Puddlejumpers - Sussex Location, October 28 and November 4, 2016

Its amazing the difference a week can make! Not only have the gloriously coloured leaves finally fallen off the trees, but the temperatures have dropped significantly with a long stretch of dampness to boot!

Jess and I have also noticed big changes in the children. They all seem to have grown an inch of two!!!! Or, perhaps it is just their great new outer layers they are now sporting to keep them warm and dry (well done parents!!!!!).

At the young age of two and three, the children seem to thrive on routine and repetition. We continue to enjoy our walks to Mr. Sharp's each day as they enjoy the walk and all Mr. Sharp has to play with in his yard. No two days are the same though, we are always discovering something new amongst the falling leaves. Last day, Keen lead us to Mr and Mrs. Sharp's garden which they have tucked in for the winter. Keen discovered "the tunnel" between the cedars and all the children had fun exploring it and noticing how dark it can be in there!

We also put our first fire on in the shelter and are now having snack in there as it's just a bit too cold on the fingers of these snack-loving children who love to take the extra time to savour their food!

 

Sarah surprised the children with their photo albums that she and Jess are assembling for each child to document their unique Forest School adventures. They were a big hit!

 

The children wanted to bring them home, but we explained to them that they needed to stay at Forest School for now so more pictures could be added later. The children will get to take them home at the end of the fall session just before Christmas.

This week, Remembrance Day falls on Friday, so there will be no Puddlejumper programming this week to respect the significance of this very important day.

Have a great week everyone!

Puddlejumpers - Sussex Location, October 14, 2016

We had just enough delicious rain the night before to have some nice puddles to jump in today! The Puddlejumpers are really making basecamp their own now and the discoveries are endless! We were excited to find that Seamus put the "cover" on our covered bridge and noticed that it is the colour red! The same as our shelter! The children have so much fun playing in and beneath the covered bridge.

We started the day filling the bird feeder for our feathered friends and the plentiful red squirrels. We are getting very good at identifying black-capped chickadees and starting to get familiar with the red-breasted nuthatches. Jess and I were very excited to see a white-breasted nuthatch - our first sighting in our three years of programming! The children did a wonderful job working together to fill the feeder and even showed how well they can share at this young age - not an easy skill at 2 and 3 years old! Well done, Puddlejumpers!

As it warmed up, we decided to go on another walk to Mr. Sharp's. We really like it over there! On our way, we found a really cool slug. Sawyer confidently and carefully picked it up and showed it to the other children. Lane really liked looking at it up close with the magnifying lens!

 

Hudson, Allie and Kellie wanted to be bull-dozers again, so we got to work! Hudson reminded us to "Beep!" when we were backing up! It didn't last for long though as the mud was slippery from the rain the night before and we ended up splashing in the puddles instead. We learned that it can be slippery in puddles and that if you don't have your splash pants pulled down over your boots, your feet can get wet! A few minor adjustments to clothing and we were back to the splashing.

 

We visited Mr. Sharp's grape vines again and picked a few bunches to share. The grapes were sweeter this week after a few nights of frost since the week before. Yum! The children enjoyed riding down the lane on little cars and trucks; digging in the sandbox; swinging on the swing; and driving buses and cars with the many steering wheels found attached to trees and logs.

 

What a lovely day! The personalities of these wonderful children are really starting to shine through as we build trust and form healthy and positive relationships with each other. I think being in our outdoor environment has mush to do with this as there are fewer restrictions; lots of space; and so much freedom of choice. Forest School really is a wonderful way for children to learn and grow into themselves in a relaxed yet challenging environment. ;)

Puddlejumpers - Sussex Location, October 7, 2016

The Puddlejumpers enjoyed a beautiful fall day in the forest and fields at Tír na nÓg Forest School's Sussex location this week.

The children are becoming more accustomed to their forest school environment as they explore with more confidence each week. 

The children discovered that Seamus is building a new covered bridge to play in and they had a great time walking across the temporary floor boards that were nailed in place for exploration. This activity offers a wonderful opportunity for the children to learn how to identify and navigate risks in their environment. They were very aware that they had to stay on the floor boards while tey crossed and that it is safest if the children all go the same direction so as not to accidentally bump into one another.

The apples on our apple trees are beautiful this year! Many of the children enjoyed eating some after the educators checked them for any little friends who might already be eating them under the skin ;)

We went for another walk to Mr. Sharp's this week and some of the boys took their rope "snake" for the walk. It took teamwork and communication between them to make sure no one was going too fast or pulling too hard. We heard some interesting sounds in the long grass and discovered they were being made by crickets! We also learned you have to be very quiet while you look for them as they are very fast to hide!

As we came to Mr. Sharp's yard, we noticed his bulldozer and pretended to be bulldozers too! We made bulldozer sounds and even beeped while we backed up so others knew to look out for us!

Jess took the children over to Mr. Sharp's grape vines and we all enjoyed a nice, messy treat of grapes.

After our walk, we were all gettin a bit tired as it was getting warm out, so we enjoyed a well-earned snack and some fun in the hammocks. Those who still had lots of energy played on the slackline too!

It's hard to believe the changes in these children in only 5 short weeks. We are so excited to see what they discover next time!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Chickens and Slacklines and Trucks, Oh My!

The air was quite cool this morning when the Puddle Jumpers arrived for their second day at Tír na nÓg Forest School in Sussex. A few of us had to put our mitts on! Brrr!  Hard to believe after the record breaking hot weather one day the week before!

However, the cold didn't seem to bother the 2-3 year olds as they were well dressed and took no time to settle in and get busy exploring.

Almost right away, Sawyer found a toad near the mud kitchen!  He was so cute. He made a house for him in one of the bowls and they after a bit, he put him in a safe spot away from the busy feet of forest schoolers to rest.

Last week, a few of the children indicated they really liked trucks so Lisa and Jess brought some toy trucks down to the forest to play with. Bennett was really taken with them and had fun putting them on an elevated board ramp (to make an incline plane) and let them roll from the top to hit a few pieces of wood at the end. It took a few tries to hit the wood as they would sometimes go off the "track", but he kept trying and seemed to really enjoy the cause and effect of this activity! Nice work, Bennett!

Sawyer noticed the painted rocks that the preschoolers decorated earlier this week, so he, Ella and Hudson got busy painting some of their own.

Enjoying a healthy snack from home is always a favourite activity with the 2-3 year olds and it was extra special when Jess brought out some books to read while we sat together.

Keen and Ella went for a little walk up to the bathroom with Jess where they stopped for a bit to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. Keen climbed up into Jess's lap and had a cuddle while Ella rubbed his back. So nice, Ella! Maybe I'll get a back rub next time! ;)

Back down in the forest, Jay, Allison and Sawyer had fun making cookies and cupcakes in the mud kitchen. After a bit, Jay and Allison took a break to sit in the sun and watch while Hudson and Sawyer tried out the slackline for the first time.

It's a long way off the ground for these two little guys and they did such a great job being brave to try something new and a bit risky. Both of them were very aware of the risk of falling, but they took precautions by taking their time, taking turns, keeping both hands and feet on the lines and making sure an educator was close by while they practiced. Well done Hudson and Sawyer! 

After trying the slackline, they explored the spiderweb and we pretended to be bugs getting caught in the web and then whoever was the spider would catch and tickle them!

Not long before it was time to pack up, Keen discovered that Lisa's chickens had wandered down to forest school!  All of the children were really interested in watching and following them around. We learned that chickens do not like to be chased, but they don't mind if you watch from a distance!  We also learned that they are stealthy! They can easily squeeze underneath doors and will run and hide in the bushes if they are scared!

By the time the chickens were ready to head to their home in Lisa's garden, we were ready to head up to the playing field to have a little more playtime in the sun before parents arrived. 

We had a great second day and look forward to what next week will bring!

Welcome to our Quispamsis Forest School!

Our first week at Forest School in Quispamsis was a huge success! We learned so much about playing safely in the diverse environments of our particular location, from safe ways of climbing “Red Rocks” to knowing the boundaries of base-camp to exploring and enjoying the fresh water of our babbling brook! This week we used our skills and creativity in a variety of ways. We tied boundary tape to trees and fences around the perimeter of our base camp, where students now know it is safe to play. We enjoyed building and taking turns playing on our rope swing, and many of us learned to climb up and jump down from our “old man tree stump”. Some children demonstrated their creativity when setting out pots and pans for our “mud kitchen” to make delicious cedar twig and spruce cone soup! YUMMY!

We also enjoyed story time in our “birds’ nest”; building and climbing on balance beams with logs and rocks; playing musical instruments on our kitchen pots; swinging in hammocks at peaceful time; watching a doe and her three fawns feed in the soccer field; learning how sparks can be made by hitting two rocks together…and so much more! Probably our favorite exploration was on Thursday when we went to the brook!  We saw water striders; learned that moss and twigs will float but rocks don’t; tried fishing with branches; built a dam; and enjoyed the cool water in the warm afternoon sun.

My oh my! - What a full and fantastic first week we’ve had! We all look forward to seeing our new friends again next week and continuing the adventure! ~ Julie, Liz, and Tim

Welcome Sussex Puddle Jumpers!

Happy Friday!

Today, we welcomed our youngest group of Forest Schoolers to begin their adventure at Tír na nÓg Forest School at our Sussex location - the Puddle Jumpers!

We have a full class of ten children between the ages of 2-3 years.  We are so excited to have them come explore our beloved fields and forests with us. We have a great group of children and they all did a wonderful job adjusting to being in new surrounding with their new educators, Jess, Sarah and Lisa!

A fun fact! - the children in this program were all born within the first year that we opened our invisible doors in 2013-2014! 

Most of the morning was spent exploring basecamp and learning where the boundaries are. Many of the children quickly made friends with their classmates and got busy drawing at the craft table and chalk board, making cupcakes in the mud kitchen, swinging in the hammocks, and learning how to use the zipline safely. Watching these young people explore gives us educators a renewed vision of the world as we see it through their eyes. We are so grateful to spend our time with them!

Half way through the program, we packed up and headed to the playing field to join the Lisa's Playhouse and K-8 School-aged children and staff for a visit with hot air balloonist, Seth Bailey and his crew!  We had fun seeing them pull the light burner to blow the flames that heat the air for the balloon. It was pretty loud and showy which many of us jump!  Lots of laughs and screams of surprise!

It was a great first day - full of excitement, adventure and learning. We know this is going to be a great year with this wonderful group of children!

Welcome to our first week of Forest School in Saint John!

There was much excitement as nine Forest School friends explored their new natural playground. On our first day you could hear the laughter and see the learning that was already taking place. It was amazing to watch the many pairs of little feet becoming more and more comfortable and confident on the uneven forest floor. Our crew was interested in playing the matching game with rainbow gems, talking about different colors of the forest, stacking tree cookies, and we even learned a new habitat song after finding a chipmunk burrow. It is sung to the tune of London Bridge it goes: "Food and water, shelter and space. Shelter and space, shelter and space. Food and water, shelter and space. That makes a habitat." One of the many highlights of the day was investigating the Zoo and seeing the pigs eat a delicious snack of fruit and potatoes! Did you know that pigs will even eat melon rind? We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our Forest School year! YAHOO!  See you all Thursday, ~Bre and Tim

A Special Visit to Tobique First Nation Headstart Centre

Nick Brennan of Red Rock Adventure, and I had an amazing time today visiting the educators of Tobique First Nation Headstart Centre!   It was so special to be out on  Maliseet territory and to witness how beautiful it is.  The rolling hills and the winding rivers were absolutely breathtaking! I am so proud to live in such a diverse province!

We want thank the ladies and their community for the support and interest in what Red Rock Adventure and Tír na nÓg Forest School are doing and hope we can continue to support their efforts in connecting children in Tobique to nature. We had so much fun! We laughed, we played games, we ran and cruised the woods!  How lucky are these little ones to have such kind, caring educators who are working so hard to incorporate outdoor education into their current programming.  These women are going to do amazing things in this community! 

What a pleasure to team up with Nick of Red Rock Adventure...so refreshing to learn how seamlessly we worked together.  It is funny to think we were invited to Tobique to offer up a professional development opportunity but we walked away with way more than what we went with!  

We look so forward to our next visit! 

Lisa Brown, founder of Tír na nÓg Forest School 

What a great group! 

What a great group! 

 

 

Embracing Risk

Children love the thrill of climbing and reaching for the sky as they walk along the slackline at forest school! 

Children love the thrill of climbing and reaching for the sky as they walk along the slackline at forest school! 

At Forest School, taking risks is a big part of what we get up to in a day! Before you get your tummy in too big a knot, let us explain a bit about risk and why we feel it is important to promote and embrace risk at forest school, We'll also explain what we do to manage risk so that everyone has fun instead of getting hurt!

 

What is Risk?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, risk is the possibility that something bad or unpleasant (such as an injury or a loss) will happen.

These children are enjoying pretending they are pirates as they climb and balance on the roof of a forest fort.

These children are enjoying pretending they are pirates as they climb and balance on the roof of a forest fort.

Whether we want to admit it or not, life is full of risks! From the moment we step out of bed in the morning, we are faced with an almost continuous flow of very real challenges and choices that involve risk. Some are common and approached almost subconsciously such as walking up or down a flight of stairs while others are more specialized and force us to be more aware of our choices and actions such as driving a car or deciding whether or not to take on a new job outside our experience or location.

 

Appropriate risk taking supports holistic learning and development

This forest schooler has used knives to whittle many times. He is confident and demonstrated he is aware of his responsibilities, earning the trust of his educators that he will use safe behaviours while using a fixed-blade knife. Having built that trust gradually over time, we are confident that we can step back and just supervise as he works safely and independently. The child is then empowered knowing that he has earned trust, confidence and independence both with his educators and within himself.

This forest schooler has used knives to whittle many times. He is confident and demonstrated he is aware of his responsibilities, earning the trust of his educators that he will use safe behaviours while using a fixed-blade knife. Having built that trust gradually over time, we are confident that we can step back and just supervise as he works safely and independently. The child is then empowered knowing that he has earned trust, confidence and independence both with his educators and within himself.

So why do we embrace and promote risk forest school?  

Our thoughts are that if risk is a natural part of life then learning to recognize risk and determining if the risk is worth the benefits is an essential life skill for children to learn in order to take ownership of their own safety and well-being (Forest and Nature School in Canada, 2014, pg. 40).  The outdoor setting of Forest School also offers an environment where children have ample opportunity to learn and develop risk management skills. From the ever-changing topography, weather conditions and openness of the environment, Forest School presents very real challenges where risk must be taken and navigated daily.  

By engaging in risky activities, children learn about hazards (i.e. unexpected dangers) associated with taking risks and can then learn to develop strategies such as using appropriate behaviours or key safety equipment to navigate hazards in order to minimize risk. Through experience they learn to develop the critical skill of automatically assessing risks for potential hazards before engaging in an activity. This sets children up to learn that although risks can be anywhere, they don't necessarily have to be feared so long as they keep vigilant of hazards and assess the risks on a case-by-case basis.

The exhilaration of taking risks can also motivate children to learn and may even have an evolutionary advantage according to early childhood researcher, Ellen Sandseter. She states that "Risky play is a set of motivated behaviors that both provide the child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared. As the child’s coping skills improve, these situations and stimuli may be mastered and no longer be feared." This means that by engaging in risky play, children become less fearful or "phobic" of some situations we must encounter as we go through life (eg. heights) and are generally less likely to develop mental health problems such as anxiety. 

By sharing risky play and experiences with other children such as climbing to the top of a tree or jumping from one stump to another, children are given the opportunity to learn holistically from from each other and from the environment they are in. In the process, children not only master healthy risk taking, but they also grow emotionally intelligent and develop healthy levels of confidence and positive self-esteem through their shared experiences with others.

Here is a video of one of our forest school children learning to climb a tree from one of his peers.

 

Owen had been trying for quite some time to confidently climb a tree. Unlike many of the other children, he preferred to practice climbing on his own as he liked to have no distractions. To find Parker helping Owen climb the tree was a wonderful discovery for us educators!  We are happy to see Parker, who was already a master tree climber, offering to help Owen. In the process, he demonstrated wonderful emotional intelligence with his confidence, patience and encouragement to Owen. We were equally pleased to find Owen graciously accepting help from his peers and growing in confidence, determination and trust with his fellow student.

These kinds of opportunities for holistic learning can be planted and nurtured in an environment where healthy risks are supported and encouraged such as we embrace at forest school. Later that day, after showing Owen's mother this footage, she said "Owen may not remember learning his ABC's, but I am pretty sure he will remember learning to climb a tree!"

 

Managing Risk at Forest School

Risk management also involves being able to identify what kind of risks are worth taking; which risks should be avoided and learning how to develop strategies to minimize the risks involved in an activity or experience whether it be a necessary one or one that provides an opportunity for some other kind of outcome or benefit.

Forest School Educators assist children to learn risk-management by supporting them as they attempt to navigate age-appropriate and meaningful levels of risk. If an Educator determines the risk of injury to be medium or high, control measures are implemented to address hazards to minimize the risk of injury as much as possible and make navigating the risk more manageable.  As children master and experience more risky activities they learn to gauge what feels safe to them and develop self-regulation strategies to better manage risk in their daily activities.

Educators at Tír na nÓg Forest School evaluate and manage risk by doing daily site risk assessments of the commonly explored areas in our program. We also develop risk-benefit assessments of identifiable risky activities where there is a strong likelihood of serious injury. The need for a risk assessment is determined based on the hazard severity. If an activity has a medium or high level of risk, we will identify hazards and put control measures in place to reduce the risk before engaging in the activity. We review our risk assessments regularly and adjust them according to changes in environmental or other conditions.

 

Site Risk Assessments

Safety is our number one priority at Forest School. If our environment is not safe or doesn't feel safe, the children are not going to be comfortable to fully engage and learn from what is offered at Forest School. So at the beginning of each Forest School session, our educators complete a site risk assessment of the outdoor classroom before the children can explore the area freely. Like an indoor classroom, we spend so much time in our forest that it doesn't take long to notice when something is out of place!

During our site risk assessments, we scan all levels of the forest for any hazards and either remove any hazards we find (eg. sticks laying on the main paths that could be a tripping hazard or pulling down hanging branches resulting from high winds the night before) or manage them by marking and restricting access to the area until the hazard can be dealt with. We also check structures to make sure they are safe for the children to engage with and look for changes in the environment due to weather events (eg. fallen trees, deep puddles, icy conditions) or animal activity (eg. excrement) or presence.

When all is deemed as safe as can be, we will meet with the children to alert them to any hazards and discuss how we should manage them. For example, if there is a hanging branch that we cannot reach to remove right away, the children may decide to put up flagging tape to mark off the unsafe area and will avoid playing in that area. By involving the children in the process, they learn stewardship for the natural environment they enjoy and take responsibility for their actions and those of others. The children also learn that they have to always be mindful of their surroundings because things can change and that it is nothing to be afraid of because they know there are steps that can be taken to keep their forest safe for all to enjoy.

 

Risk/Benefit Assessments
Our forest school educators work one-on-one with a child when they are using sharp tools.

Our forest school educators work one-on-one with a child when they are using sharp tools.

One of the most important tools we use before encouraging a child to engage in a risky activity is to do a risk/benefit assessment. This is a very in-depth evaluation of the level of risk versus the benefits of the activity and involves identifying hazards and developing necessary control measures to minimize the level of risk from engaging in the activity. 

In an every day life example; lets examine how we learn to safely go up and down stairs.

For those of you who have spent time around young children, you probably remember the knots in your stomach as you watched a toddler learn to independently climb/walk up and down stairs. You probably felt this way because of the risk that the child may fall down the stairs and get injured (or worse!).

But rather than keep them off the stairs entirely, you recognized that being able to use stairs is a necessary part of life (ie. benefit) and you now need to help them learn healthy habits (ie. control measures) to go up and down the stairs safely. To teach them to be safe on the stairs, you may have held their hand and had them hold onto the hand railing or wall for balance as they went up or down the stairs. You may have asked them to walk, not run or jump, as they took each step one-at-a-time and perhaps you preferred them to wear shoes or socks with a non-slip grip. This may have taken some time for the child to learn to do all of these things properly and without reminders, but eventually they were able to demonstrate their competence and you were able to gain the confidence and trust in them to let go and let them do it themselves.

This is a very natural and, I dare say, almost universal example of how we can encourage and support children to learn basic strategies for risk management. It is also the very method we use at forest school to encourage and support children to approach and navigate risky activities.

 

Case Study: Tree Climbing

To take the stair climbing example a step further an into the context of a risky Forest School activity, here is a video of some of our Forest Preschoolers engaging in the risky activity of tree climbing. We posted this video on Facebook in our first year of programming and the social media conversation it started on risk was enormous! Have a look and see for yourself!

As you can tell from the laughter and chatter amongst themselves, these three preschoolers are having a great time climbing this lovely spruce tree. I expect for some people, they may have been a bit uncomfortable watching this video; perhaps nervous someone was going to fall and get hurt. I expect others may have felt a warm flutter of nostalgia - re-living their own childhood memories of climbing trees.

Why do you think you feel the way you do? Has your experience with climbing trees been a positive or negative one?  What was it about your experience that made it that way?

In the tree climbing video, these children have gradually worked up to climbing to this height through the support of trained, forest school educators. We encourage children to try these kinds of risky activities as a way to help them learn risk management. When supported by a confident and trusted adult, the children learn about what to look out for during such an activity for their own safety and those of others while also challenging themselves physically, mentally and emotionally as they navigate their own way through the activity.

Here is a list of some of the benefits of tree climbing:

  • Tree climbing is good exercise. It is not only fun, but also an excellent workout. Although it's not nearly as demanding as it appears, climbing is great exercise for the arms and legs. Climbers work many muscle groups they often don't use elsewhere, and climbing is also great for the spine. The extra bonus to this exercise is that it is stimulating and never boring!
  • Trees are almost everywhere! You don't have to look far to find a good climbing tree, especially if you're in a natural area. 
  • All your senses come alive. A whole new perspective is added to the climbing experience through the feeling of touch as the tree moves and sound as the wind whistles through the leaves. Many people find peace and relaxation in the branches of a tree.
  • Tree climbing is cost-effective. Trees are almost everywhere, are free and generally require very little maintenance.  While trees need to be inspected regularly for health and safety, nature has done most of the work for us to create a perfect climbing structure!
  • Tree climbing is a year-round sport. During the warm weather months, you have the tree's canopy to provide an awning for shade. In winter, the absence of leaves welcomes the sunlight and evergreens provide some protection from the cold wind.
  • Children can learn many emotional and social skills through tree climbing. They become emotionally intelligent, which is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others by learning how to offer encouragement and support to their peers and within themselves. 
  • Children also learn how to carrying out instructions, navigate hazards by tuning into their personal safety, awareness and consideration of others. As they work to reach their goals of reaching a certain height in a tree they learn patience, persistence and resilience while boosting their self-esteem and confidence when they meet their goals and feel a sense of achievement.

 

For more information on risk and it's benefits for child development, please check out these great articles and blog posts on risk:

The Risk of No Risk from Nature Play Solutions Blog 

Can Child Injury Prevention include healthy risk promotion? from Injury Prevention 

Risky play and skinned knees are key to healthy child development by Andrea Gordon