Are outdoor experiences enough?

forest children photo
Photo by Paul Stainthorp

This guest post has been shared with us by Caylin from Forest Schooled. This excellent website runs weekly posts linking Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature.

Over to Forest Schooled ….

Recently I started to question whether providing fun and educational outdoor experiences for kids was enough. Of course taking them outside is incredibly important for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to learning I felt like there was more to it. After an encounter I had with a 9 year old boy named Samuel I became inspired to look a little deeper.

Samuel was constantly getting into trouble for the same behaviour which he exhibited day after day at the after school club I worked at. The adults in the setting consistently resorted to a rewards/punishments system of managing behaviour, but it was clear to all of us that it wasn’t changing anything. One day Samuel was given the ‘punishment’ of helping me tidy up after everyone had their snack and the one-to-one time gave me the opportunity to have a conversation with him.

I wanted to take advantage of this time to get to know him and and perhaps gain a better understanding of his behaviour. By asking questions that got Samuel to think more about the motivations and feelings surrounding his behaviour, I unintentionally facilitated a process of reflection. The result was that Samuel felt empowered to make positive choices about his own behaviour in the future and, when he did at a later date, he felt better about himself for not getting into trouble as much.

That conversation with Samuel made me realise how powerful reflection can be as a tool for learning. However, what I couldn’t quite grasp was how to effectively facilitate reflection for others in future situations. We all, as individuals, have our own methods for reflecting, whether consciously or subconsciously, on our own personal experiences, but facilitating it for others is much more tricky. I wanted to learn more about it all so I decided to do some research.

I conducted a survey asking for contributions from other Forest School leaders, teachers, parents, and anyone with any knowledge on the subject about it. I also attended a course with Dr. Roger Greenaway who has put a phenomenal amount of work into promoting and creating tools for reflection (what he calls reviewing) in education (see www.reviewing.co.uk). It took a few months to gather the information together, but the result of all that research became a 30 page guide called A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors.

The guide gives a host of practical advice and tips including activities to make reflection engaging and interesting. Here’s a couple activity examples from the guide:

Songs & Rhymes

Sign a song or say a rhyme together that sums up what has occurred (or will occur) during the session.

Example of a rhyme – this is great for working on memory:

The forest is deep.

The forest is wide.

The forest has lots of things inside.

It’s got _________

(This is where you ask the children what did you do or see in the forest today? If someone says, “A squirrel,” for example, you repeat the rhyme and add in “squirrel” at the end. Repeat as many times as your group wants to, adding in a new animal/item each time whilst also repeating in sequence all those that came before it!)

Thumbometer

Have everyone close their eyes then ask a question such as, “How much did you enjoy today?” Learners can rank their experience by either putting their thumbs up for ‘enjoyed it’, thumbs pointing sideways for ‘neutral’, or thumbs pointing down for ‘did not enjoy it’. This is a simple way to gauge the feelings of individuals and groups overall without anyone necessarily being put on the spot. Try to follow this up by giving the opportunity for them to discuss their answer if they want to, either in pairs or with the group. For those whose thumbs were not pointing up, you could ask them, “What would have made it better to make your thumbs go up?”

Object talk

Give your group a prompt and ask them to look for objects that symbolise or represent their response to it. You could do this whilst walking from one place to another or just give everyone time to go explore and look for things. Once everyone has an object, you meet back together and each person presents their object and explains why they chose it.

If you want to learn more about reflection and how to facilitate it, including more activities like the ones shared above, you can download a PDF copy (FREE) or purchase a printed version (£5) of A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors at www.forestschooled.com/resources.

If you feel like you could benefit by doing more than just reading through a 30 page PDF, the printed version of the guide includes an extra 7 Day Reflection Challenge to help make your learning more hands on. The challenge gets you practising reflection by utilising some of the advice and methods given in the guide. The goal is that by practising these techniques on ourselves, we’ll become better at facilitating them for others.

I hope the information shared in this blog and in the guide inspires you to find creative and meaningful ways to encourage reflection in those you work with. I know it’s certainly helped add a whole new dimension to my own outdoor adventures!

About Forest Schooled

Forest Schooled is a blog that explores themes and topics associated with the educational approach of Forest School. Weekly posts link stories about Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature. The premise is that while we’re busy ‘teaching’ children, they are just as busy teaching us. If we take a moment to stop, notice, and reflect we can discover a lot more about ourselves and the world we live in – that’s what it means to get ‘Forest Schooled’.

Find out more or get in touch here…

www.forestschooled.com

facebook.com/forestschooled

twitter.com/forestschooled

instagram.com/forestschooled

Outdoor Blog Roundup – February

Outdoor Play Roundup

We have a lovely mixed bunch for you on the Roundup this month with posts about searching for the first signs of spring to fun with crates. We hope you enjoy!

One of the lovely things about late winter is that some of our first flowers start to appear as spring takes hold and gets ready to take over. Wild about here shared a lovely post about spotting colourful flowers at this time of year including a fabulous spotter sheet that is well worth printing out and taking along on your walks with you.

Everybody knows kids love a cardboard box but who knew about crates? Wonderful fellow outdoor play party co-host Learning for Life shared a great post about the amazing diversity of crates in children’s play. So if you can get hold of any for your garden or your school it certainly seems like they will be well worth the very small investment involved.

obligshadow1

Lastly we loved these grass caterpillars shared by Red Ted Art. They are so very cute and so easy to make. The perfect way to get your kids into gardening.

Over on facebook we discovered a fabulous new Forest Schools Kindergarten based in Sheffield. The will be running The Dangerous Adventure Club over the Easter which sounds like so much fun! We would love to see more of these across the country.

 Please do share your posts with us here at Adventure Togs and tell us how you have been playing outdoors this fortnight.

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Outdoor Blog Roundup – October

Outdoor Play Roundup

It is nearly time to say goodbye to October already and this month we have been spoilt for choice with some fabulous posts going up around the blogging community. Here are just a small selection of our favourite outdoor play posts from this month.

The Boy and Me have been visiting their local pick your own to p-p-p-pick their perfect pumpkin. We think this is a great way to celebrate October and the colours of those pumpkins are just amazing!

We absolutely adored the fabulous Coombe Mill’s post sharing their sensory learning fun with fairies and goblins. There are some great ideas in here for little ones and we especially loved the scattering of fairy food. How cute!

If you are looking for somewhere to visit Mummy M’s Memories recommends Formby Beach. With a forest and beach all in one place it sounds like the perfect place to play and well worth a visit!

Last but absolutely not least Over there to Here have shared a fabulous post about Mushroom hunting. Who knew fungi could be so fun?

Over on facebook and sticking to the fungi theme we were inspired by this video shared by Woodland UK. Will you run down the path of knowledge as fast as you can?

Don’t forget to let us know if any of the posts have inspired you to play outdoors or to share your own ideas with us. You can contact us on our facebook page Adventure Togs or catch up with us on twitter @Adventure Togs

Story Stones

This month’s regular guest post from outdoors mummy blogger, Leila Balin is all about story stones….

Story stonesI’ve known about story stones for a while now although I have never really used them, at work or at home. They have been on my to-do list for a while too but I have to admit, I haven’t got round to it. Then this week, Little Man got the opportunity to play with some for the first time and I realised how much I have to bump them up the list!

My friend uses them in her forest school sessions and we headed over to play in the woods with her. At first Little Man was quite shy but he soon took to the story stones and they were a huge feature in his play. He even sat listening intently as an older child lined up a collection and acted out his own story with them.

So what are story stones? They are simply smooth rounded stones that have a picture on them. The pictures can be painted on, they can be stickers or you could use decoupage to add the images.  You then leave them out for small hands to find and encourage them to delve deep into their imagination and create wild and crazy stories with them. Many children I have seen using them do so by acting out their stories rather than just telling them, which also makes them a great way to encourage active play. Little Man took a particular liking to a dinasour story stone which was then carried around the woods with him as he ran from dinasours, lions and snakes.

At 2 and a half I wasn’t sure Little Man would really get the gist of story stones. Although he already has a wild and active imagination I wasn’t sure a few stones with some pictures on would really get his imagination fired up but they absolutely did and without any explanation from a grown up either. Imaginary doors were opened for him and he forgot his shyness and played in the woods with all sorts of stories running through his play. There were dinasours, trains, snakes and dragons, it was magical to watch.

So what am I waiting for? Absolutely nothing now! It will be a trip down to a lovely stony beach to collect a bag full of lovely smooth rounded stones and then I will be on the hunt for stickers and pictures that can be pasted onto them. Little Man can then get them out and play with them whenever he chooses. I can’t wait to see where his imagination will take us next!

Have you used story stones yet? Will you be giving them a go?

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

10 Ways to Play in the Forest

10 ways to play in the forestNow is the perfect time to go exploring in your local forest. The canopy is starting to thicken, the forest floor is a carpet of colour and the sunlight seeping through the trees creates a magical light that makes walking in the forest feel otherworldly. Just stepping into a forest brings out the kids in us and we’re sure it does you too. Here are 10 great ways to play in the forest

Make you very own stick man, or take it further and make a whole tribe with huts and have some small world play in the forest.

Write the alphabet with sticks and other items found in the woods. The first one to get all the letters wins. You could expand this by creating shapes or even finding natural shapes and letters in the forest. Go on a treasure hunt of letters, numbers, shapes and colours.

Try out some tracking. Choose a small area of woodland, preferably with a feature in the middle, such as a small group of trees and shrubs. Mark out a boundary around it with stones or large twigs then get your children to explore the area just by sight, so no touching. Then send them away to play for 10 minutes while you make some subtle changes, such as snap a hanging twig, flatten down an area of grass, hang some hair or a feather in a bush. Then get the kids back to discover what is different. This one might take some time to prepare for and set up but kids love it and it can really get everyone paying attention to changes in their surroundings.

Play hide and seek. The forest makes a perfect spot for this game. For safety it is always a good idea to agree a boundary and a key word before you start. No-one can hide outside the boundary and if anyone gets in trouble or the game needs to end then you can shout the key word for everyone to come out of hiding. Beware though, the forest offers so many great places to hide you could all be there a while!

Den building. Well this has to be a given when playing in the forest. Every good game needs a base. There is also something so satisfying about personalising it, making it yours. If your forest is a regular haunt then why not visit your den on a regular basis and make it your special spot for a picnic.

Discover woodland birds. Just stop, close your eyes and listen. Birds are singing loud and clear this time of year and if you take the time to listen it can seem as if they are singing just for you. Take out some binoculars and see what you can spot. Why not build a nest big enough for all of you and then take a #natureselfie.

Climb a tree. This is another ‘must be done’. Climbing trees has so many benefits for children. Children learn their limits and build their confidence climbing trees but it can also be a relationship builder. Try letting them go a little bit further than you normally would while guiding them along the way or get your kids to talk you through climbing a tree. Get them to stand at the bottom and help you get to a safe spot to take in the view.

Tell a story. Stories take on a new meaning in magical forest surroundings. Let your imagination run wild. Why not start a family story where the kids get to help build the story. Alternatively you can stick with a classic and search out the Gruffalo or go on a bear hunt.

Let them run wild. Sit back and relax while the kids take the lead. Let them go wild and don’t interfere. Take the chance to enjoy your favourite book or simply revel in watching your children blossom.

Explore the flora. Discover all the different flowers and make up stories about the fairies that might live on them. See how many you can identify, how many different colours you can find or how many different shape petals they have. Flowers can also be a great subject for photos if your little ones like to get behind the camera.

What are your favourite ways to play in the forest? We would love to hear what you get up to. Share your pictures on our facebook page or tweet us@adventuretogs with the hashtag #adventurebugs