There's been several moments recently that will stay with me. In the last sessions before half term I cooked popcorn with children on our open fire pit at Dunkirk Primary, in our Discovery Garden, its a great way of making a snack for a group of children to share and the corn is gently flavoured by the smoke of the fire. I've been using my popcorn maker (see above photo) for years and I never tire of the delight and the descriptive language that comes from children (and adults!) as they cook with me and watch the corn popping. But on top of all of that, the chance to slow down, to help create a safe (small) fire to cook on, to contemplate and to safely learn about fire is such a special thing - the children's observations were wonderful and the sense of community created by something like sharing food around a fire is huge. Because we use the fire pit constantly as a gathering space - whether a fire is lit or not - we always use it with the same set of specific (and very visual) safety rules, which means the children become used to a very clear set of rules that keep them safe when we do light a fire with them (and its one of the parts of my forest school training that I loved because its all about exploring risks and understanding fire in order to make something possible).
A couple of weeks previously we'd had an INSET day at Dunkirk, looking at creativity across the curriculum; I'd led elements of this and also was busy documenting the day. Parmjit Sagoo, the drama and yoga practitioner at the school (who works in a similar way to me, alongside staff and pupils looking at different ways of bringing creativity, big questions and reflection into all aspects of the school) had led an incredibly inspiring session in the morning looking at some big questions around educational spaces and what we seek to provide children with. Staff had firstly explored notions of educational spaces that they found uninspiring and difficult - and then they looked at spaces that filled them with possibilities, inspiration, a thirst for learning and a joy of discovery.... Because this was done in a way that enabled thoughts that immediately leapt to mind to be shared, it brought out some very pertinent and important issues. It was incredibly heart-warming to note the amount of staff who felt outside spaces exploring nature were crucial for children's learning and well-being (I'm sure this is an illustration of all the long-term work we explore at the school and the ways we imbed the outside work into the rest of the curriculum).
Time for reflection is crucial for staff in schools, but in the busy world of education it can easily be overlooked; I think its so important to find time to celebrate, to share, to examine and to really look at what has been happening and thereby explore where you might want to take things next.
When working outside with children its often the unexpected things that really grab their interest and ignite their curiosity - things you can't necessarily plan for. For me, this is one of the things that makes working outside so wonderful, and I'd always want to be able to be responsive to these unexpected things and share the children's discoveries. Forest School certainly is an ethos that is about working in a child-led way. In many ways this boils down to how adults have set up the environment - or which environment they have chosen to take the children to. An outdoor space that is high on fascination, awe and wonder - and thereby FILLED with amazing learning opportunities - is a space where tiny creatures can be found, where plants can be touched and seed pods opened, its a place where you can lie and watch the clouds, where you can dig in the dirt, where you can find treasure, where you can find yourself...