The children make their own personal boundary sticks in Blue Room before they attend any Forest School session. During Forest School they hammer the sticks into the ground to mark out the boundaries (where they have to wait for the whole group, where they need to hold a grown-up’s hand, where it is not safe to go). This practical process of making and marking helps children understand and take ownership of the boundaries, encouraging them to assess and manage risk, and therefore begin to take responsibility for their own behaviour. We use maps made on a satellite image from Google Earth. The children learn some early conventions of map reading and are soon able to identify landmarks along the route like the church and railway track. It helps develop their understanding of place, distance and scale, especially with landmarks like the church appearing to get bigger the closer we approach. Once at Forest School when the boundaries have been marked out the children are given time to explore. It is important to recognise that children have enquiries of their own, enquiries that demand the freedom to explore and research. These may be factual, scientific enquiries, but they may also be self enquiry. For example in setting and tackling a challenge, or finding out levels of courage, resourcefulness, cooperation, compromise and acceptability. Children need to be given open opportunities for self realisation.
Children who are unaccustomed to autonomy and all that it brings, may very well struggle to know what to do with themselves on early expeditions to Forest School. These undirected times may allow contemplation and personal growth, helping children to see themselves as their own most important resource. We often end our Forest School sessions by playing ‘123 Where Are You?’ It is like hide and seek but with the important difference of more shouting! It is a fun way of finding each other and a great tool in reducing fear when children get lost – as useful in the supermarket or shopping centre as it is at Forest School! These first few visits to Forest school are rich in learning with the main focus being on safety as the children take big steps in their personal growth and confidence; they are learning how to take responsibility for themselves.