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Thursday, 26 December 2013

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky; Chief Seattle's Address

In 1884 or 1885 a speech was given and a letter sent to the president of the United States  about the state of the land being purchased from the Indians by the government, it has been attributed to a Native American chief of the time a certain Chief Seattle, although it is unlikely that he actually gave the speech or wrote the letter (Clark 1985). Regardless of where the words originate they contain some interesting thoughts;

"what will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men....... It will be the end of living, and the beginning of survival" (Jenkins 1993).

I think it's interesting that someone thought the 'taming' of the wilderness would lead to a state of survival and that the way of life of the Indian tribes (which nowadays would probably be considered survival in terms of the subsistence nature of their lifestyle and the methods they lived by) was living. Why do we have it the other way around nowadays? Why is our total dependence on intensive agriculture, supermarkets, refrigeration, electricity etc considered part of  living when we are dependant on so much which is completely out of our control.
Could giving people a taste of bushcraft and 'primitive' skills break the dependence on technology? Or at least promote a better understanding of alternative ways of living, based on nature rather than fighting against it.

Remember though that ultimately hunter gatherer peoples who practiced these skills as a way of life lived/live in much less dense populations than most of us do, for example the current population of the UK (approximately sixty three million) could not support itself by primitive means. Not necessarily due to a lack of necessary skills in the general population (although that is also true) but for a number of reasons including the fact that such a large population would not be able to migrate to take advantage of local, seasonal resources. The depletion of woodland and the disruption of food chains would also be a factor which would make survival without agriculture impossible for such a large population.


Clark, J (1985) "Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of An Undocumented Speech"  Prologue  Magazine, NARA, Vol. 18, No. 1, available from;

Jenkins, S (1993) Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. New Ed. Puffin

Thursday, 5 December 2013

An Activity to Keep Your Hands Warm

It was a rough day to be outside today, the trailer I normally pull behind the tractor to transport students around had the tarpaulin cover ripped off it by the wind this morning. So what do you do with students when the weather is that bad?

I'm currently working with outdoor education and countryside management students at Moulton college as they get involved in skills swaps, the outdoor education students teach my countryside students how to climb and kayak while my students teach them to shoot, coppice and do bushcraft.  To stay warm on such a windy day what could be better than get them all around the camp fire to have a go at making some coal hollowed spoons and bowls.

For first attempts there are some really good results here;

A selection of partially completed spoons and one bowl, all the burning and scraping kept the hands and faces warm on such a cold day.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

"Rich in Potential, Strong, Powerful and Competent"

A pine resin candle made by eight year old visitors to a residential environmental education project.

I was doing some reading as part of my studies towards a Masters degree in outdoor education recently and came across this quote in a paper; the author describes the children he is working with as being trusted to be "Rich in Potential, Strong, Powerful and Competent" (Edwards et al 1998), this was describing children in an indoor mainstream nursery setting but it stuck me that this quote can sum up the aims of forest schools, and early years outdoor education in the UK.
The social development and empowering of children is a key aim of these programs; is there a better way to empower children than give them opportunities to be outside, use tools, light fires, cook food and have their own adventures. I don't really think there is, however much responsibility you give to a child in a classroom they are still ultimately controlled by their surroundings, the layout of the classroom, the walls, the rules of being indoors; don't be too messy, don't be too loud etc.... By taking them outside and letting them explore and discover they are empowered to develop their own understanding and skills, with some element of guidance and facilitation from a supervising adult of course, but that freedom of being outdoors and being told to "go and explore" or "here's a firesteel, make a fire" must be far more empowering than being inside, mustn't it??    

A 'Fairy boat' made by seven year old's 


Edwards, Gandini L, Forman G (1998) The Hundred Languages of Children - Advanced Reflections. Greenwich Connecticut. Ablex Publishing; cited in Harker E (n.d) How can I carry out Masters level educational research without abandoning my own educational values? available from [accessed on 04/11/2010]

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Countryside Management and Outdoor Education Teams up at Moulton College

As a lecturer at Moulton College I have recently been able to work with other staff to provide opportunities for Countryside Management and Outdoor Education Students to team up to take part in a range of activities, check out the Moulton College countryside management blog for more details;

Moulton College Countryside Management: Trading Skills in Countryside Management: Countryside Management students have teamed up with students studying outdoor education at Moulton College, Outdoor education students have...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Bushcraft Isn't Fun

I love bushcraft and am passionate about it and of course it is fun but do I feel that it's fun when I'm absorbed in practicing or teaching it?
For me probably not, and I can say that of a number of other subjects which I am equally passionate about, for example when I am engrossed in coaching someone on how to shoot a rifle or light a fire by friction I am not conscious of having fun, this has been described as a 'flow state' (Csikszentmihalyi 2002) perhaps more commonly referred to as being focused or 'in the zone'.
I've seen this in my students as well, recently they have been working on friction firelighting as part of a bushcraft element of the BTEC skills for landbased outdoor and adventurous activities module which I teach them. Although I think they enjoy learning the bushcraft skills I am teaching them there have been times, especially while working on their friction fire projects, where some students who would normally be very prone to loosing concentration, chatting with friends instead of working or surreptitiously using their mobile phones while they think my back is turned have concentrated on their projects to the exclusion of all else. They have found their 'flow state' they will work and work and work. Those that have reached this stage have always been the ones who make fire first. The same goes for other subjects, some students get engrossed in deer management or firearms but for those who find the 'flow state' the subject becomes more than that, they become passionate about it and able to dedicate their time and attention to it beyond what they normally would.

Is reaching your potential and finding a subject to be passionate about more important than fun?


Csikszentmihalyi M (2002) Flow London. Rider Press

Monday, 11 November 2013

Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose

From Top Clockwise; A crook knife made from an old hacksaw blade in a cherry wood handle, a blade from a broken set of secateurs destined to be turned into a bushcrafting knife. Two smaller knife blades made from a broken silky saw blade. 

We often use the words Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose to encourage sustainable living and environmentally friendliness and some of my students have recently been taking that to heart and saving themselves some money on bushcraft gear too.
From broken and blunt hacksaw blades they have made crook knives and small whittling knives, from a broken silky saw blade they marked out two small knife blanks and have further plans to turn a broken set of secateurs into a bushcraft knife too.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Firearms and Bushcraft

Due to sometimes complex UK firearms legislation firearms other than air-rifles are rarely discussed in the context of bushcraft. In other countries this is not always the case perhaps particularly in the United States where firearms are much more a part of every day life than they are in the UK.
In my day job as a countryside management lecturer specialising in game and deer management I regularly teach students to use firearms as a vital part of their studies. Many of them will go on to be the game keepers, deer stalkers, pest controllers and park rangers of the future so a good understanding of the practical use of firearms as well as a theoretical knowledge of legislation, codes of practice and ballistics is going to be vital for them.
Yesterday for instance I was demonstrating the effectiveness of various types of shotgun ammunition using a pattern board to illustrate the spread of different shot types at different ranges before going on to coach students who were shooting at clay pigeons, some for the first time.

Here I have culled two reeves muntjac as part of a deer management plan to reduce numbers of deer in and near two woodlands which harbor vulnerable plant communities and on the surrounding agricultural land where the attention of too many Chinese water deer is damaging crops.
The rifle I am using here is a Tikka T3 Hunter chambered in .243 winchester with a T4 moderator and a 6*40 leopould scope.

One of the major skills associated with bushcraft is the collection of food whether that's plant food or food in the form of meat. There are a similar number of laws and codes of practice in the UK related to the use of traps as there are regarding the use of firearms so maybe it's time to look at the possibilities of introducing some firearms training courses for people interested in the use of firearms for gathering food in the context of bushcraft. Who would be interested?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ray Mears Tracks Raoul Moat

Ray Mears is one of the leading experts on Bushcraft and Survival skills in the world, In this BBC interview he talks about his involvements in the hunt for killer Raoul Moat and describes how he went about tracking him;

Tracking skills are often taught as part of the wide ranging set of skills which makes up 'bushcraft', although it's practical application to track murderers and criminals is the exception rather than the rule there are many real life applications of tracking. My countryside management students learn to recognise sign and determine from indirect observation of droppings, feeding signs footprints and other signs to determine the species of animal or bird and also to determine the population of a certain species and evaluate the amount of damage a certain species does. The following pictures show some sign and how it might be interpreted;

Typical damage caused to a young ash tree, in this case by a male roe deer (a buck), this bole scoring as it's known is caused by a male deer scraping upwards with the point or points of their antlers scoring the trees bark. The height of the damage above the ground is somewhat indicative of the species causing the damage. 

A reeves muntjac 'slot' or footprint. Reeves muntjac are the smallest deer found wild in the UK, as you can see here the slot could almost be covered up with the pad of your thumb. You can also see from the more faded, indistinct prints surrounding this print that this one is much fresher.   

A deer 'couch' a sheltered area, often under trees or in scrubby areas where deer lay up during periods of inactivity.

A picture from my time in Sweden, typical damage caused by a beaver. 

What Mr Mears describes are these same skills amplified by his many years of experience and used in this case to track a human, and there really are many people who use tracking in their lives and careers in the countryside.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Self Taught Bowyer; because school wasn't enough.

This fantastic talk by Dong Woo Jang, who was fifteen at the time he gave this talk, epitomises self directed experiential learning. Although teachers can guide and enhance experiential learning there is also the argument that true experiential learning must take place without the direct intervention or 'mediation' by a teacher.
Dong has clearly found his passion in bow making and to escape from the pressures of school he, of his own initiative, found and pursued an activity which he has mastered only through practice and self directed, self motivated study. Through his free time activity he has developed an interest in history and traditional Korean bow making, I think this begs the question; What kind of traditional skills could our youth in the UK reinvent?

Bushcraft would be a fantastic medium for awaking an enthusiasm in the younger generation for traditional skills such as green woodwork, archery, basketry, timber sports etc... There are surely many self taught people out there who like Dong have found an activity you enjoy and become proficient purely by your own practice and experience, WHAT TRADITIONAL SKILLS HAVE YOU LEARNED YOURSELVES?

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Forest Within; The world-view of the Tukano Amazonion Indians by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff

A fascinating book although a little difficult to find, my attention was first drawn to it while reading a Schumacher briefing titled Sustainable Education: Re-Visioning Learning and Change by the quote "Many indigenous peoples have been practicing forms of sustainable education in their own contexts over thousands of years". That quote had influenced and inspired my involvement with bushcraft since I first read it four years ago and is part of the reason I started this blog. 

The Forest Within presents the world view of the Tukano Indians as experienced by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff who spent many years living among the Indians of the North-West Amazon region. The book presents their view on life, their religion and their environment. Much of their belief system revolves around their rain-forest environment and it's wildlife, they believe in a 'Master of Animals' a God to all intents and purposes who they respect and believe will punish them for over-hunting. This among other beliefs profoundly influences their behavior towards their environment and could be a lesson to us in the UK. 

Their bushcraft skills are of course very well developed and they rely on those skills for their survival, in fact although they practice a very basic form of  'gardening', it certainly can't be classed as agriculture, which involves felling trees to provide space for food plats to grow, they don't clear the fallen trees they leave them and allow plants to grow between the fallen trunks. They are also very fond of palm grubs as a food and will also fell pataba palm trees and cut notches into the felled trunks to attract the female beetles to ensure a regular supply of grubs. But this is as far as their 'gardening' goes and they are generally opposed to the idea of domestication. They believe that medicinal plants, fruit trees and other useful plants grow better when left in permanent interaction with their local climate, soil flora, fauna, pollinators and even pests. 

This book provides an excellent insight into the world views and practical skills of the Tukano Indians and makes some very interesting points which could be applied to environmental education in the UK.       

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wild Food; Is Britain Behind the Rest of Europe

I was lucky enough to spend two years living in Sweden, it seems to me that over there a much larger percentage of the population take the collection of wild food for granted; the majority of people will happily eat wild food such a mushrooms and berries and most of those will take part in collecting those foods themselves.

In the UK it seems that the number of people who make their own jams, juices, soups, pies and preserves with wild ingredients are dwindling, although there have been recent resurgence of enthusiasm for wild food with the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall regularly including wild ingredients in his cooking and mentions of wild ingredients on other other popular TV cookery programmes such as BBC's masterchef.

Now foraging is a major hobby of mine and I regularly cook food with foraged ingredients for my family infact tomorrow Sunday dinner will be goose which I traded for some venison with a stuffing of mushrooms and sweet chestnuts foraged today. I try and get my children involved in the foraging as well and they today helped pick the mushrooms and find the biggest sweet chestnuts among the fallen leaves. They know not to pick or eat any mushrooms unless I have checked them first but I think children generally miss out on that kind of experience in Britain. As with Sweden I think there is a greater acceptance of foraging in Europe than over here and parents have the knowledge to teach their children which fungi, berries and plants are edible and which are poisonous, in fact it's so much a part of the culture that mushroom picking features in this episode of the Moomins;

Moomin; By kallerna - Own workCC BY-SA 3.0,

Follow the links to jump to the appropriate spot in the episode unless you want to watch the whole episode about Moomin and his invisible fiend. 

This LINK will take you to the original Swedish.  

This LINK will take you to the English translation.

And one for luck; the LINK will take you to the Norwegian translation. 

Children in Europe are watching programs in which mushroom foraging is portrayed positively and would clearly be something they could relate to. It's a shame that most British children would not be able to relate to the experience of mushroom hunting, maybe they should all watch this episode so they start pestering their parents to take them out to look for mushrooms.

The reason I have provided the links in the original Swedish (and in Norwegian) is that I'd like to make a point about the translation; in the Swedish and Norwegian versions the real names of the mushrooms depicted are used whereas in the English translation the names of the fungi the characters have collected are just made up, have you ever heard of an 'insiduous pepper spunk'? 

English (as in the Moomin episode); Cowsbane
Swedish; Röd flugsvamp
Norwegian; Röd flugsvamp

Cicuta virosa Myrkkykeiso IMG 0357 C
Real Cowbane is actually one of the Umbelifers, similar to Hemlock and is very poisonous but is definitely not a mushroom. 
By Anneli Salo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sickener. - - 579222.jpg
By Steve Partridge, CC BY-SA 2.0,
English (as in the Moomin episode); Deadly tufted toadstool
Swedish; Giftkremla
Norwegian; Giftkremla
REAL ENGLISH NAME; Russula emetica

Amanita pantherina20100914 268
By Bff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
English (as in the Moomin episode); Spotty fly bane
Swedish; Brunflugsvamp
Norwegian; Brunflugsvamp

By James Lindsey at Ecology of CommansterCC BY-SA 3.0,
English (as in the Moomin episode); Insiduous pepper spunk
Swedish; Pepparkremla
Norwegian; Pepparkremla
REAL ENGLISH NAME; Russula badia (burning brittlegill)

So my big questions are;
  • Would this sort of content make it into a children's television programme made here in the UK? or would it be considered irresponsible or a liability if someone tried to sue after eating something depicted?
  • Why not provide proper translations of the names of the fungi depicted? It's fairly clear just from the pictures what they are meant to be (at least for the fly agaric and panther cap) and if someone has gone to the trouble of translating the rest of the programme why not the names too. It's not a case of the name being lost in translation if it was just a case of a direct translation from Swedish not matching the English name we'd have had a 'red fly mushroom' not 'cowsbane'.
I suppose the answer might be that on the whole we don't care enough about nature in the UK, it's not interesting enough and we are slightly scared of it. I hope that's not the answer but I am concerned that it might be and for that very reason I am starting a new vlog specifically to share ideas and experiences of teaching children in nature and the outdoors and helping them learn to love it. 

Look out next week for the first installment of the Bushcraft Babies vlog.  

Thanks for reading 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Clas Ohlson UK

This might not be directly related to education but;

I used to look in Clas Ohlson regularly when I lived in Sweden for bushcraft tools and you could often pick up knives, fire steels, gill nets, dry bags etc... For much cheaper than you could find them elsewhere. It seems they now have a presence in the UK;

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Bushcraft as an Educational Activity

I recently blogged about my research into the value of bushcraft when it is applied to formal education, this research has now been published by the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) and can be found in the Autumn 2013 edition of their Horizons journal.

A few years before embarking on this more recent bushcraft related research I completed a project partly towards my undergraduate studies and partly as a fact finding/developmental exercise on the effectiveness of using bushcraft in an environmental education setting. This project was a vital part of the formation of teaching resources and courses for my company SurvivalHobbies which I was running at the time.

For the full report of how I used bushcraft to meet learning outcomes such as 'working as part of a group', 'environmental awareness' and 'making the most of leisure time' follow this link.

Practical Bushcraft Projects for Countryside Management Students

My students have recently been able to carry out some bushcraft tasks related to their studies of practical estate skills, game bird production and green woodwork.

Over the last couple of weeks they have made several functioning pheasant traps of the sort that would have been used by game keepers to catch pheasants for breeding purposes, nowadays keepers normally use large catchers made of steel mesh or adapted partridge pens with which they can catch dozens of birds at a time. The traps the students produced are much more rustic (despite the blue baler twine) but would still be functional.

The students had coppiced the willow used in the construction of these traps themselves and after some experimentation with trigger mechanisms (they didn't think my suggestion was good enough apparently) they settled on using a split stick trigger and a trip wire with bait being spread underneath the trap.
They will get a chance to test the effectiveness of these traps as well as more modern alternatives in January when they begin to catch up the estates pheasants ready for egg production in the Spring. 
Another recent project was this small basket made from willow and nettles and seen here full of shaggy ink cap fungi;

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Child Development in Forest Schools

Children and young people are living in the ‘most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth’ (Robinson 2010) however for many young people much of this stimulation comes in the form of video games and TV, Forest School is an excellent way of introducing children who may not have the opportunity before to the most stimulating environment that exists, THE OUTDOORS!
Many educational professionals advocate the use of displays, posters, and other things which enrich the environment in their classroom, even including music, and scented candles to create a sensory rich environment (Jensen 1998).   But the perfect environment for learning already exists THE OUTDOORS!
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory identifies distinct stages in a child’s development and suggests that at the 3rd stage of Psychosocial development which takes place during preschool years children begin to assert control over the world through play and other social interactions, successful development at this stage equips a child to lead others and feel capable. Forest school activities which focus on the social development of a child should then ensure that these requirements are met and the very nature of Forest Schools, encouraging children to learn and develop through play  which the individual or group of children directs themselves means that this development will be aided by taking part in Forest School programs. In fact the word used to best describe the activities during this period of a childs development which will most help his or her development is EXPLORATION ( 2011). This stage of development is where children will develop initiative and if in a Forest School setting they can develop the initiative to break their normal boundaries and take part in more adventurous activities it will set them up for life to be proactive and enthusiastic about achieving their potential. It is my opinion because of the modern shift towards sheltering young people from the outdoors environment and trying to put more and more control and restraint on activities which may be perceived by parents and policy makers as risky that need to explore is not met and even young people well into secondary school and even beyond would benefit massively from being given a chance to take part in Forest Schools where the boundaries are different and they have the opportunity to take the initiative and make of the experience what they want whether that be self-motivated and governed activity or learning specific skills or subjects which are relevant in an outdoor setting but also in everyday life. Eriksons theory goes on to break down the development of a person up until maturity and death and there is no reason that Forest Schools in one form or another could not help development at any stage this process.
Another relevant theory within Child development relevant to Forest Schools is that of Jean Piaget, but it is my opinion that this theory is relevant to Forest Schools only in that Forest Schools goes against Piagets theory. Piaget theorised that intelligence developed in the same way across individuals however Forest Schools gives participants the chance to choose their own way to develop, with a much more open agenda than classroom based learning participants can choose to work as groups or individuals and there is also a lot of choice as to exactly what they do with their time on a Forest School course, with the teacher being there purely as a facilitator to allow the participants choice of activity to be possible. Unlike a classroom where despite any teachers best attempt at ensuring differentiation between the needs of individual learners, teaching in a classroom setting does put a limit on this however in a Forest School setting there is no such limitation and differentiation can truly be seen working as it should with learners who want to learn outside learning outside, those who prefer to be inside retiring to a shelter or building their own, those who work best in groups developing the social skills  to gather likeminded people around them to form a group and chose activities to be involved in while people who are more comfortable working on their own can do so. It is also an excellent pressure free way of breaking boundaries such as helping those who work poorly in groups develop better teamwork skills.
The general ethos of Forest Schools and approach to teaching is best described by the humanistic learning theories. The humanistic school teaches that emotional and personal development should be valued higher than academic achievement based on formal testing and grading. It teaches that learners should be allowed to pursue their own interests and talents in order to develop according to their own agenda (Petty, 2004, pp. 16-18) (Hunt, 2009) (Patterson, 1977). This certainly applies to Forest Schools and while delivering Forest Schools courses (see the evaluation of the Forest School course I delivered in my portfolio) I found myself adjusting my approach and recognising that I should have been even more humanistic in my approach to delivering the course. That approach is what make Forest Schools for the participants. The benefits of this approach can be seen among learners and it is clear how this kind of approach supports student development, with the children able to pick their own activities much of the time and manage their own risks Forest Schools are the ultimate form of discovery learning. The concept of discovery learning is basically that the most effective way of understanding a principle or subject is to allow a learner to solve a problem related to that topic  (Bruner, 1966) (Bruner, 1971). As teams and individuals children taking part in Forest Schools will be confronted with numerous ‘problems’;
·         Shelter building
·         Camp fire preparation
·         Scavenger hunts
·         Blind trails
·         Team games
All these things contain an element of problem solving and although the forest school leader will support the participants throughout it is by discovering their own solutions that the children will develop most. While not bound by the rules of a classroom or the constraints of a strict curriculum these discoveries will come thick and fast in such a stimulating environment as the countryside.

In fact with so much stimulation in the outdoor environment I believe it is impossible for children not to benefit and develop as a result of any outdoor activity but the Forest School program with it’s balance of education and adventure makes the most of that opportunity.  


For a full reference list see my full essay at; 

The Role of the Forest School Leader in Promoting a Childs Social and Emotional Development.

The ‘natural flight of steps’ pictured in my earlier post illustrates the hoped for progression in a child taking part in Forest Schools from a disinterest and poor understanding of nature or worse a fear of nature to a good understanding of the natural world. This improved understanding will allow young people to have an influence on society but perhaps more important than their newfound understanding are the social skills that will allow them to put their views across. Without the emotional development and promotion of social skills that Forest Schools facilitates a child may develop a lifelong interest in nature but never be able to articulate that to a wider audience.
There have been several studies commissioned by the forestry commission which indicate that benefits of Forest Schools for the participants can be summarised by these seven headings:
  • ·         Increased self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • ·         Improved social skills;
  • ·         The development of language and communication skills;
  • ·         Improved physical motor skills;
  • ·         Improved motivation and concentration;
  • ·         Increased knowledge and understanding of the environment;
  • ·         New perspectives for all involved.

These benefits were also observed to be imported back to children’s other settings and homes. (O’Brien and Murray 2004; 2005; 2006; 2007; Borradaile 2006; Hughes and Jenner 2007; Knight 2009)

 Case Study:
"One child who was very intimidated if asked to speak in front of the class-volunteering to explain the rules of a game to a group of visiting children from another class and doing a very good job. Another child who was reluctant to engage in the classroom and also reluctant to do any physical activity, he became extremely motivated both in the woodland and back at the school, he played with a number of different members in the class" (Archimedes Training Ltd.).

The social and emotional development of children is fundamental to the ethos of Forest School and the Forest School Leaders role in all this potential development in their students is an important one. With such great potential for development the Forest School Leader has a great responsibility to give children the best experience they can. Much will depend on the choice of activity’s, the preparation of material and the forest school site, the leaders own experience and expertise of nature and their approach to delivering the Forest School program, but also not least the way they interact with the children and demonstrate social skills.  One of the most important roles of a Forest School leader with regard to the emotional development of children will be combatting low self-esteem by helping children succeed at tasks and increase their confidence. There is a need for children to be provided with small, achievable and progressively more challenging tasks which they are likely to succeed (Maynard 2007).

"We believe that if children feel good about themselves then they will become more confident and so you can give them little challenges knowing they will achieve…and begin to feel that they can push themselves" (Bridgewater College).

Choosing appropriate activities for the individuals and adopting a relevant approached to the delivery, including differentiating activities to children with different abilities, interests and potentially special needs will be key in promoting this improvement in self-esteem.

 "Offering learners a variety of ways of engaging with content does seem to beneficial in terms of both outcome and motivation" (Becta, 2005: 4).

 I consider it an essential quality in a Forest School leader, being able to differentiate activities for children who will not always have the same needs or interests. I have had experience of dealing with participants who want nothing more than to be able to build ‘animal houses’ out of leaves and other woodland debris and would be quite happy spending all their time doing that. In a Forest School setting that is fine but it will be up to the leader to ensure that he or she gets the most out their house building as possible by linking it in with opportunities to develop. Other participants may want a more structures approach and again it will be the leaders responsibility to plan and prepare for the more structured elements of Forest Schools, the games, scavenger hunts and lessons that will take place.  Again there must be an element of differentiation here as well, some children may be able to read the information on the ecology of a bird or animal from the back of the each one teach cards, other may not be able to read much of it and other won’t be able to read it at all and can be encouraged to describe the animal, to say where they think it lives, and what it likes to eat just by looking at the pictures. Sometimes this will lead to a child telling their class mates in no uncertain terms that they have a cormorant on their cards and it’s favourite thing to eat is salad. Differentiation is not just allowing the students to choose the activities they take part in or making sure there is a something for everyone to get involved in regardless of ability or age, it will involve the Forest School leader involved in the delivery of an extended forest schools course planning and preparing for the specific requirements of the group which they will come to know over the weeks they are involved with them.
Another of the keys in encouraging the social and emotional development of children involved in Forest School is that they are encouraged to take part in activities which may be perceived as risky. These activities help children gain a sense of responsibility for their own actions and towards others (Maynard 2007). Not only does taking part in these activities help increase confidence and ability but with success will also allow a Forest School leader to praise real achievement which is more beneficial to a child’s self-esteem than heaping indiscriminate praise (Baumeister et al 2003).

A leaders responsibility then is primarily to facilitate real achievement in an environment which will allow children to conduct their own explorations and manage their own learning building their self-esteem, confidence and independence and encourage them to build relationships with other their own age as they discover the need for working as a team to achieve more than they may have been able to alone. A leader will at all times demonstrate exceptional social skills in dealing with colleagues and children and at all times act as a role model for the children giving praise for successes and help when required. In carrying out these programs in a natural environment all the social and emotional development goals of the program can be met while increasing the children’s understanding of the natural environment and environmental issues. 


For a full reference list see my full essay at; 

Creating Bushcraft Teaching Resources and Proving it's Value in Environmental Education

A key part of my personal development as a bushcraft instructor and probably the catalyst to my interest in Bushcraft as a tool in formal education was a project I carried out a few years ago as part of my studies at University;


Indigenous peoples have within the context of their own lifestyles been practicing ‘environmental education’ for thousands of years (Sterling 2001), but although the skills practiced by indigenous peoples survive in remote areas of the globe those skills have in our modern society been tagged as ‘bushcraft’ and become little more than an adventurous free time activity or a topic of interesting TV documentaries. Several case studies have made the observation that the effectiveness of environmental education could be increased by the inclusion of ‘free time’ and adventurous activities within environmental education programs (Cooper 1998). The purpose of this research was to establish the value of bushcraft within environmental education not only as an additional adventurous element to a program but as a relevant part of a course with appropriate links with the curriculum. As a result of this research it was hoped that a curriculum could be prepared for a number of bushcraft sessions which could be used within formal education to meet some objectives of a course rather than just being an enrichment activity.

The full write up of this project and my conclusions can be found here;

An Introduction to Forest Schools

Discussion and Review of Current Forest School Philosophy and Aims in light of its recent Historical Development. 

The roots of what we in England now know as Forest Schools can be traced back to Scandinavia, ‘Friluftsliv’ literally ‘fresh air life’ was originally a Norwegian expression and is a concept deeply ingrained in their culture (Knight 2009). ‘Friluftsliv’ is also an integral part of the Swedish national curriculum; this approach is extended to all age groups in Scandinavia including the pre-school age group with ‘skogsmulle’ in Sweden and ‘Naturbørnehaven’ in Denmark.
The Swedish approach to Forest School style programs for pre-school children began in 1957 with Gösta Frohm (Joyce 2004)who at the time was head of the Swedish Society for Outdoor Life (Friluftsfrämjandet). He believed that from a very early age children should have opportunities to learn about sustainability and the environment (Joyce 2004).

Bringing Forest School to the UK

The children set their own agenda, cook [on open fires], listen to storytelling, sing songs, and explore at their own level. They are able to climb very high into the trees on rope ladders and swings, and sit and whittle sticks with knives, alone " (Trout 2004).

This was an observation made during the trip to Denmark in 1994 by the early years department of Bridgewater College which began the formal development of Forest Schools in this country.  Within the UK forest schools expanded slowly, with the nursery at Bridgewater running forest school sessions, and later with Edexcel as their examinations board developing a suite of courses to transmit the forest school ethos (Knight 2009) and train new practitioners. However it was not until 2002 that a large organisation endorsed Forest Schools, it was then that The Forestry Commission stated “access to green space is not just about ‘the environment’. For young children there is perceived to be great benefit in teaching most subjects in a natural environment” (O’Brien, Tabbush, 2002).   Since then Forest Schools had continued to find favour in this country and throughout the world, Skogsmulle schools are found in Japan, Latvia, Russia, Germany, Norway, and Finland (Joyce 2004) and within the UK there are now dozens of providers of Forest Schools programs and training for practitioners.
Although there are now many well established providers of Forest Schools throughout the country the aims and ethos of Forest Schools is not always compatible with modern attitudes towards the outdoors and education.  Many parents and other well-meaning individuals have developed an attitude of ‘risk avoidance’   rather than one of trying to help children self-manage and approach activities that may be viewed as ‘risky’ themselves and learn to deal with those situations. Instead we as a society are now incapable of dealing with risks and have implemented unnecessary safety measures to avoid them, often at the expense of freedom and enjoyment (Gill 2007). Some of the activities involved in Forest Schools can be perceived as risky even something as harmless as ‘playing in the woods’ is not something that every child can do anymore. Forest Schools are a good way of redressing this balance and hopefully parents will feel more comfortable about their children taking part in activities in the woods and countryside as part of a Forest School course where there is less perceived risk if not on their own. This will be discussed more in the following essay on the Forest School leader’s role.
With regard to the curriculum and summative assessment led nature of modern education Forest Schools with its very open learner centred approach does not quite fit in, or at least has a niche all of it’s own. The fact that a learner will not finish a Forest School course with a recognised qualification and that there is no funding to be had for an institution for learners who take part in Forest Schools courses  makes Forest Schools an investment on the part of many institutions which they will see no financial gain from. This may be an issue for many institutions and although there are organisations which support Forest Schools such as the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trusts and some local authority’s this lack of funding may be a hindrance for many who would otherwise be involved in Forest Schools.

Philosophy and Aims
The best way to illustrate the philosophy and aims of forest schools is with this diagram:

Figure 1; Friluftremjanded 2006

This diagram focuses on the environmental education aspect of Forest Schools but other areas (and indeed in this country at least the environmental education aspect of Forest Schools would probably be considered secondary to the social development of participants)  of development among Forest Schools Participants may include;
·         Creative development
·         Physical development
·         Maths development
·         Communication, language and listening
·         Personal, social and emotional development
·         Knowledge and understanding of world.
·         (Forest Research 2005)

A Forest Research report on Forest Schools in England included the following which I think summarises very effectively the key features of a Forest School.
·         The use of a woodland (and therefore ‘wild’) setting that is framed by
strict safety routines and established boundaries that allows the flexibility and
freedom for child-initiated (not only issue-led) learning and other innovative
approaches to learning to take place in a low-risk environment. This woodland
setting is important particularly for children from areas of the country where
there is little opportunity for contact with the natural environment.
·         Learning can be linked to the national curriculum and foundation stage
objectives whilst setting those objectives in a different context, and it is not
focused just on the natural environment. By incorporating innovative
approaches to learning (such as undertaking small and easily achievable
tasks) children are encouraged to develop their innate curiosity and
motivation to learn. This is particularly important for those who find it difficult
to assimilate knowledge in a strictly ‘classroom’ environment.
·         The freedom to explore using multiple senses is fundamental for
encouraging creative, diverse and imaginative play. The focus is on the
‘whole child’ (not just their academic ability) and how they can develop their
own learning styles at their own pace whilst maximising the benefits from
each experience they discover for themselves.
·         Regular contact for the children over a significant period of time (e.g. all
year round, in all weathers). Regular can mean anything from fortnightly
during a school term to one morning, afternoon or day every week for twelve
months or more. This is coupled with a clear set of safety routines and
boundaries that allow children to develop a responsible attitude to risk whilst
becoming familiar and confident enough to explore and interact with an everchanging natural environment.
·         A high adult to pupil ratio (e.g. Groups are small with approximately twelve
children per session) allows for children to undertake tasks and play activities
that challenge them but do not put them at undue risk of harm. It also allows
practitioners quickly to get to know the individual learning styles, abilities and
characteristics of the children in their charge.


For a full reference list see my full essay at; 

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