One of the essential elements of Forest School is that it is child led and our role as adults is to support the enquiry and interests of the children who attend our sessions.
When I started on my Forest School journey, this was one of the things that I found most challenging. When I have worked with children in my previous roles, and as a mother, it was often very tempting to want to support a child by ‘doing it for them’. We may think we are helping (or more often than not, trying to get things done quickly), but in fact we are limiting their problem-solving skills and their chance to learn for themselves.
I know that I am guilty of wanting things to be ‘perfect’ and ‘correct’, but at Forest School, I feel that these need to be put aside. For me, going through the process and enjoying what you are doing, whether it turns out the way you want, is much more important. This is particularly difficult when working with young children and sometimes our parents worry about their children not being able to do it ‘right’. Quite often, when we allow the children to have a go or show them a technique to use, they surprise us as to what they can achieve. When something is challenging for them, and they achieve it, it is a pleasure to see how proud they are of themselves.
This week lots of our children chose to make dragons to ride on and explore the woods. They stuffed socks with newspaper for the head, attached it to a stick and then proceeded to decorate them with eyes, scales, ears and fire, supported by their parents. Allowing young children to fix objects together is often a challenge. Showing the children how to twist the pipe cleaners together like ‘turning a key’ is a great skill to learn, developing fine motor skills and co-ordination and so we often try to incorporate opportunities for this in our sessions. The dragons did not have to have two eyes, one on either side of the head or perfect wings. The children had their own ideas about how they wanted their dragon to be and as adults, it takes great patience, understanding and the ability to hold back from things being ‘perfect’ to allow the children the freedom to imagine and create.
It is by making mistakes or encountering difficulties where they can really learn about themselves and their capabilities. Discussions around our feelings when we encounter challenges, whether this is whilst working by ourselves or in groups, are incredibly valuable and allow our children to grow.
Although it goes against what many in society feel, we try not to tell children to share or say sorry during their play, but encourage them to discuss how they and others feel together. This enables them to make their own decisions and develop important social skills in order to manage situations for themselves. This is not to say that we don’t encounter difficulties, however, with weekly sessions in a familiar but challenging environment, the children that we work with during Forest School sessions are able to make good progress, develop empathy and work together.
So next time you are working with a child or even another adult, take a moment to hold back and observe what can be imagined, learned and created when given the freedom to explore.