Surrey based Willow's Forest School offers a variety of tool work at every session which is based on experience. Fire steels, palm drills, bow saws, bill hooks, mallets, brace and bits, potato peelers and small knives are regularly used for natural crafts!
Whittling and sparking, although hugely exciting safety comes first! From a young age the children are introduced to safety with tools. Sat in the correct position is vital, so legs apart, feet firmly to the ground and tilted slightly forward, so elbows are resting on the knees is the correct way to start when fire starting or whittling. Safety gloves are a must when using tools and the children are taught to keep the tools low and away from their bodies.
If you ask any child at Willow's, what is a "safety bubble" most would be able to tell you, as this is our number 1 rule, ensuring they and children around them are kept as safe as possible.
Whilst sitting on their log, putting their arms straight out and rotating in an open space, defines the "bubble" which is the area no one is allowed to come into. They learn to stop work and point their tool down to the ground before politely asking the person to move away, so they can continue. They will continue, once they have ensured their "safety bubble" is clear. The children are accompanied at all times by a member of Willow's.
The children learn to make their own sparks with fire steels (always a favourite). This is achieved by rubbing the steel and flint together which will eventually generate a spark. They prepare the ground by clearing any dry leaves and checking their safety bubble. Their little faces when they get their first spark is such a delight and it can take some children up to 30 strikes, so perseverance is a must!
Water is always on standby too and when we feel the children are getting the hang of it, we offer them some cotton wool to enhance their experience. As the wool is ignited, we hear lot's of excitement. The children are taught to manage their fire by staying with it at all times and once the flame is out they stamp out the area just to be extra sure the fire is out.
Our regular older children, who know our safety rules inside out, go off and forage for dry snappy sticks and make very small
fires, applying the same safety rules throughout! Once it is home time the children return to their parents smelling delightful and full of excitement and with a huge sense of achievement!
Drilling conkers or pieces of elder with a palm drill brings huge delight to all age ranges! Whittling a stick, by simply using a potato peeler gives great satisfaction to all ages! The potato peeler is upgraded to a small knife once the child needs to be challenged. The children make their own choices of what they fancy making. Over the years we have had spiders, necklaces, bracelets, snails, Father Christmas, Stickman, crayons and pea shooters! Under close supervision, children of all ages love this activity. The safety glove is used on the non operating hand, whilst the other hand does all the work. We use nut crackers or clamps with the younger children to ensure extra safety.
Using any type of saw adopts the safety glove and the "safety bubble" rule. This activity is introduced to children as young as 2 years, with adult supervision. They get to make wooden discs, or cookies and it is entirely up to them what they want their disc to be. It may be a medal, a key ring or a coaster and those who love sawing may decide to make a flower press, a snail or a car with lots of discs. We implement safe working and they do the rest!
We do remind all of the children that any skills they learn must not be practised at home unless they have adult supervision!!
Since 2013, when Willow's Forest School was born, the one thing that has become very apparent to us over the years, is you can't really put an age on the activities we run. A prime example of this, is we have children who have been attending our weekly Parent and Toddler sessions since the age of 18 months and by the time they attend our full day camps (at the grand old age of 5 years), they can demonstrate our safety rules, whittle a stick, use a bow saw, forage for firewood compared to a 9 year old who has never attended a forest school camp before. It is quite endearing to witness a tiny confident child, full of self esteem participating in advanced tool work, who is leaps and bounds ahead of new starters in our 7 plus holiday camps. They all get there in the end but it all comes back to the forest school ethos ! Find out more by visiting our home page www.willowsforestschool.co.uk