Category Archives: Jane’s Blog

Forest Leader Training Day 3

Day 3 of FL training began with learning to tie another knot – this time a clove hitch, a light hearted start to the day.

Forest School “teaching” aims to be student centred and we entered into a discussion of the different types of learners and how we, as FL student, are experiencing and engaging with the process of learning. Deeper discussion on learning theories and theorists and I was pleased to hear some new names as well as the well known traditional ones such as Piaget, Skinner and Froebel.

Our identification task today was wild flowers, a real favourite of mine and one which has a significant emotional connection to my dad. I loved searching around the woodland environment looking for spots of colour and was amazed to find so many when at first glance it had seemed that there were only some bluebells around. We spotted and identified garlic mustard, wood sorrel (we’ve been spotting that in our own woods for a few weeks now), wood anemones, dog violets, speedwell and red campions.

We used our knot skills to put up a shelter, my group took some time getting our shelter right. Our first attempt just didnt do what we all wanted it to. We learned some important skills in communication and teamwork getting to our final version – a simple but effective shelter for us to sit and relax.

As we headed back to lunch we took a quick time out visit to see the amethyst cave, a stunning below ground level box walled in amethysts. Quite stunning.

Our afternoon session was focussed on making in the woods with tools and clay. My group were the environmental police for the day, a pressured task so make sure all participants were working to make their items with careful thought on our impact on the woodland environment. This certainly made me reflect on how we treat our woodland. It’s a delicate balance trying to promote interest whilst also wanting to protect the environment. I’m not sure if we are getting that balance quite right just yet.

The first 3 days of training have been very enjoyable and certainly thought provoking. Reflecting on practice is always such a worthwhile experience and having time to do that almost a luxury. I’ve certainly come away with not only lots of homework but lots to think about.

Forest Leader Training Day 2

Another beautiful day at Jupiter Artland began with repeating our getting to know you task, this time more light heartedly and, with relationships already more developed, in a more relaxed atmosphere.

We repeated our knot tying and I was pleased to be able to recall the processes from yesterday! The course leaders continually highlighting the teaching methods and skills used to link into how we will, in turn, use these with our learners. I particularly like the way the tasks are set up to support the learning process. I am conscious that, as a learner, I am anxious to get things right and not to fail. It is worthwhile recalling that these feeling of stress and anxiety may be present in those who are learning from me and that one of my tasks is to acknowledge these feelings and support my learners in their learning journey to make it a positive one.

Our first session in the forest was spent in a special spot of our choosing and with time there just to “be”. I chose to sit in an area of sunlight peeking through the trees and to listen to the bird song above. I was intrigued to hear so many different songs yet only to be able to spot one bird.

We made picture frames using knots learned earlier then used them to frame an area of ground and try to see how many mini beasts we could find in it. The number of tiny creatures living beneath the decomposing leaves was amazing, This led to an activity of assessing connectedness, how all aspects of nature impact on each other and how, as humans, we should interact with nature to minimise our impact.

A significant task was to conduct an initial risk assessment of the site. We looked at the individual layers of the woodland area, the ground level, the intermediate level, the shrub level and the canopy level. It is worth remembering that our learners in particular are so much smaller than us and that getting down to their level is important so that we can see risks from their perspective. Risk is subjective and we all have different interpretations of what is acceptable or not but we all agreed that risk is part of the learning experience and should not be removed.

We were asked to choose our 3 main reasons for why we believe in learning in nature. I chose *fun, *developing life-skills and *developing connections and respect for the natural environment. It was so hard to choose just 3!

We finished the day with some creative endeavours, I made a little munchkin man with a string vest and a caterpillar using my knot skills from earlier. It was great to see all of the other creations and admire their inventiveness.

The day finished with more reflections on the learning process and also on the necessity to evidence learning in paperwork. That is the daunting part and we all agreed that, while necessary, it is not the essence of why we are taking part in the experience – that being to develop our skills to improve experiences for our learners.

Forest Leader Training Day 1

Today I began another learning journey, this time towards my Forest Leader Level 8 (Leader) qualification. Training couldn’t have begun on a more beautiful day to be outside in the stunning venue of Jupiter Artland. I’d never been there before and I have to say the day started stressfully as, despite being able to see the centre, I couldn’t find the way in! I arrived some 30 mins late – and slightly relieved to hear that others had had similar experience. The first day of any training is always challenging, in new surroundings and with new people. I became Jane the jumping jaguar joining a lynx, marmoset, monster, snake and other “animals” as we played the trying to remember everyone’s name game!

Being part of a new group is something that challenges me personally. I’m not a natural socialiser and meeting new people and going through the initial getting to know you conversations is something I find difficult and emotionally draining. At the same time however there is an excitement in wondering which, if any, of these new people I will gel with and make new friends with. Who are the people I will come to rely on throughout this new journey? For the purposes of getting to know one another I became Jane the jumping Jaguar and, believe me, Jane is not a natural jumping jaguar, that is way out of my comfort zone, but I hope that, introductions and Day 1 out of the way, we will soon get to know each other and connections and relationships will develop.

Reflecting back on day 1 at the end of the session my immediate thought was on the beauty of the day and surroundings. I am thankful to have had that experience and introduction to the course. As far as the course and learning it was good to put myself back in the position of being a learner, that is always grounding and humbling. One of the main reasons I love working outdoors with “my” children is that there is an equity of experiences. Often I am learning just as much as the children and I believe that makes the relationship between adult and child much stronger and reinforces the life long aspect of learning for children. There are always a lot of “I don’t know but lets see if we can find out” type of answers to questions and, while that at first may not sound very satisfying, on more reflection hopefully provides children with experiences which develop problem solving, patience, empathy, research skills and resilience.

One of the tasks we were given for Day 1 was to look at the 6 principles of the Forest School ethos and choose which resonated most for me personally. I chose the long term aspect of experiences, the continued and regular access to a natural space as my number 1 priority. For me it is the continuation of experience in all weathers and all seasons that brings the outdoor environment to life for children. It allows them to develop an understanding and appreciation of how things work together. I am immediately thinking of how our children are developing an understanding of the relationship between rainfall and the amount of water in the woods and how that impacts on the mud, the burn and also on the paths throughout the woodland. They have direct and relevant experiences of how the water erodes the paths and seen how paths can be build over pipes and drainage tubes to alleviate the erosion. Another direct and relevant experience is the necessity to be dressed appropriately for the conditions. No waterproofs mean you are more likely to get wet. Short sleeves and trousers reveal more skin which is more likely to get scratched or stung. Not enough layers mean it can be very cold in the winter. These experiences all contribute to children’s developing independence and resilience. Getting wet is not a disaster in the summer months but can be incredibly uncomfortable and even distressing in the colder winter months.

As far as activities on Day 1 we spent a short amount of time learning to tie 2 different knots, a simple knot and a figure of 8 knot. The figure of 8 knot was a new one to me and took some practice. We “played” a camera game

Writing and School

Around this time of year I often am asked about getting children ready for school and how to be sure they will be ok. It’s a stressful time for parents and sometimes the buzz around getting ready to “go to the big school” can be counter productive with children becoming overly anxious. I always try to reassure parents that children generally find going to school far easier than their parents 😉

One subject of stress in getting ready for school is worrying about whether a child can write their own name. This is historically something many parents feel is a necessity and almost a badge children can wear, proving they are ready for school.

In consequence I thought it might be worth writing somethings down about how children develop the skills to be able to write.

Long ago when I was first studying child development I was told that children develop from the inside to the outside. So, the first muscles to develop are the core body muscles and we see that when babies first start to be able to sit up and balance themselves without falling over. The progression here is that the muscles closer to the body develop before those further away. So, shoulder muscles before elbow muscles before wrist and before fingers. A child will not have the dexterity to use their fingers well until they have first developed strength and control in the larger arm muscles.

As early years professionals we are looking to monitor children’s use of muscles (among other things!) and provide activities that promote their development.

It surprises many parents that activities such as climbing, sweeping, digging and sawing are actually pre-curser activities to mark making and writing. These activities build strength and control in the large muscles which will subsequently allow children to begin to develop the smaller ones. The smaller muscles are the trickiest ones to develop but again there are a range of fine motor skills we use to develop the complex set of muscles and joints in the hand. Play dough and similar soft squidgy manipulation type activities are a great way of encouraging development while songs such as Tommy Thumb or signing in Makaton encourage children to isolate their fingers and manipulate them individually. 

Writing however is not all about hand and arm muscles, there is also brain development required to allow proper coordination. The most well known form is probably hand-eye coordination which allows us to control hand movements by sight. Children need activities such as cutting, pouring, throwing, catching and writing to develop this skill. Bilateral coordination is the control of both sides of your body. Its generally fairly straightforward to do the same thing at the same time with both sides of your body, for example jumping, or to be able to do the same thing at different times with both sides of the body, eg walking where both feet go forward at different times. Harder is doing something completely different with either side of the body. Activities such as stirring a mixture in a bowl with one hand while holding the bowl still with the other is an example of activities which will develop bilateral coordination. 

Its fair to say that there is a lot of body development required before a child is ready to write and, as always, some children develop these skills long before others. Its also fair to say that forcing a child to write before they are ready is counter productive. We want writing to be something a child is keen to do and if we push them too hard before they have developed the necessary control then children’s confidence can suffer and they can develop stress and anxiety about their abilities. We want to encourage children to want to write as well to be able to write. In playgroup we aim to encourage children to be involved in many different activities, developing not only physical skills but also their social and emotional ones. Our aim is that, by the time a child starts school, these will all contribute towards the child developing the skills required to write not only their name but also to having the creativity, imagination and concentration to write far more. 

Ofsted report 2017/2018 recommends a Common Sense approach to Risk

Good to see a common sense approach to risk noted in the The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2017/18. Those of us in early years have the challenge of knowing that we need to provide young children with a degree of risk and challenge in order for them to develop not only physical, but also emotional and vital life skills while being under pressure from many sides to keep children safe.

“Physical development in early years

The pressures of performance tables and Ofsted are not the only things that can lead to providers compromising on the substance of their provision. The gold plating of regulations and, in particular, health and safety requirements can do much the same.

We know that in the early years, a crucial part of preparing children for school is developing their muscular strength and dexterity. The best nurseries recognise this and encourage children to be busy and active.

But we also know that in other settings this good practice is stifled by undue concerns about the risk and safety of such activities. While it is a basic expectation of any institution that cares for children to carry out proper risk assessments, some level of risk is an essential part of childhood. Without it, we stifle children’s natural inquisitiveness and their opportunities to learn and develop and deny them those opportunitiesto build that muscular strength and dexterity. We hope that nurseries and other childcare settings take a common sense approach to managing risk.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/761606/29523_Ofsted_Annual_Report_2017-18_041218.pdf