Rothiemay and District Playgroup ‘Forest Skills’ Blog
In November 2015 we started running a ‘Forest Skills’ session at Rothiemay Playgroup. Every Friday morning come rain or shine we hold our entire session in a local wooded area where the parents drop off their children at 9am and pick them up muddy, wet, tired, and full of stories and smiles at 12.10pm.

In the week running up to our first ‘Forest Skills’ session the children helped us to risk assess some of the things they would be doing in the forest. This was an adult led group discussion where we discussed everything from safety when climbing on stones and up trees to being safe around fire and how to carry sticks safely. Some of the children’s comments included “You might get hurt with sticks and stones.” “Might be too heavy.” “Might get a splinter.” “You might get burnt if you touch it.” “Smoke – don’t put your hand through it, don’t look close with your eyes.”

Our first session in the forest was met with a great deal of excitement from both the children and their parents. We headed into the forest and busied ourselves with the first task of creating a ‘circle area’ and clearing the pathway into the forest of any large sticks that may be a trip hazard. The children worked well as a team to clear the path and then we found logs for our circle area and rolled them down the hill to our chosen area before testing them out for snack time.

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Over the next few weeks we watched the children’s confidence grow as they started to take ownership of the forest and the play that happens there.

The one thing our children kept asking about was when we could have a fire. Thankfully a very kind and talented parent was able to make us our own fire-pit by recycling an old oil drum they had sitting on their farm; this had the added bonus of fitting in with our eco-schools and learning about recycling as well.  The children were very enthusiastic about our fire-pit and helped to collect sticks and twigs and carefully added them to the fire to keep it burning.

Our afternoon session boys and girls started doing their forest skills at the bottom of the school field until they gained enough confidence to go to the woods. We’ve just recently gone to the woods for a large part of our session and they’ve been really enthusiastic so we will continue to lengthen the time spent there to include having snack and eventually hope to spend a whole session just like our friends do on a Friday.

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We feel the addition of forest skills to our routine has been a very positive one and we continue to see our children growing in confidence all the time. Normally shy children have found their voice and become outgoing and willing to try new things, the children are working well as a team and problem solving with little or no adult intervention and they understand the need for the rules and boundaries. We have recently had some parent helpers joining us in the forest and the children are quick to tell them our rules. Last week one girl was overheard saying to one of the mums “You need to look for the red and white tape; you have to stop and come back unless you’re with an adult.” 
There’s still a lot for us to achieve in the forest and we look forward to continuing our adventures and seeing where the children lead us next.

Comments from our parent helpers

“Where to begin – seeing the children navigating around the branches, stones and trees, respecting the boundaries set, work as a team and individually.
The opportunity to have these outdoor sessions is not provided anywhere else locally”

“Fantastic to see children given freedom to explore environment and take responsibility for playing safely. Great use of the area – circle of logs, balance beams etc. Children all so engaged and happy working together and keeping me right with the rules”

Some comments from the children

“I like to swing on trees” “I like to bounce on the sticks”
“I can climb trees, its good fun” “I made a den to watch birds”

Laura Pirie and Rosie Martin, Rothiemay and District Playgroup