Who would think that children would be interested in going to school on a Saturday? Well, there is a group of children who attend Forest School every Saturday morning in Castlemorris Wood!
Just a stone’s throw from Kilkenny, it feels like a million miles away from the city. Each week the children have the chance to build dens in forest, learn about the flora and fauna, walk through the stream and listen to the birds.
Last Saturday was no exception, with the lovely early purple orchids, woodpeckers, ferns and poplar trees all spotted.
The children arrive at the beginning of the morning unsure of what to expect, but after spending three hours in the forest they want to stay longer and are keen to return.
A concept that originated in Nordic countries, Forest School allows children time to play in the open air, experience nature first hand, work in a team, problem solve and just be at one with nature.
Rain or Shine Forest School is run by Sinéad Walsh at Castlemorris Wood who explained that it encourages a connection between ourselves and nature. The movement is spreading across the world and, after training, Sinéad set up her class two years ago.
At Forest School children, adults or teenagers, develop resilience and skills such as fire making, whittling sticks and den building. Benefits include self knowledge and boosted self esteem.
Key to the experience is that the children attend regularly. Sinéad’s school has small groups who build up friendships and their own dynamic over the course (a series of Saturdays or a few days together during the summer). All the time nature is changing and the people are changing.
“When we hold a session first we welcome everybody,” Sinéad describes a usual ‘school day.’ Everyone comes ready for all weathers, with a rain jacket and wellies, sunscreen, a drink and snack. They have a chat in a circle then head off to explore ‘off the beaten track’ with a walking stick they have already found. Sometimes they even decorate it. They also have a ‘free play’ time later in the session. They can spend the time on hammocks, rope bridges or whittling a stick they can use to roast marshmallows, or even build a den.
At the moment the current group are ‘stream walking.’
Sinéad says they are very lucky to be able to avail of the Coillte woodland. She uses a certain area as a camp or base for the class but moves to another area for the next session, to let the area recover.
Classes can seem unstructured, but Sinéad, who is also a school teacher during the week, has a class plan and a safety assessment done in advance. She goes through the ground rules with newcommers and the importance of the ‘leave no trace’ principle. Some days they play nature games where the children are listening and learning without even realising!
If it’s a cold day they will move around more or even learn how to safely light, and extinguish, a camp fire.
Sinéad said she gives the class time to explore, hangs back and is really just a facilitator. “Time flies, often they give out it’s over too quick!”
For Sinéad the time “is a joy, not like work” at all.
Find out more about events at Rain or Shine Forest School on Facebook.
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