“Hello Mr Woodlouse, would you like to come into our bug cafe?” I asked, perhaps a little unconvincingly to a group of infants who had been using leaves, twigs and dried grass to make mini structures for little creatures.
“He hasn’t got a mouth. He can’t talk,” one 4-year-old boy quite rightly informed me. With that, he trotted off on his tiny little legs over to the tree and began shimmying his way up it no problem.
“Am I allowed any higher than this?” he said, fluttering his big, blue eyes, already way above the height of my head, leaning over a branch.
“No, you just stay there,” I replied, mustering some pretence of calm. By this time I was hovering under the tree, pale-white palms ready to catch if anything happened. He was deeply disappointed. This boy did not have time bug hotels. This boy had adventures to live out. Sticks to wave around, ropes to swing from. Forest School Leaders to worry.
And who was I to stop him?
The biggest challenge that I am facing in my self-led Forest School training at the moment is how to manage my own anxiety so as not to taint the learning of the young people whose education I am supposed to be facilitating. Obviously, a key part of our role as Forest School Leaders is keeping everybody safe and I cannot stress enough the importance of this. However, it’s a delicate balance between maintaining the safety of the group and allowing them space to take risks which may expose them to failure or disappointment.
Failure, as I have learnt as a teacher and student, is an essential component to learning. We have to “not get it right” sometimes in order to learn how to get it right. We can’t be expected just to get it right from the offing, otherwise we wouldn’t be truly learning. This is something I personally have struggled with all of my life and it has prevented me from taking many risks which may have led to important learning experiences.
Of course there’s a difference between failure that results in learning and falling out of a tree and splitting your head open. But this is where the difficulty lies. Our task as Forest School Leaders is to be discerning in such a way that we can distinguish between when a situation is truly dangerous or whether it is an acceptable risk which could lead to some good learning. Climbing the tree a little higher is not likely to lead to falling out of it (most children are perfectly capable of managing their own risk, especially if we endow them with this responsibility) and is more likely to result in a sense of achievement and increased physical dexterity- to name but a few of the benefits- but it’s hard to put your own feelings of fear for the child aside and let them be.
To become discerning in this way we must truly observe the children with all of our senses and have faith in our instincts. It’s a tough call, but in terms of creating a more resilient, self-confident and curious generation; it’s worth it.
This week I pursued my own risks and pushed the boundaries of my own learning by undertaking my Forest School Level 3 practical assessment. Despite all of my frustrations and silly mistakes over the past seven months, at last I have made it and I cannot tell you how good it feels.
Now on to finish the portfolio……