One of my favourite Forest School activities is what I call the woodland hunt. I hide a load of soft toys of fauna that may be found in a woodland habitat, putting them where they are most likely to be. You know, squirrels in the trees, millipedes under branches on the floor, butterflies at the flowers etc. I invite the children to go and find them and off they go on a wonderful hunt through the woods looking for my little friends. Now they are using their eyes and starting to really take in what is around them, they are looking at details and seeing things in the woodland environment, but not necessarily processing all that they see because they are focused on finding the toy animals I have hidden. They find them and bring them back to me to tell me about what they have found.
By chance and circumstance I have been doing an experiment this week into the range of pupils this activity can be used for. I have done this activity with 2 and 3 year olds in a parent and toddler group. I have used it with a group of 7-9 year olds in a primary school, with some reception classes (5 year olds) and with a group of 9 year olds with autism. I would also like to see how well it would work with secondary but don’t have a group of that age to work with at the moment.
Well the response from all client groups has been brilliant. With the youngest we can just keep it as a fun activity where we are basically playing hide and seek with the animals, me hiding them for them, the children hiding them for me to find, and having lots of fun in the process. The children are using their senses, solving problems, thinking about the point of view of others and considering the creatures preferred places to be. Now I have a fantastic chance to get them to think about so many things; where did you find your animal? what was it doing? was it happy there? tell me about your animal. what type of creature is it? how many legs? wings? etc. Now we are starting to think about habitats, the needs of creatures to survive, adaptations to their environment, predator / prey relationships, food chains and webs, simply loads of the science curriculum can be addressed from here and there is huge scope for differentiation. This activity is then turned onto the children by giving them the task of building a house / den / shelter for their animals. Off they go now and get creative, using materials they can find to create something for their animals. They really get stuck in and are solving problems, learning about forces and structure, considering the needs of their animal and having fun of course.
With the older ones we are bringing in aspects of the national curriculum such as Science – Living things and their habitats, Forces, Design and Technology – construction and evaluation, Personal Social and Emotional development as they work together and negotiate, and spoken English. I have found that the children engage themselves in the activity brilliantly and use lots of imagination and creativity, and their play goes on to develop into other areas – some go off and build full size dens, some want to go and hunt for real creatures (always have some minibeast hunt resources available), and some build mini towns and cities for their toy animals to live in complete with transport systems, neibourhoods and roleplay. The great thing for me is that the children differentiate for themselves, going off on tangents and following their interests or developing intricate detail in what they are doing.
This type of activity can be revisited multiple times because there is always something new to learn or a new situation to role play, or a different creature to provide for or just something which if fun to do. Children like to be able to repeat activities which have been beneficial to them and always seem to get something more out of it.
I’ve been posting the photos of what the children have been creating on Facebook so that parents can share what their children have been doing during forest school and that the children can see that their efforts are valued, and that even though next time they come to the woods their den may not still be there, it has been recorded and still exists in digital form.