Abstract Monster Sizes

imageMany children have been interested in the book The Day Louis got Eaten at Forest School. Last week a group grappled with concepts of relative size and reciprocal action based on the story.

Sitting in the tipi we read through to this page, and the discussion began:

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“That monster’s enormous” said one child, looking at the largest one. “The others all fit inside it” said someone else. We traced the path of big sister Sarah as she climbed into each monster on her laborious way to reach her brother in the very middle. The children wanted to spend time following her progress with their fingers too, a focal point for their interest. And then the funny bit:

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After some obligatory hiccuping and burping ourselves, a boy pointed to the monsters in turn, saying carefully “big, big, big, big, BIG!”. No, said a girl, you have to say “bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, BIGGER”, pointing to each one again. There was general agreement about this. Now a moment of bravery:

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“Is he sick?” asked someone. The redness of Louis’ face here is indeed striking. I suggested “Maybe he’s angry” and read the words above with more emphasis. Yes, definitely angry was the conclusion.

We emerged from our discursive time in the tipi and had lunch around the fire, and the story was requested and read again. And then the children as a group simply took on the discussion themselves, batting ideas to and fro and extending their thinking.

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At the page above where Louis scares off the monsters one of the tipi reading group said tentatively: “One saved one, then one saved the other one”. In the pause that followed this slightly obscure remark I said: “Do you mean, the sister saved the brother, then the brother saved the sister?”. He agreed. He hadn’t quite got the words to describe the idea of reciprocity, but had clearly grasped it.

Others then personalised the idea and the comments flowed: “I have a sister”, “I have a brother”, “If I had to save someone I would save my sister”, “If I had to save someone I would save my mummy”, “I would save Ellie” (a teacher).

Saving a bigger person was clearly part of the equation, as was the size of the threat: “I would fight a dinosaur”, “I would fight a dragon, I know about dragons”, “I would shoot it”.

And so this personal but also abstract discussion went on. If we hadn’t had a careful read of the book before lunch in the tipi and discussed relative size, I don’t think the children would have linked this and the idea of reciprocal actions so readily. It takes time and repeated conversations to embed ideas. Not only did they do so, but did it all through talking together, drawing on previous discussions and listening to each other. It was an impressive conversation amongst 3 and four year-olds.

Language truly is the penetrating oil of the mind, making the cogs turn beautifully together. But because  I’m also interested in the concepts the children seem to grasp, here’s a diagram of the ideas they discussed; the maths (and physics) woven into the literacy:

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The strength of children

Two sessions where the children dug deep without any fuss and demonstrated their inner reserves this week.

imageFirst there were attempts on the big yew tree. One child announced “I want to climb” and they were followed by a steady stream of other children who also wanted to climb. We adults positioned ourselves on either side, ready to catch anyone who slid off the sloping trunk, and occasionally commented on their progress, but essentially the climbers made progress by themselves:

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effortful, focused progress with pauses to look, slip back a bit, and try something different. It’s during these times that, as adults, we are most tempted to encourage, praise and reach out to help, and it’s exactly these times when we have to restrain ourselves. Children need to get to a point where they don’t need us.

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The theorist Vygotsky, and his commentator Jerome Bruner, conceived of the idea of “scaffolding” children’s learning,  where the adult offers a supportive framework which can gradually be dismantled and withdrawn as the child grows in imagecompetence.  We were definitely standing about like cranes near finished buildings in this case. Everyone who climbed reached the agreed stopping place and came safely down. Everyone was immensely satisfied with their work.

And then a morning of rain. Persistent, blowing across the landscape in gusts, creating a world of puddles, mud and “real rivers” on the lanes.

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All the usual wet weather exploration happened on the walk up to the woods; the sloshing about in puddles, running, imagejumping, and following the rivulets.  At camp, after a few changes of clothes, the playing and finding out what the water had done to things continued, as did the rain.

At the end of the session we realised there had been not one complaint, not one flagging child over the whole morning.

This is the kind of realisation that makes me happiest at forest school: we spend a lot of time linking things to the curriculum and proving that progress has been made (which is important) but actually, on weeks like this, progress has been made towards something deeper; an inner, peaceful resilience in the children that is only found out in the woods and amongst the elements.

Testing the Ice

We have had some icy mornings at last, giving us the chance to explore what happens to water when it freezes.

The children were interested in the thickness of the ice and wanted to test it out. First they jumped, crunched and scrunched. Then, seeing the chunks of ice they had created, some were keen to pick these up and try dashing them on the ground to see if they would break. (Some chunks, impressively, were too thick).

Ice! The discovery.
Ice! The discovery.

Why do children sometimes seem to have to bash and crash things? Many of the children were really delighted to jump on the ice and smash it up on this freezing morning. We tried showing them how to slide, but they were more interested in breaking! Is this just destructiveness, and what should our approach be?

What can I DO with this?
What can I DO with this?

There is a theory developed by Playworkers (who usually look after older children, originally in adventure playgrounds, now often in after school clubs). This says that children sometimes engage in Mastery Play: seeking to control the ingredients of the natural environment. Digging holes, changing the course of streams and building dens are all examples of this. We should allow this to happen (so long as it’s not too destructive) because it is one way children learn about their environment through play.

Being given time to have these experiences allows for a certain amount of “working through” to take place. Once the breaking up had been done the children diversified into more self-regulated cognitive play: one produced a small plastic bag and began collecting ice, to see if it would melt at camp. Another put some in his backpack to take home at the end of the morning, and another wanted to continue chipping, but with hand-held chunks on a much smaller scale, still interested in the effect he was having.

Chipping and discussing.
Chipping and discussing.

Our job as adults is to observe what is happening and recognise what processes the children may go through. Our luxury at Forest School is  to have all the time needed to allow this to happen; one reason why our walks sometimes take over an hour, and we carry snack with us!

 

Kindling Forest School

Welcome to Kindling Forest School and to the outdoors, where the sparks of learning are truly lit for children!

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Forest school is a Scandinavian approach to children’s learning. It emphasises personal and social development, physical skills and resilience. Children gain all these things in spades through time spent outdoors. You can find out more about Forest School here.

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Kindling was established in 2014 to offer a high quality kindergarten experience, combining the principles of Forest School with learning through the Early Years Foundation Stage. We are Ofsted registered and have three highly qualified practitioners. With small group sizes and our experienced staff, children make very good progress in our care.

We have a Facebook page here, full of the latest photos from the woods and links to more information about outdoor learning. Click the link and follow us!

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Kindling is based in Twyford, Hampshire, and has the use of private woods nearby. We are open during term time, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings between 9am and 1pm. Our sessions cost £26, payable half termly, and are open to children aged 3 to 5 years old.

we also offer a parent and toddler group on Thursdays for the under 3s, and holiday club sessions for primary age children.

Contact catherhutch@msn.com for more information.