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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Forest CSI Chic!

After the eerie chill of this morning's solar eclipse, the afternoon gifted us with the gentle sunshine befitting the spring equinox. 

Beech group chose to head toward the beck. Having been before, Sahdiya and Hasibah led the group. Lining the bank of of the beck, we were greeted by a swathe of tender green ransom leaves. Ransoms, or wild garlic, are a member of the alium family and can be easily identified by their pungent aroma. Unlike culitivated garlic, the bulb of wild garlic is very small, therefore it is best left in the ground and the leaves harvested. The leaves can be eaten raw and make a great addition to salads, but they can also be added to pasta dishes and pesto.

The children splashed their way through the water following the winding path of the beck bordered by hazel trees to both sides. It was at this point we realised that we had left the spare socks back at school! Not to worry. Hasibah remembered a little trick we had used in the winter when some over exuberant muddy puddle splashing led to some decidely soggy socks. In our safety sack, we always carry a good supply of waste bags. In the past when socks have got soggy and feet cold, the children have taken off their socks, slipped on a couple of bags, then put the socks over the top to stop the bags slipping off, then popped their wellies back on.

The girls had a different take on this method today. As we were basing ourselves  by the beck today and the sun was shining, they chose to hang their socks and boots on a tree to dry and fashion themselves some fetching booties from the bags and string. As they explored the beckside, there was definitely an air of crime scene investigator around their makeshift foot attire!

Meanwhile, Dayan, Fola and Ibrahim decided to make use of the the extensive stems of hazel growing near the water to build on the bow making skills they had learned last week. They were able to choose suitably thick, flexible and straight stems to coppice using the loppers. After a quick refresher, they could make a clove hitch to attach their string to the bow and working with a partner, they secured the other end of the string to create just the right amount of tension.
Fola was very pleased that with a bit of practice and guidance, he was able to perfect his arrow firing technique.

The children are keen to visit the beck again soon, but next time we will remember to bring the spare socks!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Mountain Rescue

Mountain Rescue Control Centre
Stranded Mountaineers Awaiting Rescue
Whilst dressing for Forest School today, Aisha spotted a box in the kit room marked musical instruments. She suggested that we could take some to the woods with us. The rest of the group agreed that it would be fun to create music in the woods. Before long each child was holding a shaker and we set off to the woods like a line of noisy rattlesnakes. The group decided to head towards the top end of the wood towards a 'mountain' they were keen to conquer. They worked together to ensure that they all made it to the summit safely. Still clutching their shakers a mountain rescue role play game began to evolve. The children divided themselves into two groups, casualties at the bottom of the slope and mountain rescuers at the top. The casualties shook their shakers and signaled for help whilst the rescuers held their brightly coloured shakers aloft and shook back to indicate that help was on its way. Holding branches outstretched, the rescuers worked together to pull the stranded mountaineers to safety. The group were so involved in their scenario that they were surprised to learn that it was already snack time and almost time for us to return to school.

Coppicing Hazel for Bow Making

There has been a steady flow of bow making over the past few weeks as children from one Forest School group show of their finished bows to their brothers, sisters and friends prompting them to want to make one too. It was Willow group's turn today. On our way in to the woods, we discussed what properties would make suitable wood from which to make a bow. The children decided that the wood would need to be strong but also bendy. Historically bows were made from the wood of yew trees, but we do not have and yews in our woodland (care must be taken around yew trees as most parts of it are poisonous). Other woods that are used include elm, oak, ash. hazel and maple. We are fortunate to have a number of hazel trees in our woodland that have been coppiced over the years causing them to grow many long straight rods perfect for bow making.

The children were asked to discuss methods they could use to identify which were hazel trees. One suggestion was by looking at the leaves. Leaves can be a very good way to identify trees, but at this time of year, the trees are not in leaf and the leaf litter from last year has started to rot down and break up. Another suggestion was to look at the bark. Hazel has smooth bark with a shiny, reflective quality. Younger hazel stems may have bronze coloured peeling bark which turns pale brown as the tree ages.

For more tips on identifying trees visit:

Once the children had correctly identified a hazel tree, their next task was to select a suitable stem or rod to cut. The best time to coppice trees is during their dormant period usually between February and March (when the tree is bare of leaves). We were going to be using loppers to cut the branches, so the children had to make sure the stems they chose were less than a 2p piece in diameter to ensure the blade would be able to cut through and that the wood would have enough flex. Before using any tool we go through our tool talk together so that we know how to use the tool safely.

When cutting a stem or rod, we aim to cut close to the base and on a slight angle (to prevent water from sitting on the remaining stump causing it to rot). A hazel tree that is not coppiced can live to around 60 years old whereas a coppiced tree can live as long as 500 years!

Once all the children had cut their wood to the desired length, they could begin stringing their bows. They used a clove hitch to attach the string to one end of the bow and with the help of a partner, bent the wood into the desire bow shaped whilst tightly securing the string around the the other end of the bow (testing that the string was taught enough to produce a good' twang').

The next job was to find an arrow that was straight, slightly thinner than the bow and long enough to be drawn back against the string with one hand whilst rest on the hand holding the centre of the bow.

When testing the bow, the children made sure they chose an area where no one would accidentally walk across their path. 

At the end of the session, we discussed how the children could ensure that their bows were used safely when they took them home.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Arrows, Elder and Anime

Today, Oak group's Forest School session took place on the school site. This gave them  the opportunity to explore the resources available in the school grounds. At the end of the school field is an elder tree that has been uprooted. Manhoor and Laiba took advantage of this to make some elder bead bracelets. The pith inside elder branches is very soft and spongy allowing it to be easily hollowed out. They used secateurs to cut small lengths of branch and threaded them on to coloured wire.

The grounds maintenance contractors had pruned some of the trees in the Children's Centre this morning leaving behind an enticing pile of branches. Reece, Faham and Atif made use of this to create some bow and arrows.

In class, the children have been learning about bridge construction. Anesu and Abisha chose to use the den building posts and some ropes to create a series of rather wobbly rope bridges. They challenged each other to see who could hang on the longest.

Michael has been learning how to draw Anime characters. He chose to use marker pens give our log pile a delightfully expressive Anime makeover.

Mohammed used the afternoon to practice using a range of tools including a bow saw, loppers and secateurs to cut lengths of wood.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Nest, Dens and Waking Trees

Over the past term Holly group have become familiar with their favourite woodland places and arrived buzzing with ideas about what they wanted to do. A number of the group were keen to return to the den they have been working on together. Murtaza, Aahil, Aribah, Kayden and Jack worked together to add more branches to the roof and move rocks and logs to make seats.
Let's work together to finish our den
It's still here
Anisa and Maryam were keen to check on the nest they had built last week. We have been looking for signs of spring. Maryam noticed buds on the ends of branches. We talked about how at this time of year, the trees are waking from their winter rest and the sap is beginning to rise through the trunk, feeding the leaves forming inside the buds. The girls used stethoscopes to listen to for the sap rising.

Serish challenged herself to climb a steep hill.

Our cosy nest

Now you see me
Now you don't

Monday, 2 March 2015

Reflecting on our sessions this term in Hazel Group.

Hazel group having been reflecting on what skills they have acquired so far this term and what they would like to learn in the coming weeks.

Haaris has enjoyed learning how to climb trees, drinking hot chocolate and playing hide and seek with his friends. He would like to have a party in the woods.

Arebah has enjoyed climbing trees,  finding a rock with interesting properties, and taking part in the hibernation challenge. Next she would like to build a mud slide, find out more about the birds living in the woodland and discover new plants.

Lizzie liked climbing trees as she had never done it before. She would like to see a badger as they sound beautiful. She would also like to walk on a tightrope as it sounds fun.

Sannaullah enjoyed digging for worms with his friends and playing kings. Next he would like to make woodland jewellery and look for wildflowers and animals.

Aisha has had lots of fun climbing trees. getting stuck in the mud and making pancakes. She has also enjoyed splashing in puddles. Next she would like to make a kite and hunt for spiders in their  sticky gluey webs.

Nellie-Jo enjoyed learning how to make fire and using a rope to climb a hill. She would liketo build a mud castle,plant some flowers and learn more about woodland birds.

Eesa liked digging for worms and lighting the fire. He has also enjoyed taking photographs and videos of our Forest School sessions. Next he would like to make some woodland jewellery and look for wildflowers and birds.

Phoebe liked using the binoculars to observe a nature as well as climbing trees and collecting natural materials.  She would like to do some foraging and rope balancing.

It looks like we have some action packed sessions ahead.