When I was a child my mum was the school lollipop lady, so when she, my then baby brother and her lollipop stick headed out early, my younger sister, our friend Lou and I were left home alone for what I remember as hours but could only have been 20/30 minutes before we headed off to school ourselves. I don't think of this time with any fear, no what I remember was our back room with an old rickety wooden table that we turned upside down and would then sail off to exotic places, fighting pirates and watching out for sharks. It's funny how this memory sticks with me so clearly, another is of my mums friend Joy who lived on the outskirts of London with her two children, we would head off to visit for the day most holidays, I really remember the wet days where she would lay out an indoor picnic, once with indoor fireworks.
I suspect this is where my love of forest school comes. As a child I wasn't allowed to roam the fields that surrounded our village and certainly today we wouldn't let our children head off out at breakfast with a jam sandwich and bottle of juice not expecting to see them until dinner time. But, it didn't mean that I didn't dream of such things. How many of us would entertain imaginings of living in the woods or a cave for a few days like Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog did in my favourite famous five stories. Of course the sun would shine brightly, we could light a fire and would have fat sausages to put on sticks and cook over the embers followed by enormous marshmallows and there would be nothing to scare us when we curled up in our den made of flowers and ferns to sleep for the night.
Forest school somehow bridges a gap, it provides our sometimes cotton wool wrapped children with an opportunity to be out, at one with nature and for our children, I truly believe this is where they thrive and flourish. Our child 4 in particular is at his most content being outside, he doesn't do well caged up. Or maybe it's me that doesn't cope well, there are lots more reasons to avoid the no word indoors, come down from the window sill, play on the carpet, your crayons are for colouring on paper (not the walls), shower gel is for in the shower (not the living room floor and furniture). Can you run in the hall, it's dangerous in the kitchen. Outside he can run, twirl and whirl about, he can climb the apple tree, dig in the vegetable patch hunting for worms to feed the chickens ( child 3 calls him the worm murderer) or jump on the trampoline. He can shout and scream, singing and laughing letting the breeze carry his noise away. So we have cleared a patch at the end of the vegetable patch and covered it with bark, with branches cut from the apple tree we have edged it with a fence and planted sunflower seeds to grow to great heights in the summer and sweet pea seeds to scramble over the fence adding colour and sweet smells. Our neighbour was cutting down a huge bush so we took the branches and have built a den. The local mechanic let us take some old tyres from his workshop and we have filled them with gravel, sand, mud and water. Last week we held on to the baked bean and chopped tomato tins and painted them with red, yellow and blue enamel, strung them up on string so they now hang over the fence, clinking in the wind or being used to make music with a wooden stick. We added a bug house to the shed and, and There is so much more to do, we are planning to spray a piece of wood with blackboard paint, build a fairy garden, make dream catchers using chicken feathers and other feather finds, paint stones with luminous paint and using old juice and milk bottles add a water wall.
Please sun keep shining, Pinterest fans please keep sharing your den ideas we are planning a year of outdoor imaginings, who wants to come and play????