now about to embark on training in this area myself. I shall explore more about forest school philosophy and my training journey in subsequent posts.
Part-way through the bug hunt activity set up by our forest school practitioner, I found five children huddled around me, spellbound by a wriggling worm and a shiny black beetle held temporarily captive in a magnifying pot. For a moment I was transformed to my two-year-old self, also staring at these two wonders of nature before me, no longer simply the common garden worm and beetle who I’d seen countless times before and offered nothing exciting to me, but two fascinating animals.
Nothing else existed for the six of us at that moment but the worm and the beetle. We talked about the animals and examined them and eventually let them go, back into our woodland home. Tessa spent hours afterwards talking about the worm she had seen, obviously intrigued by it as much as her peers. Bug-hunting was a very simple, yet very rich activity, for the children. I was able to empathise with the children’s sense of wonder and start learning myself, by asking myself many open-ended questions about the lives of these bugs.
The end of the session and the start of many more
As we made our way slowly back to the Pavilion at the end of the session, I smiled as I watched the children squelch through mud, run up and down grassy mounds and slide down a large sloped stone, a perfect natural slide for little bodies. I knew I was in the right place, as was my daughter, the seven other littlies and the three other adults. I also smiled with gratitude that I was fortunate enough to be here spending time my daughter in such a beautiful natural environment, which has so much to offer each one of us. So here’s to a summer of woodland adventurers, where more of the hidden depths of the woods can be unearthed together.
Watch this space for related blog posts about Woodland Adventurers and Forest School training.