This autumn I have been privileged to lead 3 events which have provided opportunities for adults to engage in forest school activities.
In September I lead a forest school session for participants at a workshop at Cumberland Lodge, in Windsor Great Park. Having spent the morning discussing PhD projects, students and supervisors were invited to a clearing in the woods, and offered a choice of resources and some ideas for what they might like to do. I am always amazed how quickly a large group can seem to disappear in a woodland area, as people settle in to doing something they enjoy. Some chose to work together, to develop a structure (in this case, the challenge was to build a boat) and create a scenario which explained why they and the boat found themselves in the woods. Others took on the challenge of building a bird’s nest. Some used leaves to make art, and others used some clay to create people and in one case, a whole community, struggling to climb to the peak of a tree trunk (there was lots of symbolism in that one!). It was generally quiet, people were focussed on what they wanted to do, and it was very calm. After about 2 hours it seemed naturally to come to an end, and the group who built the boat put on their play, and others shared the outcomes of their activities. I was struck by how rarely adults are given the opportunity to just ‘play’ – to chose what they want to do without being influenced by demands of work, or domestic chores, or obligations. Everyone really seemed to enjoy this time to just be, to explore their ideas and to be creative.
In October, the annual even Art in the Woods took place in Hitch Wood. About 150 people attended, and enjoyed the opportunity to work with clay, willow, fallen leaves, acorns and chestnut cases to create art. Children and adults attended. Some of our regulars came for their annual nature art and craft fix. Tree faces, more complex art installations, dens, mini-worlds, and willow weaving all combined so that after the event, the clearing in the woods was transformed. While some people enjoyed the opportunity to chat with friends, many were engrossed in the opportunity to create something, challenged to use natural materials. There is a certain joy in creating something which you can leave for others to enjoy as they walk by in subsequent days and weeks, knowing that ultimately it will decay and the woods will return to what they were.
In November, we held a wreath-making workshop. About a dozen people walked the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, identifying foliage and other materials which might be useful in decorating a wreath. Although many plants are fading at this time of year, we found variegated box and holly, the final browned fronds of ferns, seed heads, mistletoe, and reds from crab apples, rose hips, mahonia, and holly. Using willow which grows in the gardens, a frame was woven. Then the decorating began. Old man’s beard, pine cones, and some dried satsumas and limes also added the final touches.
Throughout these three activities, people really stopped to notice nature, and were inspired by its beauty. For a few hours, they enjoyed the opportunity to use their imagination to be creative and to try something new. We tend to think that play is for children, but in fact, everyone deserves some moments to experiment, test out ideas, and to feel proud of what they have achieved. Nature affords us tremendous opportunities, if we allow ourselves the time.