Another Tuesday has been and gone, and that can mean only one thing…. Another afternoon out in the woods with the lads with the behavioural issues. Honestly, I think I need to come up with some other way of referencing these guys. Saying that they have behavioural issues seems less and less relevant as the weeks go on. Perhaps it’s me getting used to them, but I don’t think that’s the case. If you were to drop me in to this group tomorrow without telling me anything of their backgrounds, I really don’t think I’d rush to any conclusions about their behaviour. The more weeks that go by, the better they seem to be. Sure they’re teenage lads out in the woods and they’re not little angels, but they’re doing really well.
This week we started off as always by getting a fire going before the lads turned up, and they were munching down burgers in short order once they arrived. It might seem a little odd to start a session with food, but I think with this group it’s actually a great way of bringing them all together and separating the pre-forest day from their afternoon in the woods. It has the obvious benefits of keeping everyone fairly quiet for a little while, and lifting the mood of the group before they get stuck in to the session. Weeks ago we had originally attempted to do something with them before they ate, but inevitably they wanted to get back to eat. Afterwards there was little time left to do anything. By eating first, it leaves a the majority of the session unbroken, and allows things to flow more naturally. A simple idea, but a good one.
It’s almost a tradition now that the chaps get the hammocks out, and one I’m happy for them to instigate. When I first started with this group, the section of the site they were using was exposed to the elements with no tree cover. On my suggestion we’ve moved to a different part of the site in the last few weeks, and it’s actually since then that the guys have started to make big leaps of progress. I’m not going to argue that this is the only thing that’s changed, but I certainly think it’s a contributing factor. I put a hammock up the first week we moved, and it’s been a massive hit ever since. Anyone who’s ever spent time in a hammock can probably tell you why. So, I guess it’s important to always be looking at your site and using the most appropriate area for the group/weather/activity. Like all things in life, you shouldn’t necessarily do a thing the same way, just because it’s always been done that way. Take a look around you, and decide what’s best for yourself.
After lunch, and some acrobatic hammock-ing, some of the lads wanted to have another go at lighting their own fires. After their successes last week, I think they wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it again. I have been thinking about these sessions as the weeks have gone on, and I’ve mulled over the possibility that some of the things we do could seem a little repetitive. If you’ve been reading these blogs regularly, I’m sure you’ll have noticed a pattern emerging! However, I think it’s important to separate what my feelings would be in this situation, from the feelings these guys have about their time here. After years of doing this kind of stuff for my own enjoyment, hammocking and fire lighting could be a little bit old hat, but for these guys it’s all new and exciting. They only get one chance to do this each week, and I’m starting to get the impression that they’ve been looking forward to doing so. Repeating things like this is their way of claiming their time here as their own. It’s their way of enjoying the space, and it’s their way of becoming more secure in the environment. When you look at it like this, there’s nothing ‘old hat’ about it.
There’s another benefit to repetition in these sessions, and that is that it allows the lads to experiment with their learning. By taking something they’ve previously learned and playing with it, it helps to reinforce the knowledge and build on it further. It becomes a life lesson, rather than just an exercise in remembering something. Take the lads above as an example… They’d obviously raided the school toilets before they arrived here, as they had a pile of tissue paper to try to light. We don’t use toilet paper to light fires where I come from, but they wanted to give it a go, so give it a go they did. Only by allowing them the freedom to experiment this way did they discover that it’s isn’t the best tinder around. They also (re)learned once they’d burned all their tissue, the importance of collecting something else to KEEP the fire going. It was great to watch though, and we were able to revisit what we’d discussed last week. We talked further about why some of their fires were successful and others weren’t, we talked about the fire triangle, which materials burned well, and why some fires are so smokey (see photo). I think the most important part of this particular little exercise was just asking them what they thought. Why did THEY think something worked or failed. I never once gave them the answers, I only ever facilitate them making these discoveries for themselves. I think perhaps that is an important distinction between forest school and regular school. Particularly for this group. I think it was fitting that they had a smoked marshmallow as a reward for their perseverance.
After our fire-lighting and marshmallow experiments, some of the lads decided they wanted to go on an epic walk and they wanted me to go with them. That’s actually happening more and more, and it’s nice to feel like the guys are accepting me. I’m becoming the ‘responsible’ adult of choice around the place 🙂 I think it’s because I’m a big fan of letting them discover the forest on their own terms. So long as they’re safe, I don’t really ever tell them they can’t do something. I guess they’re not especially used to that.
Anyway, a-walking we went….
We managed to find a pretty cool natural den amongst the tangled roots of a holly bush, and the little stream ran right by it. The sunlight came dappling through the branches and the place seemed pretty magical. I don’t think I was the only one to appreciate it either. The rest of the lads were brought over to investigate, and pretty quickly I ended up with all of the group to watch over. Obviously at that point they wanted to separate, so I’m left with a decision to make about where I go and with who. I really think perhaps one of the five other adults on site should have dragged themselves away from the fire, but hey… It’s a lesson learned.
The great thing about coming here every week, and having some of the same lads every week is that I’m starting to appreciate their personalities. One of the group who came on our epic walk is probably seen as difficult. He’s always the one we seem to get warned about, but as the weeks have gone on he seems to have calmed down and he’s becoming more independent. He’s becoming more responsible with it, but I think he’s the type of guy who likes his own company and he does have a tendency to wander off on his own. He doesn’t have much patience for waiting for other people. He’s definitely starting to appreciate the woods more, but he wants to do it at his own pace. To some degree that’s happening with every member of the group. As they become more comfortable with their surroundings, they’re becoming more comfortable with each other. They get along much better now than they ever did, but this new-found comfort brings with it a desire to push their individual boundaries. As a group they’re getting closer, but as individuals they’re becoming more diverse. As individuals they’re getting easier to handle, but as a group they’re getting harder to manage. Something to think about for future sessions.
To top off the afternoon, the group decided to investigate the ‘pond’ that we have on site. I use the word pond very loosely. It’s better described as a fetid bog of brown mess. It’s only inches deep, but in sections the sticky mud is well over welly boot height, as just about all members of the group took great pleasure in finding out. I think perhaps, as they were squelching up and down deeper in the mud, they were expecting me to tell them off. Maybe they were disappointed that I didn’t, but as I mentioned before, I like to let them make their own mistakes and discover things in their own way. As I stood and watched them stomping in the mud, I noticed one lad who was totally absorbed by the whole business of squelching. He spent a fair bit of time testing the sinking feeling, and the pull of the mud on his boots as he dragged his leg out. It occurred to me that this was perhaps the first time he’d ever been in mud like this, and I was pleased to see that he seemed to be enjoying himself in such a simple way. However I was even more pleased to realise that it was the end of the session, and cleaning these lads up was not my responsibility. It really is a pleasure to help these lads find their feet in the forest, it’s just a pity that they find them in four inches of stinking bog water 🙂
It’s a wonderful time of year right now and as the winter finally gives way to spring, the forest begins to colour with new life. I’m starting to notice more green leaves each week, as more and more species dare to poke their heads above ground and take their chance in the world. Taking a walk in the woods at this time of year affords you the pleasure of seeing the world come alive, but it’s also a great opportunity to see some of the fungi and ground dwelling species that will soon be covered with brambles and fern in the coming weeks. As I walked around the woods with the lads today, I chanced upon a few fungi which I will soon attempt to ID, along with shoots of new growth all around. Here are some photos. If anyone can help with identification of the fungi, I’d be most appreciative. I’ve taken a guess at some of them, and labelled things below. Take a look and see if you can help 🙂