Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hapa Zome (beating up leaves with hammers)

This is a wonderful creative technique that I often share with participants on training courses and with the children I work with, This week someone on a course made something so beautiful it reminded me I wanted to share this a bit more widely.

Stacey's hapa zome with clover, dandelions, grasses,
 berries and petals

Hapa Zome is the Japanese art of beating up leaves with hammers,  pounding natural pigment into cloth. It was developed and named by India Flint who is a colour artist although she suggests that people have probably been pounding colours into cloth for centuries.

Hapa zome with dock leaves
and primula

The skill level you need to start out with this creative springboard for this is pretty basic. If you can hit things with a hammer you can create beautiful works of art. As demonstrated by a two year old and his mum.

To make hapa zome you need cotton fabric, different weights seem to all work equally well but you do get slightly different effects. The leaves and flowers that you choose make a difference to the effectiveness. Ones that are full of moisture produce the best results.
Spring crocus flowers
 By folding the cloth in half with the leaf  or petal inside you get a mirror image. Once the petal is under the cloth then it is a matter of gently pounding it with a mallet, hammer or even  smooth rock. The surface underneath will come through so find a smooth surface to work on. It seems to appeal to all ages and genders equally, I'm sure this is something to do with the cathartic nature of hitting things with hammers! 

Baby nettle leaves

Monday, 1 August 2011

Learning as much in an hour of play....

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." 

I recently spent a wonderful 24hrs with my friend and her daughter, my goddaughter R. Now aged six, this is a child I have known since before she was born, we lived all together for a brief time when she was a baby. I met her mum met at a nature play conference and we worked together for a bit and have been friends for years. We get to meet up too rarely as we now live 250 miles apart. But the reason why I am telling you this is because in that short visit I experienced the most extraordinary hour of play.

In the course of my work I observe children at play and play alongside children a lot. Children playing together often talk and discuss the narrative of the frame in which the play is taking place "You are the dog and I am the mum and then the mum says to the baby, so you have to be the baby but I'm still the mum" sort of conversations.

As an adult invited into that play frame, or, as often happens when I take children into the woods, when I am trying to help children establish a play frame in an unfamiliar environment, a lot of talk can take place. I make observations of what is happening, the child shows me what they are doing, they ask for feedback, ask questions, try to work out the boundaries. This is all part of the containment process, of helping children maintain a play frame.

In this most extraordinary hour of play, the most extraordinary feature was that it was almost entirely silent.

My friend had to go and work for a couple of hours so I offered to look after R. There were a number of options for the morning but R said we should stay at the house and go to play in the little strip of woodland next door. We got up in the morning and my friend went to work. R did a little test of the boundaries.
 "I want to watch a programme."
 "Ha! the only way we are going to watch TV this morning is if we make the programme ourselves....Oooh actually, we COULD make a TV programme, I have my camera."
"WE could make some TV? "
So we did. R telling stories and singing for the camera, then we went out into the woods and she made a documentary on how to collect things.

As we were heading back into the house I spotted the stalks on a particular sycamore tree were really long and I pointed them out to R. This was our shared  play cue, she collected a few leaves and started winding them together, I collected a few and threaded them into a long chain. During this I offered the usual sort of statements and observations I might with a child when I was working; "You have threaded three leaves together, I think I might hang mine on this tree." Looking for ways we might extend the play frame, But I noticed that R didn't seem to need these and I stopped.

Which gave me an opportunity; I have for a while now had in mind to try and make a geometric cube from leaves. I draw much inspiration from the work of Andy Goldsworthy and as a teenager I saw one of his leafworks boxes in a gallery in the city where I lived. Ever since I had in mind to try and make one. The impetus for which came right back when I recently found one made by another land artist. I've already made one attempt which was a really useful learning process, but the thought of doing something that required so much concentration and time seemed counter intuitive when I was spending time with a lively six year old.

The level of absorption she showed made me loathe to be the one to break it. And we played in parallel she and I. Both in such a state of flow  and absorption I am still unsure how much time passed.

We spoke very little each very focused in the challenges we had set ourselves.

Occasionally delighting when something worked well.

Allow the ideas of the other to inspire us in our own play.

Stretching ourselves.

Making observations.

Until we reached a point at which the possibilities had all revealed themselves for now. R made an observation. "The dry leaves are just as good but the brown ones are two crispy."  I had made five corners of the box but run out of suitable leaves.

We collected some bits to take back to the house and moved on. The frame which had held us in a state of flow was gone. Naturally extinguished.

I felt as if in that hour of play that I had got to know R in a way that all the phone calls and letters had never revealed. I saw her deep level of ease at being outdoors in nature. I saw how dexterous and creative she is. I saw how motivated and self contained she can be. She saw me too. I explained to her how much I had enjoyed being  in the woods with a child who didn't need talking to all the time and that some children I worked with needed my help a lot more. "So is playing your job?" she asked  "You are good at playing."

Terms used in the description of the play process have been taken from The Colorado Paper by Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else 1998, P8 onwards. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

One idea sparks another idea, which sparks another idea....

One of the elements I find really rewarding about working with lots of different groups of children and adults in different contexts is that the ideas and inspiration that develops with one group feeds into another and I often find themes emerging at certain times.

As part of my role in the foundation unit of a large school I was involved in a carving project, looking to find things that we could carve in order to explore shaping in three dimensions and come up with a body of work to inspire a wood sculptor.

We made sculptures out of clay but this didn't really give the sensation of carving. But by pressing the clay into a tray we could carve into the clay with pencils to make designs, then using Plaster of Paris make a permanent mould of the carving. 

I was also working with an afterschool club doing regular sessions in the outdoors. One of the most popular things was the mud kitchen, one of the girls was really enjoying pressing into the mud with leaves to make patterns. This is where one idea, feeds another idea....

When we were carving dragons one of the boys had used a pine cone to press into the clay to make scales. When the moulded shapes were completed this made a wonderful texture so I took casting powder to the after school club to see if they wanted to experiment with this too. I did all the handling of the casting powder with both groups as it can be a skin irritant and there is an exothermic reaction takes place when the mixture is going off, so precautions do need to be taken. This didn't mean that the children weren't involved in the process and fascinated by all the different states; powder, liquid, solid in 20 minutes is a very satisfying transformation. 

The children were really fascinated to see the transformations in their artworks too. Any elements that were sticking into the clay became reversed, which when using the plants made it more like the original plant.

A few children wanted to write their names or initials into the plaster and this was more challenging as you have to write everything backwards in order for it to come out the right way in the finished piece. This took a bit of practice but the clay is quite forgiving and experiments are easily erased.  

I liked the effect of the pressed leaves the children at the after school club did that I was inspired to have a play myself and make some moulds of my favourite trees. The addition of a ribbon into the still wet plaster meat that these were much easier to hang up.

Ash Leaves
 The children involved in the carving project wanted to paint their creations. By washing the paint afterwards we were able to get a better effect, the paint washes off the raised parts and highlights the low points in a really effective way.

Or by gently wiping the clay away from the high points of moulded parts you can get a similar effect. I like both finished results in different ways. 

You can see more of the children's finished carvings here.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A change to play- based learning. A parent's perspective.

I have been working closely with a school as they went through some massive changes. When I first worked with them in March last year the Foundation stage; nursery and reception class were two separate entities. Hilary who leads the unit, has been inspired by a trip to Reggio Emilia in Italy and the approach they have for their Early Years learning and teaching. 

She made some phenomenal changes to their learning environment; merging the space to create a large free flow area, inside and out which hosts 120 children in a rich creative play-based learning environment. 

My role has been to take on provocations, projects that has emerged from the children's interests and ideas and also taking small groups to a local woodland. The group I take to the woods those children who have been identified as needing a 'boost' for one reason or another. Children who need additional support, children who might have less confidence or resilience or children who it was recognised would really thrive in the woodland environment. 

The provocations I have been involved in include a building project, a fire project and at the moment we are bringing a carving project to a close and waiting for a visit from Kim, Rob and billy big saw to realise our carving plans on a big scale.

The transition for the setting hasn't always been an easy one. Staff have found it challenging and some parents were really skeptical. But they have persevered and are just completeing their first year with their new approach. 

One of the mums recently wrote a letter, which she and the staff are happy to share. It is so insightful, observant and encouraging. I really applaud the efforts that the school have made in their transition and it is wonderful to see them recognised by the people who matter most in a child's life. 

"My thoughts about the changes in Foundation Stage, from someone who had reservations, and is now really happy!  

I hope this is helpful to any school or to parents who are thinking about making the same change as that in Carr Manor Primary Schools' Foundation Stage and may have concerns.  I am a parent with 2 children at the school.  My eldest child started in reception 3 years ago. We were very happy with the standard of care and education in reception, the environment was excellent and seemed to deliver everything we had expected for our child starting school. 

Two years later our daughter started in reception.  This was the first year the school introduced the new foundation system.  I had a number of reservations.  I had been very pleased with the reception class that our eldest child had been part of, what could be described as a more traditional educational model.  Class room, carpet, reading books, register, spellings, structured learning, set play times.I didn't see the need to change what appeared to be a good reception class.

 I was concerned about mixing nursery school children with reception aged children and particularly the effect this might have on teaching the children in reception.  I was worried that my child would lose out, and may be disadvantaged because of being in the same group as younger children. I was also concerned about what might appear to be an extension of nursery, rather than the start of school.  How would she know this was school if it felt like a continuation of nursery?  How would she be prepared for key stage one? I was worried about the size of the foundation stage, it seemed like a huge number of children to arrive on site, and be collected at any one time, 120 children is a lot in one, albeit large, space. I was also a little concerned about the "learning through play" ethos.  My head thought it would probably be a good thing, having read research to that effect.  My heart felt that being given something different was unsettling. Even though I felt uncomfortable about the changes, I did trust the the staff at Carr Manor and believed that they would only make the changes if it was in the children's best interest, however, I did need to be convinced. 

One year on I am convinced.  Any worries or concerns that I had have gone away.  I am so happy with this year, more than I could have possibly imagined. 
Taking my concerns in turn, mixing nursery age children and reception children together and the effect this may have on development.  Rather than this being detrimental to our child, it has been the opposite.  She has thrived and has relished the role as one of the "older" children, happily taking on responsibility that would not have been available to her in the other system.  She has shown real maturity, taking care of the younger children and stepping up in the role.  This is particularly noticeable as our daughter is the youngest in our family and is rarely "the older one" at home.  I see this as a huge advantage, one that she would not have experienced this year had it not have been for the school.  

Being in a mixed age group has not had any detrimental effect on her learning.  She has thrived in a less pressured environment.  The way this new system supports children to learn at their own pace and still be stretched is refreshing.  By not putting children under any pressure helps develop their confidence, and helps then to feel able to take risks, and succeed.  For example, she has absolutely grasped the concept of phonics, is eager to read books and does this without thinking by noticing words around her, part of her everyday life.

Our daughter is very clear that she is in reception and other children are in nursery.  She is somehow able to maintain this reception identity and therefore it doesn't feel like a continuation of nursery.   Looking on, I find it difficult to make the distinction.  I have no concerns about that, but I find it interesting that the children do make a clear distinction between the reception and nursery, which I think will be important as they move into year 1.

Even though there are a lot of children arriving altogether, there have been different entrances.  Each group, very clearly has a particular area, pegs, a stage and of course staff giving each group a particular identity.  It doesn't feel like a huge group, even though it is.  There is a lot of interaction between the groups giving a real sense of togetherness.  I know lots of names of children in other groups, all identified by the colour of group they belong to, amazing.

There has been so much creativity on display through the learning.  The children have been given the opportunity to choose topics that interest them.  The highlight for our group was the dancing project.  Born out of the groups interest in the Japanese Tsunami and their wish to help the relief effort.  The group decided to put on a dancing show.  It was unbelievable, inspirational and totally amazing.  Choreographed by the children, we were amazed by their efforts and their enthusiasm.  What an opportunity and what an experience for them all, building a huge amount of confidence and enabling the children to learn in a different way, developing the skills they will need to draw on as they move through the school and develop educationally.

I understand that every child is different and develop at different rates.  I am convinced that our eldest boy would have thrived in this environment.  With hindsight he struggled with the more structured approach.  Our daughter would have probably coped well in that environment, but I know she absolutely has thrived in this new system and I would have no hesitation in recommending the approach, it is brilliant.  Superbly executed by the staff at Carr Manor, who are amazing."

Monday, 13 June 2011

Making Weapons and Group Agreements

I am, by nature a peaceful sort. However I often find myself building and making weapons. I do like the satisfaction of seeing a stick shooting off into the distance fired by a home made bow and we have made some constructions (that could best be described as siege engines!) that would fire pebble a good distance.

I have written before about the theory of recapitulative play and I feel that weapon making fits alongside fire making and shelter building. In the regular, day to day life of the average 21st century child in a developed country these are skills that have very little practical application. But there is something about them that has such a strong impulse and compulsion for children (and adults). 

I also feel it is important to allow children to explore this compulsion, especially when we live in a world where children are exposed to so many images of war. Through play a child learns to make sense of the world they experience and inhabit, so there is a value of them being able to 'play it out'. However this sort of play can upset or even hurt other children so needs to be carefully observed and managed.

Making bows and arrow sets is one of those things that I rarely introduce deliberately into my sessions but I respond to with glee if it emerges with a group. It is great for self esteem and children feel powerful and trusted being allowed to have a bow and arrow. I wrote an article about dynamic risk management recently. When something like this emerges in a session I feel it is important to be able to respond and reset some new rules and conditions For me it means you get to establish rules with one or two children and support them a lot. Another sees what we are doing and joins in, we repeat the rules we have come up with, repeat ad infinitum, so by the time the whole group is involved (if they are) we all know the rules intimately. That way it is easier than me banging on about safety, as they are having to do that themselves, for each other. 

I aim for bow and arrow sets with an element of built in obsolescence. That gets us round the inevitable question of 'are they allowed to take them home?' which wouldn't be appropriate in some instances. Beyond that on the most basic level you can get a stick that is just slightly thicker than your thumb and about the length of your arm and has some flex in it and a piece of string. Trying different string to see which works best is a good exploration of materials. Whittling a notch in the end of the stick stops the string sliding off The string is tied to one end and then that end is placed to the ground and the stick is bent as much as you can before tying the other end of the string onto the stick. The stick bends back into place putting the tension on to the string. This will then fire another straight-ish stick, which you can whittle a bit to make a point, a reasonable distance. Holding and pulling back the arrow stick rather than the string is easier for some kids to manipulate.

Setting group agreements on safety normally starts with me trying the first made bow (and hopefully getting it into the long grass a good 15- 20 feet away followed by a bit of woooah from everyone, including me.) Before I hand it over i say, "This comes with responsibility. What do you think the rules are?" I then go with every safety rule than seems logical and we agree those. As a minimum I look for firing away from people or animals, or firing at a target if there is a bigger group. The ideas they come up with might include shouting "ready-aim-fire" so people know you are firing and don't walk into the line of fire, shooting out of the boundary that normally applies but being allowed out to fetch arrows, watching out for people walking through the woods if it is a public wood. 

The trickiest point comes if you have a target and people want collect arrows whilst other people are firing. So getting them to put a system in place is important. (Flag up for fire, flag down for collect / Having an adult say when you can collect) 

By establishing the rules by collective agreement the children are no longer passive participants in their own safety and well-being. They are actively identifying the risks, thinking of solutions and most importantly reminding each other and me. I used to try and spend time at the start of sessions getting all the ground rules in place that would last us for the rest of time. Children would be bored and fidgety, they found it hard to imagine the situation let alone understand the potential ways that rules should apply and would just repeat the rules they had had drilled in to them elsewhere. The point when a child who was asked what they thought the rules should be for a session in the woods said "no running" was when I realised, they were on 'ground rule autopilot'! Now I rely on spontaneous group agreements that respond to the situation we are in. It starts from the assumption children know what to do and works forward into the new situation.
Targets with bells on. 
Set up to respond to a group who loved throwing stones
With bows and arrows or any made weapon in Forest school, I always add my own rule. Once we have agreed the rules I get to claim the weapon as my own for ever and ever if a rule gets broken. I very rarely need to use my rule.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Did you used to climb trees?

I have a source of pride to share with you; I was the best tree climber in my street as a child. I was small and skinny and could hold on to thin branches my brother and his friends were too big to handle. I loved climbing trees, we would climb really really high. Once a police car stopped and the policeman told us we were climbing too high, we came down, watched the car drive away and climbed straight back up. I can still recall intimately the feel and smell of  each different tree I climbed regularly and the best routes up each tree. 

So can you imagine how I felt reading this article from Openwaldorf? This a website that describes itself as one Waldorf parent's personal journey, with no official affiliation with Waldorf education. The article focuses on how terribly dangerous tree climbing is, the risks of tree climbing and includes a list of questions  parents should ask their school: 
  1. Were you aware that when a child falls 8 feet out of a tree, that it's the same as hitting a brick wall at 30 MPH?
  2. Are children allowed to climb above unsafe falling surfaces?
  3. What are the rules for tree climbing at Waldorf?
  4. Were you aware that professional tree climbers do not recommend free climbing because it is too dangerous?
  5. How many children are allowed in the tree at one time?
  6. What kind of supervision is provided during tree climbs?
  7. Who is the the trained person in charge of tree climbing? Has anyone received training on proper tree climbing techniques?
  8. Has anyone signed off on specific trees as established climbing trees? Have the trees been certified for climbing by an arborist?
  9. What kind of instruction is provided for high tree climbing?
  10. Do you consider it safe for a child to ride a bike or a scooter without a helmet? Do you consider it safe for a child to climb 8 feet into a tree without a helmet? Does the school allow the children to climb trees?
  11. Do you provide the children with protective gear such as helmets, ropes, and gloves?
  12. Are children at Waldorf allowed to climb trees 8 feet or higher without protective gear? Is there a maximum height children are allowed to climb?
  13. Which is more dangerous to my child: (1) climbing more than 8 feet into a tree over an unsafe falling surface without protective gear, or (2) watching television?  "Source:, the most open site on the Internet for new and prospective Waldorf parents."
I must admit I felt a little sad after reading this. Then really panicked! I have had lots of experience of working with children and my career has included supporting children of all ages to take part in tree climbing. Had I been doing something really ridiculous and uncalled for?
Then I thought... If I could be made to feel this bad by one person over emphasising the risks that are inherent in an activity, then I felt for the myriad of parents and inexperienced practitioners who may read the list of questions posed in the article and decide that never,ever, ever would a child be allowed to climb in a tree. Accidents do happen, but children falling out of trees is uncommon. I know of two that I (or my students or team members from the last 10 years) have had to deal with. Only two accidents that have led to injury requiring hospitalisation (both broken arms). Risk management isn't just about what is possible, but also about what is probable. Only longevity of experience can tell you this.

So when I had managed to breathe and actually think about what I do, I felt someone should look at the statistics that are quoted on the site and help people reading this get some perspective! 

Luckily the wonderful Tinkering School founded by Gever Tulley has done just that in their follow up articles to the book, 50 dangerous things (you should let your children do) : Some Thoughts on #28 - Climb a Tree
The article links to the same article that alarmed me and refutes some of the statistics used and points out some the things I felt instinctively: 

And I leave you with this wonderful quote from a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK:

Climbing trees and falling out of them is all part of growing up and having small injuries helps children learn about risks. We take the view that it's a good thing to try to equip children and young people and help them make informed decisions about the risks that they take.

My current insurance policy requires that the children I work with don't climb higher than 1.5 meters,(*edit Jan 2012, this has now been amended to be 3x the height of the child. This makes sense considering a 3 year old and a 14 year old have very different levels of need and challenge when tree climbing) so I do have to limit the children. They know they can only climb as high as my shoulder. If I tried to stop them completely, they would still do it, only more furtively and secretly and  less safely. Interestingly this height restriction doesn't limit them in every way, they have come up with lots of ways to challenge themselves. Last week the older children challenged themselves to see for how many seconds they could hang upside down from a branch and we often build rope bridges and slack lines so that the children can challenges themselves to go in a horizontal direction rather than a vertical.

These boys constructed their own challenges with a spiders
web to cross, all only a small distance off the ground.
It later morphed into a zip wire slide.

If I could find an insurance company that would support me to allow kids to climb higher, then I would jump at the chance. The underwriters have said that they would only allow this if I had a qualification that trained me to run  free tree climbing sessions (without ropes), So this is a plea: Does anyone know of a course or see themselves as a collaborator in establishing a free tree climbing qualification?

If that is you then do get in touch with me a mail(at)

(OK I can't leave that list of questions alone alone, let's try and answer some of them. Here is what I have found out)

1. A fall of 8 feet would be a velocoity of 22.6ft per second, that is the equivalent of 15.4090909 MPH
2. A quote from a child (age nine) that I heard recently. "It's better falling out of the trees in the woods because it is softer than falling over on the playground."
3. Useful rules we have for climbing trees: Children not to be put under pressure when climbing, allow children to focus on the activity and speak to them calmly and reassuringly. Adult to climb all trees that children climb to assess hidden risks. Children must only climb the trees they can climb unaided. Do not give ‘bunk ups’ or allow children to use climbing aids. Children should be able to climb down as well as up.
4. Professional tree climbing companies that offer roped climbing experiences for children and individuals all acknowledge that free tree climbing is a normal part of childhood experience. They have a business to run and very good safety records. They don't incorporate the two types of climbing.
5. The number of children allowed in the tree at anyone time depends on the tree and the children. 
6. Children climbing trees should be supervised, the proximity of the supervision depends on the child and the trees they are climbing.
7.There are currently no appropriate tree based free climbing courses in the UK.
8. You should assess all trees that are climbable for safety. there is a fantastic list here
9. Following a three points of contact rule is really useful for any climbing. Always have 3 body parts in contact with the tree, (hands, feet, knees, belly, bottom)
10. "Expert" opinions, you should or shouldn't make the child wear a helmet when climbing a tree. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute say: "Children should not wear helmets on playgrounds or when climbing trees. The helmet can snag and the strap can asphyxiate them. Several deaths have been recorded, and more close calls"
11. Ropes are provided but these are not used for climbing but traversing between trees. Some children like to have gloves when holding ropes but these are not so useful in trees and you miss the wonderful sensory experience on offer. 
12. Maximum heights are instituted by some insurance companies. 
13. I personally gain far more from my experiences of climbing in trees, I climbed a beautiful pollarded oak last weekend and looked down on a sea of bluebells. Breathtaking!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The popcorn maker is dead! Long live the popcorn maker!

I took my fire top popcorn maker with me to the woods this week. Had I known it would be it's last outing, I might have marked its passing in some way. The children were intrigued by the popcorn maker. A conversation I had with a group of 9 and 10 year olds went a bit like this:
Popcorn maker in action
"Oooh Lily, What's that?"
"What do you think it is?"
"Is it for catching fish...?" "nah, there's no fish in the woods..." "You could catch things with it....." "Lily can we catch butterflies with it....?"
"It's not for catching anything at all. Can you smell anything on it?"
"uuurgh! that smells..." "it smells like smoke...." "it smells like fire..." "has it been on fire?"
"It has. It has been used on a fire. What do you think we could use it for?"
........"Could we put something in it?" " ....I know we could put something inside there and put it over a fire" "We could cook a fish!" "....Are we having a fire today?" "....Yay! fire!!" " ...Are we going to light a fire? "Can I carry that?" "We're going to make a fire!"

It survived four trips to the woods this week, cooked over four fires, made many more than four batches of popcorn, but by the end of the week it was hanging apart. About time I made a new one. The popcorn maker is basically two sieves with a few refinements:

Here is a handy shopping /scavenging list for you.

The stick has a few notches carved in it to help stop the wire from slipping, I have used string in the past but you run the risk of setting string on fire, wire is much better and this bit of wire has been reused for this purpose a few times now. This must be popcorn maker mark #6 or #7. Mark #2 and Mark 5 were both given away.

Cut off a piece of the wire. About 2 inches (5cm) should be plenty. With the rest of the wire,bind the handle of the first sieve onto the stick, starting from the centre of the wire.

 Try and make it as tight as possible and tuck the sharp ends over and hide them inside the binding.

Make sure you leave a loop at the bottom of the binding where you can tuck the handle of the other sieve to hold the two together when you are ready to pop. 

Using the short section of wire you cut earlier, poke through the holes of both sieves to make a loop at the top of the sieves that joins them together and will act like a hinge. 

Below you can see the loop at the end of the sieve handle. This is now really sturdy and will withstand all sorts of adventures. 

The knack is not to put too many corn kernels in the sieve. A small handful is plenty. Then hold the sieve above the embers of a fire. I learnt through bitter experience not to put them above the flames as the sieve melts or the kernels scorch or dramatically a whole sieve full of popped popcorn can catch fire. Regular 'shoogling' is also vital to keep the popcorn form burning. 

The advantage over a pan for me is that you get to see exactly what is happening. I love the way the children listen so patiently for that first pop, the woooo hoo excitement of when poppping in full swing and the language that children use trying to describe what effect the fire is having on the corn kernels. I also love that you don't need any flavour on the popcorn, the smoke gently flavours it.

Cooking popcorn on a Kelly Kettle base
after the water has boiled for hot chocolate.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sing a song of reflection

I'm slowly getting through the backlog of jobs to do brought on by having a wonderfully wildly busy six weeks. I just worked out that I've had six weeks where I was in the woods or working outdoors with children or training adults every weekday except one, some weekends too!

I'm enjoying catching up with myself and working through the reflective diaries that I keep (offline) for each project. The way I work is child centered, so this necessitates building on observations in order to plan what is going to be offered next.

This always takes more time than I allow, especially when I am busy, but I know that the most exciting and interesting observations build up over time so writing my scraps of notes and doodles from a variety of sources into something more coherent is vital.

Notebooks from a  project last year
Reflection isn't just a tool for me as a practitioner. I see the value of reflection for the children I work with, and the end of each Forest School session we try to make time to talk about our experiences in order to identify our achievements, recognise our contribution or talk about our friends and the best bits we experienced. This sort of reflection is the cornerstone of self awareness which in turn leads to better social skills.

Forest School scrap book

With lots of my ongoing projects like the fire project (in a Foundation Stage with a group of Early Years age children) and Forest School groups we use scrap books to record what has been going on: 

Our book about Fire!
These books are A2 size which means it is much easier to manage with a group of children. Not only are they useful for reflection but for reviewing, that critical step that allows the children to remember what took place and use this remembrance to plan and extend their own  learning. 

I got the idea for making these large books from a setting I was working with, based on this book  by mindstretchers (more info here). What I really like is the simplicity of making scrapbooks based on the 'five hole book stitch' method. At the simplest level this is sewing together sheets of large paper or card along the seam by making five holes and stitching through in the following pattern:

Reviewing and reflection doesn't just have to be written or drawn. I often take photo graphs and short bits of video which the children can use to remember what they have done in the past:

Ready to go to the woods, watching a video of the last session.
On the way back from the woods, a group of children sang to me about going to Forest School, this not only helped them remember what has happened but it is a great motivation as we walk up and down hills.

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