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.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mad as a march Hare!

March has been an exciting month. So exciting in fact I have barely had time to write it all up! I have been keeping notes and I have started to wade through all my photos, so the next week or so will hopefully get me up to date on current projects which involve a bit of this:

Some more of this:


....finishing off some of this with one group:

and starting some more of this with four new groups:


I even had time to do some of this with adults too: 

 Now what to update first?

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