Our first Forest Club
26 & 27 October 2011
Thanks to a wonderful primary school teacher, Isabel, who volunteered her services for free, we were able to offer half term activities for 7-9 year olds in Troopers Hill woodland. Isabel is trained as a Forest Schools leader and it was a pleasure to watch her in action. I was there as an adult helper, as was Denise, our Area Environment Officer from Bristol City Council, whose presence ensured we were were insured.
Isabel gave the best safety talk I have ever heard - the children paid full attention and absorbed the facts that:
-the red ribbons on the trees marked the boundaries of our activities for the day
-if they heard a call of "1,2,3, where are you" there was a response to make and then a return to "base"
- stinging nettles sting and brambles scratch
- they needed to take care when running around on the sloping rough ground
- when making shelters with large sticks, the sticks should be dragged, not waved around to the peril of others.
They also learned how to behave if dogs appeared or strangers approached them.
We all learned each other's names prefixed by a self-chosen word starting with the same letter as our name - I became "Sensible Susan" for the morning.
Did you know there is a local story about fairies who used to live in Troopers Hill chimney? They used to brew beautifully scented potions in a large cauldron. The fumes would waft out of the chimney at night to give all the local people wonderful dreams. Unfortunately a rather stupid, sleepy dragon leant against the chimney and fell asleep with his head lolling against the top of the chimney. He started to snore and flames flared from his nostrils right down to the base of the chimney, frightening the fairies so much that they all decided to move away to the woods.
The children noticed that there seemed to be some fairy shelters in our woodland clearing. Would it be a good idea to make more shelters for the fairies? Materials were found, shelters built of all designs, provisioned and protected in different ways.
A loft-style apartment was being created here.
A lean-to arrangement was under construction here.
Provisioning was necessary.
Searches for materials yielded fallen leaves, rocks, sticks, apples, blackberries, haws, hardboard and a cupboard door.
The only material brought to site was a ball of string which came into use to provide a swing for one dwelling and a rope ladder to access another.
After thorough hand cleaning, a drink and a snack
the proud designers showed off their creations pointing out the various special features. Then it was time to go home but we are looking forward to seeing some of the children again plus some new friends tomorrow for some different activities.
Here are some of the completed fairy houses:
This one featured recycled hardboard, a rock boundary wall to act as a defence, a hula hoop for the fairies to exercise and a larder full of haws and a huge apple.
Larger size fairies or children might like this one
The aim of this one was to be as camouflaged as possible.
A length of old man's beard provided bunting for this house which also featured a swing and wall to wall moss carpetting.
Fairy estate agent description "Thorny twigs are used as a defensive barrier for this desirable dwelling, with detached foodstore. The dwelling comes with moss beds and a large drinking vessel, suitable for catching rainwater. Insulation is provided by good layers of twigs and leaves topped by hardboard."
You can see how the cupboard door came into use.
Many thanks to Julian, our wonderful Community Park keeper, who made sure the site was litter-picked and undergrowth cut back so the path to the site and the site itself was clear.
The second day of Forest Club started with rain. Isabel and I agreed that overly cold and wet children were not a good idea so I rang round parents and carers warning them that today's session would only last an hour.
We gathered on Troopers Hill Field where puddles were immediately identified as good things to jump into (with wellies and overtrousers, of course).
Then it was off down the DOE path to start our activities.
We had a refresher on yesterday's safety talk, which the children very helpfully recited for the benefit of the 3 new people who joined us today. Paula, one of Bristol City Council's Wild City officers, joined us today, providing us with the necessary insurance cover as well as being a valuable adult helper.
Then Isabel talked about the myth of the Green Man and how some people connect him with growing things and wild places; how sometimes we think we are not alone in the woods and may or may not briefly see a face among the trees - not scary or frightening but just another presence in the woodland like squirrels and birds. Some people make images of the Green Man. Isabel showed the children a Green Man face made from mud and objects we had found in the woods. Would they like to make their own Green Man faces?
Surprising there was almost a 100% take up of the offer of gloves - Isabel's previous experience is of children having great enthusiasm for getting their hands muddy. However gloves were rapidly discarded as the children realised how much easier it is to mudmodel with bare hands.
The weather certainly did not dampen the children's enthusiasm or smiles.
Berries, leaves, moss, sticks, bottle tops and other materials were all pressed into service.
This last one is a cyclops green man with a single big red eye.
Then it was time for mass hand cleaning - wet wipes, water in buckets with nailbrushes, anti bacterial gel and instruction to wash hands again when they got home. Drinks and biscuits were delivered to eager, clean hands.
The artists then showed off and explained their works to each other before we climbed out of the woodland to say goodbye.