We’ve joined a local forest play group! We use to attend a proper Forest School in Bristol, with a qualified Forest School leader and fire and saws and den building and loads of fun, but this is more of a gathering of parents and kids in a woodland. It’s mostly under 5s, too, unlike the Bristol group.
There’s an optional craft activity at the beginning, and then the kids just free play in the forest. Sensory bottles and wind chimes are two of the things Aeryn has had a go at, but mostly she prefers the exploring bit. I’m all about the process not product of art, so if she fancies it, we try it, if not, we don’t.
There are lots of magnifying boxes and giant tweezers and nets to collect things to look at. It’s great to see kids getting excited about woodlice and peeling the bark from twigs. Aeryn gets very absorbed in her own ideas and loves the magnifier. It’s obviously magical at this age.
I try to hang back a lot and give her lots of freedom to choose and explore without parental hovering. But often she likes to get me involved, and we talk about what she’s doing and finding and trying out. Her vocabulary is huge now, over 250 words I’d guess at 19 months, so we can hold a reasonable conversation. It’s interesting to see how far her thinking goes and the connections she makes between what she’s doing and what she already knows.
In terms of educational psychology, we’re discussing the schemata she’s working on and testing and expanding the relationships between things in those schemata. Schemata (singular: schema) are patterns of thought and behaviour that help categorise knowledge and frame our response to the world.
So, you might have a schema of rotation or transportation or enveloping or something that requires physical testing of your world. If you’re exploring rotation, for instance, you might note that wheels are round and rotate, then apply that knowledge to your future encounters with round objects, like balls or tin cans or hoops or pebbles through testing it out! You’ll likely realise a cube block doesn’t rotate like a cylinder one and balls placed on a hill roll by themselves and that a force is required to start the rolling process and all sorts of things.
Or you could have a schema of a concept, like “tree” for example. You have a mental idea of a tree, and assess every new plant you find to figure our what does and doesn’t fit into that “tree” box, as they challenge your perception of “tree”. Is a big holly bush a tree? Why not? What about that sapling? How can a pine and an oak both be trees and look so different?! Why is a twig not a tree? etc. Either you assimilate new ideas about trees into your schema because they already fit (ah, that oak tree is just the same as my mental idea of tree, it sure is a tree!), or accommodate new ideas into your schema by changing it (oh, cool, so a pine is tall and has leaves and a trunk and is also a tree! Neat! I’ll remember that for the next one I see; trees can look quite different and still be trees!!)
Schemata are pretty awesome (thanks, Piaget!). I like that I know about them, and I can quell those ever-present “is this enough?!” worries that parents get about everything they do with their children. Is playing really enough?! (Yes, yes, yes!) Is talking about nature really enough?! (Absolutely!) Shouldn’t we do a worksheet or something??! (No. She’s one. Calm down, already! You know that’s crazy.)
But really, I just love talking to my kid about what she finds exciting. It just feels like the right thing to be doing with her.
The tunnel was a highlight for Aeryn (ooh, leaf silhouettes inside! Shadow schema expanded!). She took her time trying it though, she hung back until all the other children lost interest. She’s super shy, sometimes! She likes to not feel rushed and other kids waiting for a turn is a big ol’ cue to shut down exploring for her at the moment! Yet another reason I can see school not being the right environment for her AT ALL.
After Forest Kids, we went the the park to play (the wood is about 2 minutes walk from the play area!). Despite all the awesome equipment, for about 5 solid minutes, Aeryn just sat on a rock to process her morning. I think there’s an awful lot going on in her mind, sometimes!
Can’t wait for the next one!