I was just repacking and checking through the safety bag that I take into the woods with me and I felt like something was missing. There had been a lot more space in the bag over the summer but as the weather changes so does the contents of my safety bag. So I added another bag, full of small gloves, hats and scarves. There is a well known saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes, but it is hard to really feel the full impact of that saying until you see a child, he isn’t engaging with the woods around him, but is stood, hunched, with his hands tucked under his armpits, watching the others. “Would you like some gloves?” He nods, chooses a pair and runs off to join in. True, it is another thing for me to carry, but the difference it can make to a child’s ability to join in is worth it. I hope most children come prepared to play and learn outdoors but the reality is often they don’t. I think that part of my role as a Forest School practitioner is to try and remove any barriers that stop someone from being able to enter fully into learning, exploring and being in the woods.
Forest Schools are a place where children can develop self confidence and self esteem and we aim for children to be accessing deep level learning experiences, where they are immersed and in the flow. But like that little boy, people can’t access that powerful, playful learning state if their hands are cold. The Hierarchy of Needs, as in the theory put forward by Maslow, and extended in this diagram by the Australian child psychologist Louise Porter makes it clear as to why.
Porter describes how after survival and emotional safety, children look for belonging (connectedness, empathy, acceptance) and autonomy (choice, mastery, self-efficacy). Belonging is connected to fun, and autonomy to self-fulfilment. But critically the survival needs; warmth, shelter, food and drink; are at the root of all progress towards self actualisation. If we are concerned or distracted by those needs, we cannot focus on our self-fulfilment or on having fun.
Children, even quite small children want to look after their own basic needs, they need to know what resources are available, how to use them and have the confidence in you to want to ask for them. The process of meeting those basic needs can be a vehicle for having fun and feeling proud of your achievements. If you have ever put a temporary shelter with a group of children you soon learn there is lots of fun to be had, shaking the tarpaulin, rolling and wrapping yourself up in it, winding the strings around trees, running through a tunnel like half built shelter. Then, the fleeting moment of pride and satisfaction when the shelter is up and we are ready to get stuck in to our adventures.
For children to be given the language and opportunity to name their needs, and be given the resources to meet those needs is also very important. This little doodle that went into the recent Forest School Association newsletter explores this idea in reality;
I have noticed that the amount of effort and the designs that children organically come up with for their shelters reflects the weather and their needs. A group of three and four year olds on a snowy morning made a shelter that wrapped them all up, cocoon like inside, protected on all sides. No room for any adults in there though, apart from just enough space to pass in mugs of hot chocolate. On the same afternoon, when the sun had come out and the snow was melting a group of their classmates made a shelter that was entirely different, much more open and spacious, no need to huddle together for warmth any more.
That is why as the weather turns I am checking the supplies of hot chocolate, rinsing out the flask and packing the little gloves into my Forest School safety bag.
*This post, written by Lily, was originally published on forestschools.com in Jan 2011 and is republished here with their kind permission.