Why I became a Forest School leader (and why I love it)

The last 8 months of school holidays have been far from our usual adventures. While we have tried to incorporate days out and even hoping some half terms for a little camping trip or 2, the reality has been that these have been fewer than we would have hoped and our “free time” has been limited. Instead of gallivanting all over and spending the time with others, it’s been rather basic stuff here and there, as a chunk of the half terms have been taken up by me working towards becoming a forest school leader. This has meant full days of school holidays spent travelling to and from (and in) North Yorkshire, and long endless days spent writing assignments on ecology, safe tool and fire practice, PPE, policies and procedures, play, theories of learning, plans for sessions and a mighty load of reflecting on my sessions too!

While at times this has been hard (especially with a baby and 3 kids), and has also meant sacrifices of other things, it has also been such an exciting and fulfilling thing to do (and certainly an investment for future work and business opportunities).

I was absolutely delighted that last week, at the end of the Easter Holidays, I had my last 2 sessions completed (including a presentation and session observation) and then handed over my completed portfolio. I am still awaiting my official certificate/accreditation, but the work is done and the necessary safety stuff passed off, and I am pretty much now a fully fledged (and definitely insured) forest school leader. And, after all the work, late nights, studying and days taken out from half term spent doing it, it feels absolutely amazing.

I wear my most chilled clothes to forest school; I get down in the dirt, I build fires, cook on fires, I play in the woods, build shelters and observe nature. I make things and build things from logs and sticks, and I love it all…especially that I have finally found “my thing” – that part really makes me happy!

Why Forest School?

This is a question I have been asked a lot – why forest school? I guess to some it seems out of the blue or a little random. And, I suppose in some ways it is. But for those who know me, will know that I have always had an interest in eco therapy. I suppose it stems both from knowing people who work in it, and also my personal journey of grief and discovering the therapeutic benefits of being in the natural world. Not only that but my own kids used to attend forest school as pre-preschoolers, as well as going to a Montessori preschool with its own forest school and so as a parent I was able to appreciate its role in child development.

Many of you will know that during 2020 I was studying to be a counsellor, and this was with the intent of progressing into eco therapy. Due to the events worldwide, and then having Oscar, I made the (in some ways rather difficult) decision to step away from it after completing and passing my academic studies in it (unable to complete a placement due to social restrictions and family commitments). This was hard because in many ways it was what I really wanted to do, though in other ways it also showed me parts of myself that struggled to be a traditional counsellor.

I felt I was unsuccessful and giving up on a dream.

But counselling became a stepping stone to enabling me to understand myself and realise that in fact my overriding goal for several years, was to be able to find a role where I could help young people especially, to grow holistically and build imagination … and I thought that counselling was that path in accomplishing it, when in reality there are many roads to this destination.  

Last summer I was walking a tonne with my little new baby Oscar and listening to the Raising Wildlings podcast (all about forest school and play and kids/development, parenting etc..) it was mainly for me as a parent to help me provide these things for my kids and is generally always a podcast that I find inspiring. I discovered though that with each episode, they were igniting my soul, widening my knowledge of natures benefits and deepening my passion towards it. I realised more and more the holistic therapeutic possibilities of forest school and the wonders of giving children space to explore, risk take, grow, use their imaginations, be creative, learn skills and learn in the outdoors – it was everything I wanted to be able to do. 

I pondered for a while on whether it was the right thing or if I was mad, and I realised that yes I am mad (because who takes on a course of study while on mat leave and still breastfeeding?) but that also it just felt so right too. So I found a course in North Yorkshire, used a chunk of saved cash to pay for it, and crossed everything that I was indeed making the right choice!

Why I love it

I worried that very first week when I rocked up to training that I wouldn’t be earthy enough, or leader enough, or would discover this was a huge mistake. It was the end of the summer holidays and we campled for 3 nights near by (with 3 kids and a 6m baby) and I was expressing all the way to the woodland each morning and shoving him on the breast the second it finished – it was madness, but also a good laugh too (making memories right?). After my very first day I realised 2 things – first was that all my worries were such silly things and reasons to worry, because the wonderful thing about nature is that it is so unique and imperfect, and so beautiful in its individuality. It therefore would make sense that those leading groups to connect to it and play in it etc would also be individual too with their own outlook, characters and experiences of the world. Secondly I discovered how much it ignited my soul and how many of my passions and interests were intertwined within – both of these have changed me.

It’s been as hard slog, hard balancing act and tiring journey, but it has been most fulfilling and enriching too. You see, the thing I love about forest school and working in the natural world, is that it is so freeing to the soul for starters. It enriches me daily and makes me feel calm and happy (it does that for those that come too). I also love that a chunk of my time is spent playing or observing play (so fun and marvellous) and that forest school encompasses so many of my interests and passions. Its like a bunch of loose ends or seemingly random things I have been interested in or loved in life, all coming together in forest school and intertwining into the things I do.

But, my favourite thing is seeing the changes and growth in both myself and especially those who participate in forest school over a regular period of time. My skills have increased, my knowledge has increased, but best of all I get to do what I always wanted to, and that is that I get to help others to grow holistically in a natural environment. This comes through play, through mindfulness, through knowledge and skills (fire, tools, shelter building) – it comes in helping others overcome challenges or finding balance in the natural world. I love to see increased imagination in children and passion for playing outdoors and exploring. It helps others in so many ways, and it is everything I hoped for and yet far more besides. I have so much more passion and excitement for it since experiencing it in action and for myself and I love that it can adapt to all kinds of climates and natural environments, as well as age groups and learning abilities. WOW! If success is liking what you do and how you do it, then in I certainly do feel very successful to be where I am now – however mad it has been this last 8 months! 

My instagram is @wild.endeavour if you are interested in following my journey there!

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