When I was at school we weren’t allowed to get muddy. If it rained at lunchtime everyone had to go into a steamy wet hall and try and burn off excess energy using nothing but weird, multi-coloured educational based games…
Maybe things have changed in the (relatively) brief time since I was at primary school (it was only 13 years ago…). Maybe Bristol is different from Northern Ireland. Or maybe some specific schools just do things very differently. I was very intrigued by a volunteering project I heard of through Bristol Hub, called ‘Forest Schools‘.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time at school, I think I turned out alright and we did occasionally get to go outside to learn, but I think if my school had done Forest Schools I would probably have been the next Ray Mears by now. Activities include (but are not limited to) lighting a fire every week and using it to cook (marshmallows, eggy bread, hot chocolate etc.), feeding and looking after chickens, building dens from old palates and parachutes, manual labour (e.g. spreading mulch), general digging in a big muddy pit and looking for creepy crawlies. They do all of this within the grounds of the school in one corner behind the football pitch. So many schools could do the same thing I’m sure…
Here’s just 3 things that surprised me about Forest Schools:
- They actually light a fire. In the school grounds. Every week. This gives me great hope that there is still common sense in the world and we don’t have to hide in dark corners wrapped in anti-carcinogenic bubble wrap
- They do it every week, come rain or shine. In our second week of helping out it chucked it down (was probably Storm Hamish or something), with some nice strong gusts of wind just to really cool you down. Forest Schools was still on, and apparently the muddier it is the better
- The kids actually (appear to) really enjoy it. I seem to recall as a kid thinking there were millions of other things I would rather do than spread mulch, but apparently kids in Easton love it. Fair play to them. Who would have thought you would have more volunteers than you need to clean out the chicken poo?
I’ve been thinking about how to outreach Geography quite a lot recently and it’s something I would like to get really involved with during my PhD. Forest Schools is giving me an end-member of how you need to break down your explanations of the world into simple terms. Why it’s currently raining in Bristol, why woodlice eat wood and how the sun was formed are just a few of the questions I’ve had to answer as simply as possible in the past few weeks.
I heard that outreach is great if it is aimed at school level as you have a captive audience. Forest Schools is helping me understand how it is best to explain science to that audience. And it is getting me out into ‘the field’ every Monday, which is every geographer’s dream really, whatever the weather.