Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Kindling course dates Autumn 2014

Do you want to part of something transformational? Do you want to discover new ways to learn and play deep in a beautiful woodland environment?

Forest School Course Dates 2014

Level 3 OCN Forest School training. 29th Sept- 3rd Oct 2014 (with Assessment Week: 20th- 24th April 2015) Rookhow, Grizedale, Cumbria* £760 per person.
Participants on this course will need to complete a paediatric outdoor First Aid 2 day course before completing their Forest School training. (First Aid not included in price).

Level 3 OCN (3 credits) Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour in the Outdoors - with Jon Cree. 6th -8th Oct 2014 ***PLEASE NOTE** this course is now full. We are making a waiting list. If you are still interested please get in touch.
Rookhow, Grizedale, Cumbria*. Cost £300 (Includes basic accommodation in the bunk house)

Level 3 OCN Forest School training, Modular course. Newcastle upon Tyne.
Participants must attend all the following dates; 13th,14th, 20th and 21st October 2014; 26th and 27th January, 18th and 19th May, 8th and 9th June 2015.  £760 per person. Participants on this course will need to complete a paediatric outdoor First Aid 2 day course before completing their Forest School training. (First Aid not included in price).

Level 3 OCN Forest School training. 3rd- 7th  November  (with Assessment Week: 15th -19th June 2015)
Rookhow, Grizedale, Cumbria*   £760 per person.
Participants on this course will need to complete a paediatric outdoor First Aid 2 day course before completing their Forest School training. (First Aid not included in price).

Level 1 OCN Forest School training. 12th-14th  November. Wibsey, Bradford. Cost £250 per person. 

For a booking form for any of these courses please contact mail@kindlingplayandtraining.co.uk If you have an urgent question please contact us on 07789723061


*This venue has basic accommodation on site which costs approx £16 per night. Details of how to book accommodation will be sent with confirmation of course booking.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Compound Flexibility

During my years as a Forest School leader one if the attributes that I find myself drawing on is flexibility.  Being able to change plans, put aside my agenda because of the weather, a really interesting discovery in the woods, because of something a child needs or wants to do –my flexibility is core.

The flexibility of the environment, the range and diversity of resources, how they can be used in lots of different ways, this is what feeds the success of the children. It influences their ability to manage whatever task they have set themselves. This success nurtures the child’s self esteem which in turn makes them more able to interpret their environment flexibly.  It’s a positive spiral. It's an idea I explored in a series of drawings for the FSA newsletter recently and wanted to delve a bit deeper into the theory here.
These ideas were brought together by Fraser Brown’s into a theory he called Compound Flexibility; 

“This is not a simple interaction but a complex process wherein, flexibility in the
play environment leads to increased flexibility in the child. That child is then
better able to make use of the flexible environment and so on. There is massive
child development potential in a play setting.” (Brown, F. 2003, ‘Compound
Flexibility’ in “Playwork Theory and Practice, p56)


I really enjoy working in the woods as it is such a flexible environment. But what is meant by a flexible environment? Nicholson (1971) in developing his theory of loose parts, explains it like this; “In any environment both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”.  
A ‘loose part’ environment includes everything from the the branched trees of a woodland to the cones, stones, mud and twigs that lie within. Nicholson also suggests that a beach is a good example of such an environment. The sand for shaping, the sea ever changing, the rock pools whose life and form shifts with the tide. The flotsam and the jetsam. An environment full of things that fulfil many different roles and functions. A place that can be adapted to our needs and ideas.  This environment also needs the flexibility of the adults in it if children are to be allowed to explore the potential. 



This permission for exploration leads to experimentation. A wide array of elements means that children have the opportunity to combine things in different ways and find the space or material they require to fulfil the need and further the line of enquiry. Children develop by responding to a rich environment. The fewer elements there are to explore, the slower or more restricted the development. The more stimuli, the broader the development. 

One of the key factors in the compound flexibility process is that the child feels in control. This is why self-directed play is so essential for a child’s development. 


This combination of control and challenge is also what gives us good feelings! We try something, we find the resources we need to be successful. The people around us give us the time and space to work things out for ourselves which gives ownership to the success. There are things around us that suggest ideas to us. These are the perfect conditions for feeling really good about ourselves. 


These good feelings are critical to a child's development. Those good feelings mean a child is likely to take a risk and try something else. They are the sort of feelings that govern self acceptance. They are the feelings that contribute to self confidence. Good feelings will keep someone involved, interested and focused in a way no amount of cajoling, bribery or threat can manage. The child is at the centre of the process and wants to be there because it feels good. 


Self confidence also means that a child will try and solve problems when they arise. Self confidence is a desire to keep experimenting even when something goes wrong, the belief that you are able to work things out when things get tricky. This is what we often describe as resilience.  


This is where the cycle connects. The exterior becomes interior and the flexibility becomes part of the child's way if being. The successful experiments suggest new ideas. The problem solving suggests a new goal.  The experience they have just encountered is added to the toolbox of the child's mind. The compounding aspect if this is that the more flexible the child is the more they see the flexibility in the environment.

Conversely a restricting attitude of the adult can shut down that extraordinary potential found in a flexible environment. The compound flexibility process can stagnate if conditions are unsuitable. Children who have little control over their world inevitably have fewer positive experiences, which in turn slows the development of their self confidence. Children who lack confidence are less likely to take risks or try out different solutions to the problems they encounter. Which makes them less flexible and responsive. 

I find that thinking about how these elements interconnect really helps me think about my role and the role of the environment that the children are in and reflect on how these two elements can combine with the child's experience to create powerful opportunities for development. 

Drawings taken from a doodle for the Forest School Association Newsletter Autumn 2014

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Badges of honour.

Many years ago I talked with my friend Martin about the idea of the badges of honour of outdoor play. Martin wrote about this in www.playengland.org.uk/media/130593/play-naturally.pdf,  that dirt, stains and smells can be treated like ‘badges of honour’, ‘evidence of successful outdoor play’ and learning. Like all good ideas I'm still mining it. 


I recently worked in the woods with groups of children and adults as part of a summer school of transitions. Groups came to me for a full day at a time. One of my challenges was setting the expectations with staff (who were only with me for a day) around allowing the children to get immersed in activities and reinforcing with the children that it is OK to get muddy and involved. 
This is when the badges of honour turned from a metaphorical notion to a literal tangible thing. 


                                 

I filled my pockets with them and brought them out at opportune moments, a girl who raced off and find the right sorts of sticks off the den she was making, met with an 'uuuugh' from her friends as she ran through a puddle. 
A badge of honour for muddy shoes changed the story and the girls raced off together. 

                                  

A staff member complaining loudly about getting mud on her leggings actually looked kind of proud to receive the first badge of honour off the day. 

Sitting, quietly after putting a plaster on a cut, I shared with the child that he had a badge of honour too, that cuts sometimes happen because you are living life adventurously. 

As the summer holidays come to an end and looking down at my own hands and legs I can recognise there are badges of honour here too.  


                                   


Thursday, 14 August 2014

What happens after you feel the fear?

I didn't know how much of this last week would be spent dealing with fear. Heights, the dark, spiders in the toilet, bigger kids. All normal parts of a week of play in a field on the edge of a wood. But what struck me again and again is the resilience and bravery of children who know they are afraid but refuse to let that get in the way of experience. 
Jerry Hyde says there are some books which you only need to read, because it's all in the title; Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. That sort of thing...
Choosing the forty foot tree swing, walking out in the dark, becoming so fascinated by the fact the spider has babies that you get over your fear and look through a hand lens. The tales of bravery I could tell you, and that's just one week.

                

It's normal to feel fear. It's part of what keeps us safe. It's part of moving out of your comfort zone. A way, as I've explored before here, to help children (or anyone) move out towards those fears that won't case harm and to still feel safe is to help them see it as a challenge and to play with the idea. You can't simply tell someone not to be afraid. Something has to replace the fear. 
We stepped out of the field, over the fence and into the dark dark woods at night. Nate said; "I'm scared!"
What of? I asked.  "Everything." replied the tiniest voice. Are you afraid of the clouds? I asked. "Yes." Are you afraid of kittens? "Yes" said a slightly bigger voice. Are you afraid of fluffy blankets? "Yes!"  ...of baby chicks?
"Yes!!" said Nate. "I want to hold Elliot's hand."
 Are you afraid of holding Elliot's hand? I asked "oh yes" Nate laughed and took Elliot's hand. 
Sometimes it's a challenge to remember why you were afraid before. 

                    

Fear is an OK thing to feel, I tried hard to let the children know that it was OK and a normal thing for them to feel. The bodies way of dealing with fear is cortisol. The chemical trickle that, if turned into a flood will lead to a fight, a freeze or a flee. This stress response in it's trickle state gives us the adrenalised state of full attention, real curiosity and the learning sweet spot that comes with it. Too much adrenaline and the flood turns into a punch and kick, or a run from the scene. Or a shutting down, and a blacking out. Poppy's stress response is so extreme that she starts to black out if things get too noisy or busy or crowded around her. The doctors are still trying to work it out, but age 11 she manages it well, preparing an adult to take responsibility and notice the signs. Coming over and tugging a sleeve when she feels it start. Yet, the need to feel the fear and do it anyway is so strong she pleaded to be included "will I be still able to  go on the swing and the night walk even though I have my head thing? Pleeeeeeeease" she refused to let anyone suggest she was not up for it.


Clipped onto the swing and ready for her first attempt I could hear her rationalising under her breath; "my friend did it... all I have to do is is is is... if I step off here where will I go... and what if what if? So we talked about the special kind of fear that comes before you do something really cool and really safe and how that gives you an even more special kind of feeling afterwards. The feelings you have when you have overcome a challenge. "OK ready" she said and let herself go into a wild swing with a scream that could be heard across the valley. It ended in laughter. "I'm totally doing that again." 

Bob Hughes in his Taxonomy of Play Types uses the phrase; Deep Play. It's one of the hard play types to describe, yet whenever I have helped people unpack the play types and we talk about deep play, "you know that sensation when you do something tricky and you feel it right here, under your ribcage. That's deep play." Everyone nods we all know that feeling, from balancing on a wall and wobbling just a little, from climbing a tree and losing a foothold, even standing on a stage and preparing to sing or take part in a play. It's different for everyone. Your deep play could be my everyday experience. My deep play could be your relaxation. The Swedes have a saying about that feeling; occasionally you have to feel the ice in your stomach if you are to feel alive.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Look after yourself, look after each other and look after the place we are in.

There are many ways that I have used over the years to set ground rules with children. It always boils down to this though; 


How this is works is negotiated as we need to know it, sometimes in the middle of a game we might need to stop and work out the rules and make sure they work for everyone. This process of making group agreements rather than ground rules is an important part of developing social skills and having empathy for other people's needs.


With this comes an element of responsibility for your own self. Knowing where the boundaries are and making sure you stay with the group is important. As is the ability to notice your needs and do something about them.


This can't come at the cost of the place we are in. We should remember that we are visitors, in the home of the things that live in the woods and wilds. 


I've been making some resources to help focus on these three responsibilities and I'm interested to hear how you start these sorts of conversations with the children you work with.  


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