Two sessions where the children dug deep without any fuss and demonstrated their inner reserves this week.
First 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:
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.
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“scaffolding” children’s learning, where the adult offers a supportive framework which can gradually be dismantled and withdrawn as the child grows in competence. 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.
All the usual wet weather exploration happened on the walk up to the woods; the sloshing about in puddles, running, jumping, 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.