Every Thursday I volunteer as a 'Forest Schools' assistant with a local school. Forest Schools is an initiative which aims to get children out of the classroom in order to learn about the natural world, to learn how to use tools, to take responsible risks and to cooperate. I'm working with children of only five years old.
Doing the volunteering has been such a learning curve. I don't know any children of that age - so I didn't know what they could and could not do (and I'm still finding out). I've also found assisting the children such a challenge - it is so practical, and involves common sense and confidence (both of which I sometimes lack). With Forest Schools, the idea is to let children take some responsibility, so it was initially difficult not to over-direct them when they pick up a huge, dangerous-looking stick. But I'm learning.
Up until now we've just been using the school grounds as our outdoor classroom - to get them familiarised with the routine. This involves changing into wellies and Forest Schools kit (which seems to take an age!), opening the Forest School door with an imaginary key, and returning to the teacher when the owl whistle goes. The most important thing, however, is setting up the Forest School boundary - with its red and white tape - to ensure the children don't run off. It was very important, initially, to get this properly established.
Over the past few weeks we've been making collages with autumn leaves, learning about nocturnal animals, and learning about the habits of squirrels by hiding and finding conkers. But this week was different. We all walked to a tiny area of woodland in a nearby school.
When the children got into the wood, they were very excited, and ran off in all directions. I tried very hard to keep an eye on my three children - but they soon were hidden amongst the trees. Almost immediately there were children climbing, scrambling in the mud and generally enjoying being outside. Some were a little tentative and worried about getting scratched. Others were swinging from branches.
The children were so excited that we had no time for an activity and spent the whole time playing and climbing trees. However, quite a bit had been learned. By the end of the session we had found a huge worm and heard from one child how they made compost from peelings, we'd found several mushrooms and we'd made a teasle and leaf 'soup'. There were also several kids who had never climbed a tree before climbing. It was great to see. The best bit was when I saw one of the children call out and help another less able child across a ditch (she was stuck and a little bewildered by the whole thing).
It's fascinating see all the different children's abilities and personalities and how they interact. But I am now exhausted after only two hours!
What I learnt from being a student
3 days ago