When I was a kid, we literally lived in the woods. Our little cabin was surrounded by trees, streams, and undeveloped land. Playing outside is what you did. Television was a special occasion. Cartoons were on Saturdays only (e.g. Saturday morning cartoons). There was no TV ‘on demand’. There was no ‘streaming’, and I didn’t have access to cable television until 1988.
You may wonder how on earth I spent my time. Simple. We played. We played a lot. We played outside, we played inside, we made up games, we played board games, created art, climbed on the kitchen counters and made odd concotions from ingredients in the cupboard and called them things like “children’s beer”, which was actually some kind of instant iced tea powder mixed with something else that we thought resembled the color of the adult beverage we watched our parents, aunts and uncles drink on the weekends.
We had imagination and creativity. Lean a few fallen tree branches together and we had a fort or a magical universe all to ourselves. We pretended to forage, tasting blades of grass, clovers, wild strawberries, as if we could sustain our bellies by ‘foraging from the land’.
I personally spent hours creating the perfect mud pies. Not too watery. Not too thick. Just the right amount of gooey mud texture. I believe this is why my desserts tend to come out so perfect as an adult, all of that prep work playing in the mud!
And somehow we learned. We learned how to walk on the ice without falling and that rain was coming by the smell in the air. We learned how to pick up snakes without being bitten. We learned how to catch crayfish, salamanders, grasshoppers, and lightening bugs. Talk about building your fine motor skills… We did it without baby and me classes, playgroups, and enrichment classes. But thing are different today. Many of us do not live on large areas of open land. Things have become dense, urbanized, busy.
While I can still open up my back door and let my children out to play, it’s a different playground than I had. It’s small, contained, neighbors are next door. it’s not the same level of freedom I had as child to roam and explore. Instead, I spend hours planning, googling, and scouting nature spots to enjoy with my children. We are already part of 2 local family hiking groups and today we attended our first forest school outing.
We happen to have a chapter of Free Forest School (FFS) in our area and I was really pleased with our first experience. The main thing that struck me is that there is no agenda, no check list, no finish line. Unlike our hiking groups which have a goal to get to a destination, albeit slowly and usually child paced, free forest school is different. It’s about unstructured play. Exploring. Letting the kids chose their path to wander. No one has to urge them to trudge along a trail when all they really want to do is sit down and play in the dirt. In free forest school, it’s all about the child doing what they want to do. I don’t have to get annoyed that my three year old is tired or that she is so busy poking the mud with her stick that we have lost sight of the rest of the hiking group.
In a word, my first experience with FFS was….Relaxing. It’s an unusal experience to be out and about with small children of various ages, doing as they please, and feel relaxed.
I think we will go back again next week and keep exploring with our new friends.
To find out more about the forest school movement, visit here: https://www.freeforestschool.org