Search This Blog

Friday, 21 February 2014

Examining the Differences between Forest Schools and Skogsmulle


By In Donaldismo Veritas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mulle is a troll who lives in the woods (skog) of Sweden and teaches children about nature with the help of his friends laxe, fjällfina and nova. Skogsmulle is for children aged 5 to 7 and is preceded by courses for children as young as 2 and is a precursor for educational programmes aimed at older children, teenagers and adults. The programme was introduced by Gösta Fröhm in 1957 to supplement the skiing and ice skating which made up the normal programme of children's activities and education provided by the friluftfrämjandet (fresh air foundation) at that time (friluftsfämjandet 2012).  

Forest Schools

One of the tree faces made by a nursery group I thought
a six week forest schools course to in 2011 
Forest Schools are a relatively new idea in the UK, based on similar well established programmes in Scandinavia such as Skogsmulle in Sweden or naturebørnehaven in Denmark. Primarily aimed at younger children (primary school age or younger) it is easy to link forest schools courses to the national curriculum even up to level 3. Due to the relatively recent establishment of Forest schools in the UK there is little data to indicate whether learning simple ecological principles such as food chains and plant identification in a forest school setting prepares learners for more advanced theory in the classroom or in FE, this begs the question; are students more environmentaly aware in countries where these programmes are well established and heavily subscribed to?  In a vocational education setting Forest Schools is relevant within the subjects of countryside management an outdoor education as these students may require training to deliver Forest Schools programmes in the future. 

Comparing the Two

Here I will compare the goals and also the approach to delivering and embedding the programmes.  

Forest Schools
The need to Improve children’s relationship with nature and make them aware of the environment to the point that they can influence society for the better (friluftsfrämjandet 2006).
Primary goals include development of creative skills, physical development, personal and social skills and general knowledge (Knight 2009) with the development of environmental understanding a secondary goal.
Curriculum model
Environmental principles revisited in ever increasing detail throughout skogsknop (2 to 3 yrs), skogsknytte (3 to 4 yrs), skogsmulle (5 to 7 yrs), stövare (7 to 9 yrs) and on to educational programmes for teenagers and adults.
Forest Schools is often used as an ’extra’ activity (with links to published curriculum being very unclear) for young learners, it may have valuable learning outcomes which will help children in the future but these are not always obvious and may even form part of a hidden curriculum.

The two although superficially different are fundamentally similar, perhaps more entrenched in the culture and formal education in Scandinavia, but there is time for that to develop in the UK.  

One question springs to my mind though, why the emphasis in the UK on personal and social development rather than the 'nature' element of the programme. I hope it's not because our 'system' here values nature so little that there had be some other, more measurable, justification for Forest Schools. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

How to Make Charcloth

Being able to light a fire is an essential bushcraft skill and to give you the best chance of getting a fire lit with your basic bushcraft tools you will need tinder that will catch the smallest of sparks.
The catch is: tinder burns so you need to constantly be on the lookout for more or be able to make it. Char cloth is the answer, if you can make it you will always have a ready supply of easily combustible tinder. Charcloth is made using the same principle as charcoal, instead of excluding oxygen from burning wood we do it with cloth instead. The cloth you need should be 100% cotton although you could also use linen or other fabrics made from vegetable matter, old shirts, dish cloths, jeans etc.. all make a good starting point.

First take your piece of material and put it in a fireproof container, on a small scale you could use an old boot polish tin or Vaseline tin or on a larger scale a biscuit tin.

Now place your container on the fire, when producing char cloth on a small scale you can pierce a hole in the lid of your container and fit it tightly, you can later seal this hole with a pointed stick to exclude the oxygen. With larger containers which may not have a fireproof lid you can seal them using a stone or in this case the lid of a Dutch oven. 

The larger the piece of material and the more tightly it is packed in it's container the longer it will take to char the whole piece. Once you think it has been long enough, when producing small amounts of char cloth this only needs to be a minute or two on a hot fire, don't make the mistake of immediately removing the lid as while it is still hot if oxygen reaches it it will immediately begin to glow and burn. Allow the container and it's contents to cool completely. Once it is cool you can remove it and store it in a dry place until you need it. 

Char cloth will light from the smallest of sparks, you can use an identical procedure to char cat tail down and other natural resources to aid your fire lighting. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Bushcraft as a Link Between Outdoor and Environmental Education

The words Nature and outdoors are often used interchangeably I think; but when you look at how they are used in the context of various authors work the differences become clear. in Richard Louv's works I think he focuses on the outdoors as an environment where nature is the key. In Emile Rousseau talks specifically about an involvement with nature, Henry David Thoreau often refers to nature in his writings and the literature on environmental education shows that its objectives lean more towards understanding and conserving nature and the environment than towards the often cited objectives of outdoor education such as the development of technical skill, social skills, morals such as courage and character development including skills such as resourcefulness, problem solving etc.. There is also lots of popular literature such as the books of Jack London which allude to a connection with 'nature' being something deeper than or at least different to just being outdoors. 
In my opinion worthwhile experience of nature must take place outside, but just because something happens outdoors doesn't mean there is, or even needs to be, a direct link to, or objective related to nature. For example a group might be taken rock climbing or gorge walking with the specific aim of boosting self esteem or confidence without any specific intention to study nature, opportunities might emerge to discuss or learn about nature due to the environment and so instructors/teachers/facilitators need to have a knowledge of nature so they can take advantage of these opportunities. This has been recognised within the industry and Mountain Training now include an element of environmental knowledge in the assessment for their awards. There are other options which take us outdoors but remove us even further from nature such as artificial high ropes courses which might be as valuable as a real climbing route in terms of the development of confidence (although not necessarily technical rock climbing skills), which do not have the same potential to prompt opportunities to discuss nature. 

Bushcraft might be able to bridge this gap  though, at the moment it seems to occupy it's own little sphere somewhere on the periphery of mainstream outdoor education but it can clearly be adventurous and obviously takes place outside but it also has specific 'nature' outcomes. Bushcraft includes the study of botany (plant identification, medicinal uses, edible plants etc..), ecology (direct and indirect observation of wildlife, tracking etc..). I wonder if unlike mainstream outdoor education participating in bushcraft will promote an increased interest and desire in students to take a position about the environment?

Good, Better, Best

In my recent post "Three Characteristics of Adventure" I mentioned that Colin Mortlocks comments in the introduction of The Adventure Alternative(1984 pg 11) resonate strongly with me, the 'adventure' and enjoyment of outdoor activities used to be enough for me and I was happy to climb, hike and camp purely for my own enjoyment and the challenge of going further or somewhere different or using only foraged food or primitive equipment. Now however, after spending several years working with young people I realise that a lot more than personal enjoyment can be gained from adventurous activities.
Take bushcraft as an example, it is a good thing to practice bushcraft because you enjoy it; to know the skills of bushcraft and to be able to light fires, cook your food in the woods, track an animal and identify native wildlife but it is an even better thing to be able to use your skills to keep traditional skills alive and surely the best thing to be able to pass on skills to others. But teaching these skills to others is not the only 'best' bit about passing on skills, there can be more benefits from taking part in bushcraft than just the acquisition of technical skills. As with any adventurous activities taking part in bushcraft can build confidence and team working ability. Bushcraft also brings it's participants into far closer contact with nature than most other adventurous activities providing an excellent way to promote and develop a knowledge of the environment and wildlife.

I would never mock or belittle the practice of bushcraft purely for recreation but I suppose the whole reason I started this blog is that I think bushcraft has far more  than just recreational value.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bushcraft Education Videos