I know my kids like the woods. I understand the theory of why the woods are good for them and why forest school has become such a popular thing, but yesterday was the first time I actually took them to forest school and saw how my children are when they’re there.
I’d booked a session with Muddy Puddles Club after an advert popped up on Facebook - linked from an outdoor playgroup I used to take Pop to before Covid hit, a rare example of Facebook actually being helpful. It was about half an hour away in a place I don’t know too well, so I might have been a tiny bit stressed when we got there after getting lost on a massive roundabout and having to go round it twice, then missing the entrance the farm and finally getting lost on the farm (a signpost before I almost drove into an arable field might have been helpful!). By the time we actually arrived I’d had to ask the children to stop singing at the top of their lungs a fair number of times and the atmosphere in the car was a teeny bit tense, but as soon as they tumbled out of the car into the woods it all vanished.
We do go out to the woods fairly often - but it is generally centred around going for a walk and there always comes a point where we have cajole tired children into walking back to the car. There’s always a bit where Pop wants to walk into the undergrowth in one direction and Sally another, or when husband just wants to walk at a pace that might not be described as being akin to a snail and the joyful experience of being in the woods is eroded somewhat. I also know they have fun in the Copse at school, but I don’t actually see that - I just get to wash the utterly filthy clothes.
These kids of mine were immediately at home in these woods they’d never been to and with a collection of people they’d never met. First they plomped themselves down on a tarp to colour in little wooden disks to make into necklaces. The two leaders were really welcoming, I hate it when you turn up a new group and feel like an outsider and need to hide behind your phone. Here everyone was cheerful and relaxed and it was lovely to see them take an interest in who these new little people were. Pop’s excellent chat about random topics was almost immediately noticed when he started trying to discuss the different names for drills and quite how many his dad might have in the garage, and before long Katie’s frown made an appearance. By the time a few necklaces were made it was time for some exploring. Sally chose to carry on with the colouring and delivered me a pile of wood to drill though, and the other two set off to investigate the woods by sledge.
We spent four hours in the woods and I don’t think I had to untangle a single argument. There might have been a brief squabble over whose turn it was with the red sledge, but it was fixed quite speedily. Pop cried for about 20 seconds after he fell out of a tree, but it was probably the least stressful four hours I’ve had with my children anywhere ever. Unlike a family trip for a walk, we weren’t trying to get anywhere at a particular speed - I wasn’t trying them to get them to do anything. I helped them up clamber in and out of hammocks, but I didn’t have to set any of it up and they got to make all of their decisions.
It was a bit of a revelation that my children can be so relaxed and bomble about so happily for so long. That Pop in particular can be so relaxed and go so long without wingeing about something ridiculous or getting really stressed that I got him the wrong sort of honey (as he is as I am typing this) was amazing. He even spent a good twenty minutes trying to get a firestick to spark and light a fire and didn't even get cross when he couldn't manage it. Sally buddied up with another girl and they announced themselves best friends by the end of the day, and little miss Cleo? She bounced around the camp with a grin on her face the whole day through and thought the toilets with the sawdust scooper were fabulous and needed to be visited about every fifteen minutes. Oh, and there were other adults to talk to, and there was tea. I think we're going back next week.