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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Den, Den...Den!

This afternoon, half of the Year 6 class came to join  our Year 3 group at Forest School for the great den building challenge.

We warmed up with  a few round of the Goblins, Wizards and Ogres Game.

Next we formed into a circle to select the team members for the den building challenge.

Circle Selection - go round the circle and ask the children to choose one piece of den building equipment each (from a range of tarps, picnic blankets, ropes, ball bungees) and stand back in the circle with their chosen piece of equipment behind them.

Three team leaders are chosen. The team leaders are blindfolded and in turn are guided to the centre of the circle and spun around. They walk towards the edge of the circle and the first person they touch joins their team.
The new team member takes the blindfold and does the same until everyone has been picked. Some of the children attempted to work it so that all their friends were on their team. Jordan however, was thinking more strategically. He guided his team mates to pick team members who had the equipment they needed more of.

The team now have their members and equipment. If they discover they don't have the right equipment (e.g. lots of ropes and no tarps) they can attempt to persuade another team to swap some equipment with them.

They are not allowed to take any of the spare kit left over, but can make use of anything else they find lying around on the playground as long as they return it to its rightful place at the end of the session.

They now have a set amount of time to build their den in a place of their choosing.

Once the dens were finished we toured round them giving each group a chance to describe their den, the challenged they had to overcome and what they were most proud of. 
Tabraiz's team had chosen to build their cosy Hobbit inspired den in between the log thrones. They used the log stepping stones to guide visitors to the entrance (though a sign crafted from bark informed us no adults were allowed!)

Haroon's team chose the log posts as a base for their den. Once they had overcome the problem of the wind lifting the roof from their den, they scoured the school grounds for materials to add a few home comforts. An old drawer cabinet and a cone became a tv and tv cabinet, while pine branches encircling their shelter a distinctly Mediterranean feel.

Safa's group took their time to chose a spot to build their den, eventually settling on the mugger pitch as the ground was dry and the metal frame enabled them to easily attach tarps to it with ropes.

The children were then given a flask of hot chocolate and some biscuits to enjoy in their den.

Once all the equipment had be cleared away, we reformed our circle, each took a reflection stick and shared our thoughts with the rest of the group.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Weekend Walk in the Woods

Spring is a wonderful time for a walk in the woods. This weekend, my son and I took a stroll through Bill Wood (which runs into Round Wood and Ravenscliffe Wood). We meandered along the bridle way fringed by lesser celandine past pasture fields where grazing horses nodded was we walked by. Suddenly, on the edge of the field, our eyes were drawn to an interloper skittishly prancing up and down. It was a roe deer feverishly seeking out a way back to safety of the woodland.

We walked deeper into the woodland, our nostrils awakened by the unmistakable scent of wild garlic (ransoms). As we rounded a bend in the path, we were greeted by a swathe of shiny green leaves trembling in the breeze. As we moved closer to take in the heady aroma, we spied a real treasure of the woodland. Clinging to the carcass of a decaying ash were dozens of leathery black orbs that could only be King Alfred’s Cakes (a type of inedible fungi so named as they resemble the charred cakes from the historical legend). This fungi is prized by Forest Schoolers as when dried, it can be used as kindling. It will take a spark from a fire steel and burn slowly like a coal.

Continuing on our journey, we happened upon a splintered and hole ridden trunk that appeared as if it had been in the midst of an intense fire-fight. It was the the calling card of a woodpecker (a woodpecker’s pantry). On further inspection we located the woodpecker’s home several yards away in the trunk of a deceased silver birch.

Heading down toward the beck at the bottom of the woodland, something stirred on the embankment. A triangular flash of black and white stumbled out of sight. Spurred on by the prospect of seeing our first live sighting of (could it really be) a badger, we cautiously advanced. The muddy ground squelched beneath our feet as we crept closer and closer. There it was, in all its feathery glory, a mallard gliding carefree along the water (we had mistaken a duck’s rear and for a badger!)

Dusk was beginning to fall over the woodland, so we casually made our way home, collecting a few oak apples along the way.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Frogspawn, Hammocks and Woodland Flowers

On our walk to the woods today we checked up on the frogspawn the Year 5/6 group had spotted last week
Kayden and Adam used a bow saw to cut a piece of dead wood they found

Exploring the hills and caves

Who's hiding in our new hammock?

Room enough for two

The spring weather is waking the woodland flowers
from their slumber -
Lesser Celandine growing in the base of a tree

Monday, 31 March 2014

A Guiding Hand

We had a new member of staff helping out at Forest School today, Mrs McGrath. The steep slopes and muddy paths can be quite a challenge for the uninitiated. Bailey noticed that Mrs McGrath was in need of some assistance, so walked back to where she was and guided her safely to our summit camp at the top of the hill.

The children spotted this 'Dragon's Pit' on the top of our slope and decided that the commanding views over the beck would make it a good seating area. 

The children used our new binoculars to get a closer look at the beck at the bottom of the hill

Alex looks for his house across the valley.

Buds are starting to appear on branches in our wood.

 Teamwork - Alex, Ibrahim and Kayden transport branches for the frame of the shelter over 'Dragon's Pit.

 Bailey finding good trees to climb and take a rest on.

Kayden creates a triangular base to support his shelter

The Harry Potter tree near Dragon's Pit

The boys use a rope to transport rocks to use a seats up a slope to Dragon's Pit

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Stick With It


Following on from last week's training day, I introduced our Year 5/6 group to the Stick Ninja game. It was a great activity to get us warmed up on what had turned into a bitterly cold day.

Next, the groups split into pairs to work to build the tallest free-standing tower they could. After a short discussion, both groups opted for a triangular frame. As the teams were only allowed one piece of string each to secure their frames (which they were not allowed to cut) Roy's team came up with the ingenious idea of using mud to fix the sticks together. Harris' team initially struggled to keep their heavier wooden poles upright. However, once they moved their frame to an area of softer ground, they were able to us one of their pieces of wood as a mallet to hammer the central pole into place. The completed towers were almost exactly the same height so a draw was declared.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Track a Tree

During Spring, our Forest School groups will be taking part in the ‘Track a Tree’ initiative. Track a Tree is a project aimed at recording the progress of Spring in woodlands across the UK. We will be observing the phenology of individual trees in our woodland and the plants that grow beneath them. Phenology is the study of recurring seasonal events in plants and animals, and the timing of these events in relation to weather and climate.

We will be looking at when the trees come into leaf and when the plants beneath them begin to flower. Our records will help to build up a picture of how climate change may be affecting our woodlands.

You can find out more about the project by going to
Today, our Year 4 group selected the tree they will be observing during the coming months. They began by choosing several trees that met the criteria for the study, before making the final choice at random.

Species considered for the study are: pendunculate oak, sessile oak, silver birch, sycamore, rowan and hazel. All of these species are present in our woodland but the dominate species are oak and silver birch. The tree selected by our group was an oak. In order to determine whether it was a sessile oak or pendunculate, the children looked closely at the fallen leaves and acorns beneath the tree. The leaves were deeply lobed and the acorns were on stalks suggesting that the tree we had chosen was a pendunculate oak.

Once the species had been established, the children began collecting the rest of the data required. They measured the girth of the tree, the width of the tree canopy and the tree's aspect. In addition to this, they recorded the approximate distance from the woodland edge, signs of recent or historic coppicing and whether specified flowering plants were growing in the vicinity of the tree.

They will re-visit the tree weekly and record the timing of the budburst and leaf development.


Monday, 10 March 2014

The Value of a Stick

On Friday, I attended a training day entitled 'The Value of a Stick' led by the immensely talented  and inspiring Annie Berrington of Get Out More CIC. The aim of the day was to share ideas about this most wonderful and adaptive of learning resources.

We began the day by selecting a stick and sharing (and acting out) how the stick could be used. There were suggestions aplenty, a few of which I have listed here:

A magic wand, a potion stirring stick, a conductor's baton, a musical instrument, a mustache, a ladybird ladder, a counting device, plant identification device, a sword, a writing implement, javelin, skewer for cooking food on, fuel for the fire, den building material, fishing rod, prodder, picture name but a few.

Next we played a warm up game utilizing our sticks -Stick Ninja.

How to play Stick Ninja.

  • Choose an honorable opponent
  • Select two sticks each (about thumb thickness and the length of your forearm)
  • Insert one  stick up each your sleeves leaving a few inches of the stick protruding beyond your fingertips (the stick should along the outside of your forearm and the back of your hand).
  • Face your honorable opponent and bow
  • Now aim to grab your opponents sticks before they grab yours ( you must bow each time a stick is claimed and you must stay in your position facing each other - no running off and hiding your sticks!)
  • The winner is the first person to relieve their opponent of both of their sticks.
  • This game can also be played with leaves instead of sticks.
Our next challenge was to work in small groups to create the tallest free-standing stick tower possible. We were given three minutes to collect as many sticks as we needed to build our tower. We were then provided with one piece of string and allowed a further few minutes to construct our tower. Each group chose a similar pyramid structure for their tower. We used the Forest School approved 'Annies high' measurement to judge the height of our towers. The winning tower stretched an impressive 2 and 2/3 Annies high.

Next we moved on to creating a Forest School item that required the joining of two sticks with the ever useful clove hitch. We were to produce a dagger or sword in readiness for a choreographed battle scene. Once the hilt of the sword was attached with a clove hitch, it was stabilized with a spot of square lashing.
We then divided in to teams to plan our battle. The rules dictated that there was to be no contact and that the moves were to be played out in slow motion and gradually sped up. There was a host of different performance styles from flamboyant dance moves to loud warrior cries!

After a recap of safe working methods for using a range of forest school tools (including bow saws, sheath knives, loppers and hand drills) we separated into groups to plan a game made from wood. In the afternoon session, the games would be constructed and presented 'Dragons' Den' style to the rest of the group.

Games constructed included wooden cars, a multi-purpose checkerboard game, a printing stamp and a glockenspiel. With my partner, I chose to make a bow with customised arrows. We used willow for our bow as it has a good degree of flexibility and was readily available. Flexible hardwoods make the best bows. Yew was traditionally used for making bows in the UK. We attached our twine using, you've guessed it, a clove hitch, ensuring that we had the right amount of tension to fire the arrows. In order to make the arrows identifiable once fired (the aim of the game was to see who could fire their arrow the furthest) we personalized them with feathering, leaves and catkin flights.

After we had all taken our turn in the Dragon's Den we concluded our activities with a game of capture the flag (using sticks for the flagpoles of course) which really seemed to bring out our competitive instincts.

To conclude our session, we used yet more sticks to create reflection squares in which to record the events of the day.

I am looking forward to sharing my sticky ideas with my groups this week. I am sure they no doubt will have lots of other suggestions for uses of the humble, yet stickacular stick.

For more stick inspiration:

Nature Detectives Stick Activities

Nature Detectives Twig Towers

The Stick Book

Stick Man