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. In short, it’s a place for fun activities that enable child led exploration, where we as adults act as facilitators and guides. We use 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, and food.
In all of these, the process is where we focus- not the outcome.
We prioritise giving children space to grow, learn and explore at their pace. Our role is to model engagement and offer activities that are suitable for the group 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 both the children and adults. We create a variety of offers, and children engage in these, 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 and don’t want to help, it doesn’t get done. No-one wants to gather firewood? That’s ok, they can have cold marshmallows.
A child wants to sit in a hammock for the whole session? We’ll make space to talk to them, firstly checking they’re ok, and then after a couple of minutes point 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 believe in those moments something important is happening, even if we don’t understand it.
We bring our own curiosity and praise heavily when we see independent thinking and children trying something that although we can see it won’t work, it will give them better understanding of how things do 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.
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 our first attempt and ultimate desire is that when children understand how their behaviour impacts others, they change out of consideration of a valued relationship.
Finkelhor, 1984 outlined 4 stages that must be overcome in order to abuse. We believe the model has huge value for behaviour too. The four stages that need to be overcome 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- eg, penalty points for speeding.
Here at BroadTree we are much more interested in stages 1 and 2. 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 the child to succeed. It’s sort of like 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 (Stay safe, be kind, have fun)- 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 10 things that we want all adults to be aware of- they are:
- Fires- Once something is on fire, it stays in the fire. The only exception to this is marshmallows which need to be blown 10 times before eating when they catch fire.
- 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 moving around within the water. This will cool it much more quickly than simply placing it in the water.
- Tree climbing- a hard maximum of 5m from childrens feet to the floor for insurance purposes, and trees must be checked for dead branches by a competent adult prior to being climbed.
- Hammocks- insurance states these need to be sat in by an adult prior to use by children- ensure it’s sufficiently far from the floor that the hammock can’t scrape the floor, get damaged and subsequently fail. 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 private parts touching. “Stop means stop” boundary in place when hammock is being pushed by others.
- Heights- clear the ‘fall zone’ of rocks, branches, etc such that the landing is as flat and even as possible.
- Knives- check children are cutting away from themselves, ‘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)
- Saws- The saw blade must be at least 10cm from the hand supporting the stick. The blade can wonder a surprising distance.
- Ropes and straps- ensure they never go around necks.
- Den making- no-one should be inside a den whilst it’s being built or adjusted
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 what a great adult looks like.
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!