Hello and Thank You so much for helping support at BroadTree Forest School!
What happens in BroadTree Sessions?
The offer here uses the Forest School ethos and as such is quite different to most ‘traditional’ offers. We create nature based spaces where children are safe and feel comfortable, and can explore their interests at their speed. We’re big on creating mini communities where kindness is central, and the group trust the adults present to be on their side.
Our most powerful tools are positive experiences and role modelling, and we use fun activities to enable child led exploration with adults acting as facilitators, guides, and great examples. We have a collection of outdoor activities and games which you may recognise from bushcraft, the scouts, or other youth projects. There are team games, knife and tool use, hammocks, swings, food, and more.
In all of these the process is where the value happens, not the outcome. For example, using the two person tools well and efficiently is of little value- the pair working together as a team and being considerate towards the other is what we celebrate.
As adults, we model engagement, appropriate behaviour, and encourage attendees towards activities in such a way that their attention is captivated, they’re fully engaged in the session, and they leave with lots of positive experiences.
Risk is managed to be ‘As Low As Necessary’ as we know children require risk and risky play to properly develop. Risk-benefit assessments for all activities are available.
How can I help?
The best sessions are straightforward and enjoyable for everyone attending. We create a variety of offers, and children engage in these or not as they desire, approaching us to ask for something to help them complete a task that they’ve thought of, for assistance holding or moving something, or to be involved in a game or activity to make up numbers.
We rely on you to be a positive role model. We expect all adults at sessions to be emotionally safe, use their words to bring out the best in the children, and get involved. We don’t expect you to be perfect, which gives you the opportunity to model apologising as well!
Activity wise, everything is a suggestion, and in a session there are only a few demands. If the children aren’t interested in an activity or don’t want to help, it doesn’t get done. No-one wants to gather firewood? That’s ok, we can have cold marshmallows.
The few demands we make are the rules we have- be safe, be kind, be present. These three simple rules neatly capture everything we need the children to do in order for us to have an excellent session.
If a child wants to sit in a hammock for the whole session? We’ll make space to talk to them after a few minutes, firstly checking they’re ok, and then pointing out all the great things there are on offer, see if they want a hand to get involved, ask if there’s anything specific we can bring next week- but ultimately we allow children to make their own decisions. We trust that in those moments something important is happening, even if we don’t understand it.
We bring our own curiosity and playfulness, and praise heavily when we see independent thinking and children trying something different. We may be able to see it won’t work, but it’s not about the outcome – the process of exploring will give them better understanding of how things do and don’t work, and confidence in their ability to problem solve in the future. It’s all about the growth mindset- I can’t… yet. Everything is a skill.
The hardest sessions are difficult but immensely rewarding. Behaviour is always communication- often actions speak more loudly than words, and bypass the need for the self-awareness that language requires. Behaviour that’s difficult for us, or those around them, shouts of an internal difficulty of some sort for the child doing it.
When this happens, we connect empathetically and kindly to them, listen to their why, and clearly explain how their behaviour has harmed others, and then talk about it. No shame, no blame. But also no permissiveness. We have boundaries and when they’re crossed we intervene to protect when necessary- but every single time we see that giving children an understanding of how their behaviour impacts others and the tools they need to self regulate leads to positive and dramatic change.
Some theory backs this up – Finkelhor, 1984 outlined 4 stages that must be overcome in order to perpetrate abuse. This model has huge value for behaviour too. The stages outlined are motivation, conscience, punishment / consequences, and the resistance of the victim. Traditional behaviour control methods work at stage 3, with threats of punishment and consequences if they’re caught- basically penalty points for speeding.
We know enabling children to manage their own behaviour is the best way forward, and helping them learn this now is one of the most valuable investments we can make into their futures. Decreasing a child’s motivation to do wrong, or strengthening a child’s conscience is a powerful long-term change that will enable them to succeed. It’s basically a speed awareness course. (Shown to be 23% more effective than penalty points!)
We deal with distressed behaviour by looking at the cause of the distress, not punitively responding to the behaviour. The trigger may appear small and inconsequential to us, or the child may not consciously recognise it, but it always exists. It’s our role to kindly come alongside these children and help them understand their own triggers, and enable them to put in place strategies they own that enable them to stay regulated in future.
We can do this when we consistently demonstrate we’re on the side of the child by rarely being authoritarian and making sure our rules are those that the children can see to be fair. The trust relationship that naturally develops out of this enables us to speak into the lives of children who are behaving in a distressed manner.
We can and do exercise our authority when our rules are being broken (be safe, be kind, be present) but our go to is to first correct from a social, relational space rather than an authoritarian space. There is obviously a time to be stern- I would estimate I am stern for about 1 minute per 2 hours of forest school I deliver.
If you’re not confident with this approach, that’s fine! Just let the session leader know so they know to handle disagreements within the session.
We have comprehensive risk benefit assessments that all session leaders know well. To minimise risk, there are a few things that we want all adults to be aware of- they are:
- Fires- An adult to supervise whilst the fire is on, fire bucket with approx 5L water available, once something is on fire, it stays in the fire except marshmallows which must be blown 10 times before eating.
- Burns – When we’re doing fires, we will have a burns bucket with water in it. If there’s a burn, quickly get it submerged in water, and keep it moving around within the water. This will cool it much more quickly than simply placing it in the water.
- Knives- check children are cutting away from themselves, the ‘blood bubble’ distance to others around them is respected, and the workpiece is held sufficiently far away from legs (Elbows on knees, or both arms to one side of legs). Knives should be in an adults pocket or locked box when not in use.
- Tree climbing- a hard maximum of 5m from childrens feet to the floor for insurance purposes, and ensure the session leader knows it’s happening and has checked the tree is safe to climb.
- Other Heights- clear the ‘fall zone’ of rocks, branches, etc such that the landing is as flat and even as possible. Visually check all equipment used at heights for damage when you get it out. Maximum 2m feet from floor for insurance purposes, except tree climbing (5m).
- Hammocks, nets, etc- insurance states these need to be sat in by an adult prior to use by children- ensure they’re sufficiently far from the floor that they won’t contact the floor in use. This needs to be double checked after a few minutes. Sticks and hammocks don’t mix as the stick can rip the fabric.
- Hammock spins- Lying down long-ways is vital when things get exuberant. For 360 spins, the person to be spun needs to consent, know it’s happening and hold the hammock shut with their hands. Hammocks are best pushed from either end, not the middle to avoid accidental touching of private parts. “Stop means stop” boundary in place when hammock is being pushed.
- Saws- The saw blade must be at least 10cm from the hand supporting the stick. The blade can wonder a surprising distance. The saw is only for use on wood on the floor- sometimes attendees try to cut living trees; this is obviously not ok.
- Crowbars- fingers need to stay clear from the levering end.
- Ropes and straps- ensure they never go around necks, and aren’t fraying around trees or damaging the tree.
- Den making- no-one should be inside a den whilst it’s being built or adjusted
- Rough and tumble- An adult to ensure all children want to participate (“Can I just pause you a moment? How do you know everyone wants to play this game?” is great!) and supervise to ensure it doesn’t escalate. Also make sure there’s an agreed verbal signal that stops the play- “Stop” works really well for this.
What should I do to best assist?
Expect to get dirty, smell of smoke, and laugh. Be ready to interact differently with the children to how you may be used to. Get involved, and walk the tightrope of being an adult whilst being enthusiastic and involved, and joining the children on their level. Self limit so the children don’t feel inadequate next to your amazing creations, do headcounts, suggest silly games, check all children are engaged, and have an uplifting chat with the child who’s on their own.
Most importantly, be the person you want them to be when they’re older. Be patient, fun and kind. Be positive, whole hearted and let your actions show them you’re on their side.
Thanks so much for reading this. Please fill in the contact us form below so we have a record of this- we’d love to hear any questions or feedback you have!