Blacknest Forest School is run by me and three other Forest School leaders plus assistants. We usually have groups of not more than 12 who spend around 5-6 hours on holiday programme activities while home school days are shorter.
The ideal age group is 5-9 years (with exceptions for siblings just under 5 years). We are out in the woods the entire time, though the log cabin has toilet facilities and is used in exceptionally wet weather.
The site has several areas of play and special interest – tree house, swings, pond, “jungle gym”, “Eagle nest” – to mention just a few. Climbing and exploring opportunities abound and on the whole they are free to do both so long as it is safe and we know where they are. Many children come regularly so are familiar with the geography and look both for the places they love and the fun of exploring somewhere new. There is a lot of freedom and creativity at Forest School.
On arrival in the wood, we make sure everyone knows each other’s names and we remind ourselves of the few simple safety rules – our guidelines for enjoying ourselves without endangering ourselves or others. We talk about what things the children would like to do and what we have planned (it can’t be all about marshmallows!).
- Child-initiated activities
The woods offer much diversity to explore. When children find something curious or interesting, we gather to discuss and share their exciting find. Child-led activities are core to Forest School learning. The leader’s role is to facilitate without taking over: for example, if children decide to build rain-proof shelters, the leader makes appropriate equipment available but allows the children to problem solve and be creative without interference.
- Leader-initiated activities
We always have activities and games planned. It is a large, mainly wooded, site and we may well go looking for season appropriate trophies e.g. fungi, coloured leaves in autumn, or early signs of spring. A Scavenger Hunt or Nature ID game might be played, to draw the attention of the children to the marvels of nature. Amongst the skills we teach is whittling with knives – a favourite activity – or use ropes and knots to create a den. We often have a fire and cook toast, hot chocolate, pop-corn and marshmallows. Learning safety around the fire is a core skill.
- Review and Reflection: At the end of the session we review using simple, open questions such as, “What did you most enjoy? What did you find out that you didn’t know before? What did you find the biggest challenge together?” Each person contributes. It is a great time to share and hear what the children have to say or show.