Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bridge that gap

I've written before about building rope bridges among the trees and how fantastic they are for children's motor development, encouraging social skills and confidence and being loads of fun.

What I have also found is that adults who work with children are equally as fascinated and enjoy learning the skills of tying the knots. I thought I would leave some notes here for a refresher for anyone who needs it (you know who you are :) and to maybe inspire you to have a try at tying rope bridges if you haven't yet.

I'll put in links to animated knot videos and drawings to help you along if you need it, but here's the thing about knots, some people learn by watching, some people learn by listening, some just have to have a bit of string and be shown. That's the way different people learn and it doesn't mean one way is better.

Trees:  you want to tie ropes from trees that are solid and secure. Give them a good look over, lean against them and look up noticing if they move too much when you put weight against them. Check there are no dead branches in the crown of the tree that could show a weakness or cause problems. Choose trees that are a good size, not so massive that all your rope gets used up tying on to them but big enough.

Protection: If you are going to leave them up and the tree are smooth skinned like beech or young ash trees etc then put something like carpet or thick fabric under the ropes to protect the bark.

Rope: I use 10ml (or thicker) polyprop rope. It's that cheapish blue stuff. Climbing rope can be too stretchy unless you have static climbing rope.
For length go for two pieces that are as long as a piece of string (!). Mine are about 10 metres each.

Once the children are interested in the idea I encourage them to be fully involved in tying the bridges, taking over completely after the first couple of times with my help. The older children tend to make them more challenging, going up slopes or with non-parallel lines.

Tying the knots: First end is wrapped around the tree three or four times. Tie with a couple of half hitches. The turns around the tree take the pressure off the knot

Wrap the second end of the rope around another tree, leaving a long long tail. go around the tree once and pull it tight "heave, heave etc",  I love getting the children involved at this stage, it takes much longer this way but is so much more fun and they definitely use the bridges more if they have built them.

The working end of the rope then goes over the top of the standing end and back round the tree in the opposite direction.
This is quite heard to type how to do this bit, so I have done a couple of doodles that may (or may not) help.

This end of the rope is tied to another tree.
                     This end of the rope is doing all the work.

Repeat this 3-4 times so the rope is pulled tighter each time.

The zig zagging of each turn, pulled really tight, with more of the "heave, heave" shortens the rope. It is this which pulls it tight.

With the end of the rope, wrap it round and round in a twizzly timber hitch. This stops it over-tightening and is why you need to make sure you have a long long tail on your rope. If you haven't got a long end on the rope then a couple of half hitches works well but can get a bit fiddly to untie

Repeat with the second rope, about a child's height above the first rope. They don't need to be far of the ground to be challenging and the wobbliness adds to the physical challenge.                                                      

Let me know how you get on! 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What happens in Forest School

There are some projects that really stay with you. I worked with Brudenell Primary School in Leeds for over two years, helping them embed Forest School into their curriculum, and providing training and support.

I also ran lots of Forest School programmes with classes across the school from reception through to year 5.At the end of term the school go together to the local cinema and put on a film of the year's highlights. I put together a film of the Forest School projects, which I thought I'd share with you too.

It reminds me of the stories that emerged, the children and their journeys behind the vignettes.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Reflections on moving from survival to thrival

I have recently come back from a month long trip deep into the wilderness in NW Ontario, Canada. Which almost explains how quiet I have been here recently. It has been a lot to process.

I have talked before about how I the work I do encourages children to challenge themselves and as an adult who supports that then I should be doing the same. But this trip was more than personal challenge (although there were days like that) It was an opportunity to deeply immerse ourselves in nature, to take things at our own pace for weeks at a time and to adjust our rhythms to those of the world rather than the clock.

Sunrise from our camp on West bay.
Photo Tim Rowe

My partner and I packed three weeks worth of food into our packs, travelled to a remote little outfitting town just north of the Quetico Wilderness Park where we picked up a canoe and then quietly slipped off into the woods and lakes for three weeks paddling, portaging and a change of pace. It's the second time we have been to the boundary waters wilderness and with over a million acres of lakes and forest with no roads or houses, there is a lot to take in.

The view from under the canoe, walking a portage trail between two lakes.
Photo Tim Rowe

This trip was different though, I was trying to explain it to a friend and said "we moved from survival to thrival" I had made up a new word, I admit it. But that sense of moving from just coping and surviving to something greater, I needed a word that described a concept just right. As with all the best things I found that someone else had also come to the same realisation.

Early morning paddling. My partner makes these paddles.

One of the key things for me that felt different was our desire to create and how much time we gave to making things. Carving a sculpture from an interesting bit of firewood, making a spoon from a beaver felled greenwood branch, baking... lots of baking, fresh bread and cake every few days and firing our own pottery.

Carving a spoon

We had been told to watch out for one particular trail between two lakes as it was deep clay and it becomes very difficult to walk across if it has been raining. Inspired by sculptures we had seen in the Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto the thought of a cache of deep clay lured us in that direction.

Digging clay from the side of a trail

Shaping the clay

These birds were based on the loons that were often found
swimming around us on the lakes
I have read quite a lot about pit kiln firing and tried a few experiments but we didn't want to make the impact in the environment of digging a pit. So we gradually heated the dried clay things by the fire, bringing them closer and closer to the ember bed, then putting them in the embers. This took about half and hour.

First we added fine twigs and pine needles to the embers to bring the level of heat and cover the clay things, adding bigger and bigger twigs until they were covered and a small fire was burning. 

We added larger pine, birch and conifer twigs until the fire burned really hot. This took another half hour or so and even though the temptation and the heat was unbearable we kept the fire burning at a high temperature for another half an hour. We could see everything glowing red in the fire. Despite wanting to peek we let everything cool down slowly before raking the coals aside to reveal our hoard.
Uncovering the fired clay

Our haul of clay fired goods
When Maslow talks about creativity he talks about self actualisation; "the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities" and that these emerge when physiological and safety needs are met. Having experienced the environment and challenge once we were able to find new potentialities in that environment and in ourselves.

Through our experience of thrival I feel like I have managed to empty all the accumulated clutter or everyday experience, strip things back a bit, get a bit of the rawness back in, push myself, to laugh when I have been dragging a canoe all day through an impassable swamp that looks like a river on the map, enjoy, immerse in nature and take time to be. Oh yes that's why I do it.
My new Quetico clay necklace

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