Friday, 25 February 2011

Saturday afternoon on the Ridge

I was doing some research on a new site I will be using for a Forest School project when I came across a reference to a poet who had written about the wood. I wrote to her and she has sent me a copy of the poem. I think it may even inspire the children in the older groups to write poems of their own.

Saturday afternoon on the Ridge by Lucy Newlyn

The wind is up – raking beeches,
stirring low among alder branches,
and bending the spindly trunks of birches.
Clearings are islands of traffic sound

blown up from the long grey
trailing ribbon of Meanwood road.
That disused bandstand is bleak
and marooned as a winter pier.

Out here, where the trees end,
wind buffets the sledge-slope,
thwacks the broad flat face
of Ridge terrace like a cliff.

High over house-tops,
gulls tumble and cry – circling,
circling in the empty air.
Here all the ginnels come to a stop.

Land falls away. Sugarwell
is folded in distant greenness,
and Meanwood has been
far out at sea all day. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Recapitulative play, (we get our fire ready for cooking)

In a recent post a new provocation came from the children. My job when I am in this particular school is to follow the children's lead and extend their ideas. This can be really exciting, especially as it is a large foundation stage with 100+ three to five year-olds. 
I was talking to my friend Jen about the new provocation and how the children had started off making a pretend fire with sticks. One child started rubbing sticks together to make fire and the others all copied. Because rubbing sticks together is how you make fire right? 
Well yes, it was until some bright spark invented the friction match in 1827, and before that in the 17th century there were chemical spark makers, but as Jen and I were talking we realised that more often than not when you see children playing at lighting imaginary fires, they rub sticks together. 

As often happens when you get two playworkers in a room we started hypothesising as to why this should be.  Bob Hughes in is Taxonomy of Play Types(1) puts forward the notion of Recapitulative Play – "Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages." 

Through play children displays aspects of human evolutionary history that have been stored and passed on through the genes or shared memory and these emerge when children play spontaneously. When children play they are reflecting the things that children throughout history would have done as part of their learning to become an adult member of society. It contributes to the explanation of why den building and shelter making are always so popular and why children like to a play with sticks, transforming them into weapons like spears and bows and arrows. None of these are important skills for life in the 21st Century but they have a powerful pull on the mind of a child. 

The ritual aspect of children play is also an important element of recapitulative play. I remember years ago lighting a cooking fire with a group of children and them spontaneously forming a ritual dance and chant to help the fire light burn brighter. 

cooking popcorn
I'm sure there are lots of cartoons and other representations that would explain why children rub sticks together to make fire. But they see matches, lighters, and cookers with  ignition buttons being used more commonly and I can't think of a time when I have seen children role playing fire lighting in these ways. 

So having found a starting point from the children's play I was thinking of directions we could extend. So the next day that I was in school I brought a fire drill and fire flash with me figuring that the rubbing of things together to make fire was an important element in the play that we could develop into their learning. 

Trying to make the fire machine (bow drill) work

They were fascinated by the fire drill and called it a fire machine but despite us taking a lot of time and care, working together very well as a team there are just too many elements for a group of 4 and 5 year-olds to coordinate. The fire flashes (we call them dragon sneezes) were much more successful. The sparks we made encouraged the idea that we able to make real fire. Which led really well into talking about how we were going to stay safe.

Because the setting is so large and all the children are able to flow freely in and out, I was wondering how having a real fire would work. I felt like I wanted to be able to concentrate 100% on the children and their reactions. So when I found a stash of portable barbecues I felt this would be an excellent way to introduce the  children to fire and focus on our safety rather than having to think about the fire too. It amazed me how, as more and more children were drawn over to the fire area they sat down and chose to stay sitting there, others told them how to behave and they were incredibly respectful and didn't try to push the boundaries at all. Two boys brought drums out and we had some wonderful renditions of their favourite songs (currently 'down in the jungle' and 'little rabbit foo foo') whilst we cooked up bowl after bowl of popcorn. 

So whilst there is some  controversy over the years about including Recapitulative play in the list of  play types (it is left off of some lists entirely) it addresses forms of play and powerful urges to play in ways not found elsewhere.

(1) Bob Hughes, published in full in ‘A playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types’ 
(PLAYLINK, second edition 2002)

Friday, 4 February 2011

Forest School reflective diary as a word cloud

I have a love of words and have been using word clouds to sum up evaluations of training courses. The bigger the word is the more often it appeared.

I shared one of these recently and Alex from Schola Foris suggested a collective Forest school wordle of all wordles.

This is a long way from being that, but here are the top 200 words from one of my Forest School practitioner reflective diaries.

Child initiated learning- making sparks!

Last night a group of newly qualified reception teachers came to the Foundation Stage Unit where I am doing some work with three to five year-olds. The lead teacher was talking about the ethos of the setting where I work and how the planning is built around the children and following their interests. The effort and energy is put into recording, reflecting and responding rather than planning and preparation and the environment is set up to enable the children to access resources and ideas on whatever level they are at.

I have been doing Forest School sessions with children from the setting and doing occasional work in the school grounds for almost a year now, certainly long enough for the children to have got the measure of me. One child, who had been to the woods and cooked on open fires with me last May decided that he wanted to make a fire. So he recruited me to the role of expert and we started to collect sticks. Other children joined with the collecting and we decided where to build our fire. I explained that I had nothing to light a fire with, but we didn't let that hold us back.....

The sticks turning green when we rubbed them together gave us a chance to talk about why some wood is good for burning and what it means to have wood that is seasoned or dry. We were also able to work out what it would feel like, and sound like, by snapping lots of sticks to listen to the noise that dry wood makes. We talked about how dangerous fire could be and how it is important to always have an adult with you when there is a fire. In short we were able to prepare for some fire lighting and cooking next week. "Can we cook soup!" "mm-mm yes, lovely soup" "I like soup". All of this happened pretty spontaneously and engaged and inspired lots of children, the learning fell naturally out of our actions and interactions.

I am really interested about their knowledge of rubbing sticks together to make fire and want to show them my fire bow-drill, a direction that I might not have taken without following them and their interests. The lead teacher and I are filled with glee, when we originally discussed my role within the setting we had wild ideas about building an earth oven and all sorts of fire related projects. The really exciting thing is the children have started us on that path.

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