Wild Wood Challenge – Learning in Nature

Beachy Books Wild Wood Challenge - photo copyright Eleanor Bell 2012

On a cold wet Sunday in October The Beachy family and I met a group of children and families from a local primary school at Borthwood Copse, a National Trust ancient woodland near Apse Heath on the Isle of Wight.

And the reason we were all there? The headteacher of the school had heard of our woodland walks and scavenger hunts associated with our children’s book Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood in which photos taken in Borthwood Copse feature. And so I was commissioned to take the children and parents out on a Wild Wood Challenge as an opportunity to move the classroom outside and learn in nature.

After waiting for a few stragglers we all set off, wrapped warmly and in wellies, into the wood, as all around leaves were falling from the canopy of trees above us. Autumn was flexing its muscles at last.

I could tell the children were so excited because they ran ahead, leaping over logs, picking up sticks to use as swords and enjoying marching through mud, while their parents lagged behind chatting happily.

The challenge began at the stand of giant beech trees. I got the children to think about how they might find out how tall the trees might be. Hands shot up and ideas came. One of the children suggested climbing up and abseiling down with a tape measure! I told them a few crafty ways to estimate the height without climbing the tree. What they didn’t realise was they were actually learning a bit of practical maths. For each challenge I set a “takeaway” task for them to do back at home and find out more about how it all worked.

With parents and children all warmed up I then gave each child a Beachy Books map and scavenger hunt based on drawings and photos from our children’s book Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood events and we set off on a circular walk around the wood, setting the children (and parents) a challenge to collect and spot all the things on the scavenger hunt.

When we got to a secret location in the wood (I could tell you but then I’d have to flick your ear) I challenged the children to build a den. They could either build a full size one to sit in or they could build a little fairy house or something a small woodland creature might want to live in. The children soon got stuck in foraging for sticks, picking up ferns, finding leaves and they all found areas of the wood to start building. Before long all the parents were roped-in to help.

At a fallen tree many of the children immediately started to climb it. In the end we had loads of them crawling all over the tree then leaping off with the help of their parents. It was positive to hear parents saying how much they were enjoying the experience having fun while learning with their children.

For the final challenge I got the children to use their imagination and creative writing skills. I asked them to find a tree in the wood that had a face in it and to then create a character from it by imagining how it would speak, what it might want most in the world, how it got into the wood, etc. The children all scampered off and before long I saw children taking photos of seemingly incongruous tree trunks that on closer inspection revealed piercing eyes and warped faces. It’s like seeing images in the clouds. My children often look up in the sky and tell me they can see a dolphin or dragon or head of a giant. Each child sees something different.

By the end of the walk we had arrived back at the start and by all accounts both children and parents had enjoyed and learned from the experience. And so had I. Learning outdoors is fun!

Would you like a Wild Wood Challenge? Get in touch…

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