That Awkward Age

Over on The Outdoors Group Podcast, we have talked to many different people who work with children and young people in their job; whether that’s at a Forest School setting or through their work in another educational or wildlife setting. One of the questions I always ask (for no other purpose than being curious) is how they engage with teenagers.

At our Forest School sessions, we often meet young people (at both our Holiday Clubs and Home Education Groups) who then return to us for years and years. It’s such a pleasure watching them grow in confidence and abilities over this time as well as watching their personality develop as they age. However, it’s largely the case that at some point between 12 and 14, they decide to stop coming. Their interests and priorities change as they approach their teenage years and I’m always intrigued by how we could still engage with them at this awkward in between age.

Most of the folk that I’ve spoken to agree that it is a difficult age. Adolescence brings with it a huge amount of change and challenge and what appealed to them just a few years (or in some cases, months) previously no longer holds the same shine. For us, the model of Forest School that works so fantastically for young people aged 0-12 just isn’t attractive to teens. Whilst there are exceptions, playing in the mud, building dens, large team games, and ‘free play’ just doesn’t appeal. Although a lot of the teens I know don’t mind being outside, most of them would rather be reasonably static, hanging around chatting or doing a more structured activity (food is usually a surefire winner!) whilst talking.

So our job as Forest School leaders is to find a way to engage these young people in our outdoor settings. This is easier at our Home Education groups where we can offer longer term projects for young people to get their teeth into. Historically, our older attendees have helped build a round house, hedgehog houses, a pizza oven, have written and directed plays, and tried their hand at some particularly complex campfire cooking creations.

Our provision in the school holidays presents more of a challenge. These sessions usually attract a range of children aged 5-13 and as they are one-off day sessions it’s harder to offer more substantial activities for teens. However, last year our Head of Forest Schools, Nick Murphy, had a brainwave at exactly how to do this for teens during the summer holidays. Cue the creation of our ‘Into the Wild’ Bushcraft Day camps for teens!

These four-day camps offer a group of teens the opportunity to work as a team to transform a bare patch of woodland into a camp where they can experience a range of other skills. They spend the first day building a campfire pit, putting up shelters and creating seating before spending three days exploring campfire cooking, knots, woodworking/whittling, and other woodland crafts. They were a great success last year and we’ve just finished our first camp today with one more planned for next week!

The great thing about this model is that it gives the young people attending a common goal, something to work together to achieve, and along the way they will hopefully make some new connections, learn some new skills, and have a great time reconnecting with nature, away from their screens. It may be short notice but we still have some spaces on our camp next week so if you have a teen at a loose end this summer, why not head here to find out more and book their space.

Alternatively, if you have any thoughts on engaging with teenagers in a meaningful and effective way, please leave us a comment on this post. We love collaboration and to share skills, knowledge and expertise with our peers. Our passion is helping people of all ages to reconnect with nature and each other in a purposeful way and part of this is interacting with our community for best practice and support. So if you love working with this age group and have some top tips, we would love to hear from you!

Author: Hannah Durdin, Content Officer & Forest School Leader

Date: Friday 18th August 2023

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