A Surprise Delivery
Nearly eight years ago, several friends and I had spent a night in the pub. As last orders approached the idea was born that I would join their company and become a forest school leader. Shortly after that fateful day, a package arrived in the post from Chris (one third of the founding trio). Though thoughtful as he always has been, it was unlike Chris to send me surprise mail, and with curious wonder I carefully opened the package to find something ginger and hairy lurking in the depths of a crumpled jiffy-bag. I reached in and with anxious hesitation pulled out a hand puppet. Little did I know that an Absolute Legend had arrived.
Meeting The Legend
In those youthful days, his hair had the auburn sheen of majesty that only an Orang-utan commands. The tip of his tail boasted the purest white that one would expect of a Unicorn after a bath. His eyes were opaque yet pearlescent, with a wisdom within, more enchanting than a chinchilla in the mist. This however, was no wise Andean Rodent. Neither was it an awesome primate nor mythical rhino-horse combo………..it was FRED THE FOX!!!!!!
Into The Unknown
Joking aside, his arrival instantly filled me with utter dread, as he symbolised a huge part of what was now expected of me as a Forest School leader. Toddler groups. Understand, that I had never before worked with children and although my firstborn had recently arrived, felt incredibly under-qualified to successfully amuse any child, let alone a gaggle of them along with their parents. I battled my inexperienced doubt, then harnessing the power of my inner chinchilla with the confidence of a freshly bathed unicorn, I welcomed the first ever toddler club into Exmouth Forest School with the abilities of a uncertain orang-utan………..and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences my working life has ever provided me with. With ukulele in my hand and Fred the Fox perched on the hand of one of the kids, we belted out our debut ‘hello song’ and we heard that it was good. The parent attendees seemed nowhere near as bemused as I that our activities of exploration, craft and creativity were actually working and the morning was brilliant fun. The following week I was instantly put at ease as they all returned wearing smiles on their faces and bound into the woods with a skip in their step.
Learning Through Play, Outdoors
As time passed and I had settled into my woodland and got to know a whole new brigade of children and their parents, I was able to relax and through running these groups observe the lovely things our attendees achieve for themselves, with a carefully thoughtful nudge from ourselves. They grow in confidence, whilst playing through the woodland with their peers. They develop new interests through embarking on challenges that encourage them to further explore the world around them. They find wonder in the flora and fauna found as they wander the forest, discovering more with each visit. They become more confident and resilient as they find their feet and take ownership of their sessions, in turn allowing them to learn more and more………..and that is just the parents.
Back to Normal(ish)
Next half term sees the reopening of our toddler groups, after what has been six months of closure and times which have brought varying degrees of difficulty and disruption to each and every one of us. I know full well that those parents who have brought their children to our toddler groups in the past, will have embraced each available moment to inspire and amuse their kids through getting them outdoors and more recently socialising them again. It feels great after all this time to know that we are going to be able to be a part of that process again, something which in times gone I have taken for granted. It’s such a huge part of what makes my job so enjoyably rewarding.
Catch y’all in the woods soon.
Author: Nick Murphy, Forest School Manager
Date: Wednesday 21st October 2020