Chatting to a friend this week about the way I feel I should be impacting on the woodland, reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend about 6 months ago. She gave me two words which sum up everything I do, light touch. For me these words embody everything, from the way we use the woodland to how we treat one another. My background is in nature conservation. When managing nature reserves I’ve always struggled with human impact and disturbance on wild places. It is instrumental in my practice to tread lightly and respectfully on the earth. The ethos I wrote is my vision for Woodlanders Forest School and everything I do feeds into achieving it. Looking back there isn't a strong enough message of how I use the woodland.
I continually have an internal battle, a deep belief that we all need to be more connected to the natural world but it should never be at her expense. From the outset of Woodlanders I looked for a permanent site. Somewhere I could leave resources and have some built structures to climb, a mud kitchen and some shelter. I didn’t find it and I’m so glad I didn’t. It goes against my light touch values. To operate in the way I do I need a large woodland where we can move around to reduce the impact we have. At no point should trees get damaged from over use, ground become compacted or ground flora damaged. These are sensitive systems and once the balance is tipped it’s hard to put it back. Saying that they are also robust and respond positively to a certain amount of ground disturbance. I always ensure the pressure we exert is minimal and I rest areas to ensure they aren't overly impacted. The natural world shouldn't be inaccessible. We can disturb the ground at the end of a zip line or loosen the soil to use in the mud kitchen. With my ecological and land management experience I know what is beneficial and what is damaging. By moving around a large woodland we limit any impact and can rest areas that need it. So from seeing other Forest Schools with fixed sites and thinking that’s what I wanted I’ve naturally come to what sits right with me. We will continue to be nomadic. Exploring the amazing ecosystem of Shining Cliff Wood and only taking what we need. This too has its advantages. I have no choice but to follow the children and only take what fits in a wheelbarrow. I often think our best days are what a friend calls a rucksack session. The children also get to explore so many different areas from rocky slopes to mature trees and streams to woodland glades in this fantastic ancient woodland. As they get to know areas and we are all confident in their abilities we will start to range through the woodland even more.
I have a hugely reflective practice. I continually look at what worked and what didn't, what children are drawn to and what they are not, what the wood has to offer and the influence of the seasons. I am always guided by my two biggest inspirations, the children and the natural world. Thank you to those people who listen to my ramblings and help my muddled thoughts galvanise. It helps me cement what I have bubbling away in my head. So I’ll be sticking with loading my car for each session. I’ll be sticking with the several hours planning tailored for who is coming. And I’ll certainly be sticking with my trusty wheelbarrow. I’ll continue doing things the harder, more rewarding way and following my head and heart. This is Woodlanders Forest School and what makes us unique and truly rooted to a place and connected to each other.
It’s time to go back to my ethos and to adjust it to include what has evolved. For now here is my ethos and my vision for Woodlanders Forest School:
There is nowhere quite like woodland to learn, it immerses you in a natural space that cannot be equalled in any other habitat. At the heart of Woodlanders Forest School is the respect and understanding of the natural world and each other. We believe that Forest School is for everyone no matter who you are, where you are from or what you believe. We celebrate our differences and we believe there is something to learn from everyone.
We encourage free exploration of the woodland which is our primary tool to learn. On our Forest School sessions children will naturally learn as they play. Our sessions are dynamic to suit both the individual and the group as a whole. We understand the process is more important than the end result.
What sets Forest School apart is emotional development and reflection. Woodlanders Forest School encourages care for everyone, listening to each other and sharing our feelings. We support everyone to work through their emotions and understanding how to resolve situations. Forest School offers a holistic approach to foster social, physical, intellectual, communication, emotional and spiritual development.
Risky play is central to what we do. We support children taking achievable risks in a safe environment fostering independence and confidence building resilience and self esteem. We share our successes and we learn when things don’t go to plan. We learn from each other and encourage the sharing of skills. The leader acts as a mentor to give children a safe place to be supported and grow.
Woodlanders Forest School strives to deliver our ethos. Having fun outdoors is what you will see on the surface but look a little deeper and there is more to climbing trees, building dens, playing with sticks and mud.