Enabling Environments: Forest schools - In full swing

Building a swing in the woods was a model of child-led learning, says Caroline Watts, Forest School leader with St George's Primary School, Wrotham.

From the moment St George's reception class burst out of the classroom, the children's innate need for the freedom to roam, explore and share their discoveries in the woodland is clear. They love to run, jump, climb and swing - all activities that help to build confidence, balance and co-ordination.

The children appreciate that if they want to swing at Forest School, then they have to make a rope swing for themselves. Building their own equipment brings a real sense of autonomy, which is central to the Forest School idea of child-led learning.

To build the swing, the children first joined me in a search for a suitable tree. This meant one with a strong branch that would support their weight and was also leaning away from the trunk.

We then checked around the tree and removed obstructions, such as logs and sharp stones, from the swinging area. Next, the children enjoyed taking turns to throw the rope over the branch. As no one succeeded, one of the boys, Tom, volunteered to climb the tree, and as a team they passed him the rope, which he strung over the branch.

Now it was time for the children to learn the simple 'over-hand knot' to secure the rope. This involves making a loop halfway up one end of the rope, then tying a knot in the loop. All the children practised making the knot with a piece of string. The other end of the rope is passed through the loop, and then this end is pulled up to the branch, making a secure rope to swing from.

Choosing a seat for the swing required a lot of diplomacy, as each child offered what they thought was a suitable piece of wood. One of the children then suggested, 'Let's make it really big so two people can go on it!', and so in the end they made their own first double swing, with a metre-long branch.

We decided to saw a piece of hazel wood to make the seat, so that it was just the size we wanted. We knew that hazel is a strong wood that does not rot easily and grows back well if cut from the base. We then finished the swing by using the same overhand knot at both ends, and sliding the loops onto each end of the seat.

The children find great joy in taking ownership of the wood, Through making the swing, teamwork, creative thinking, motor skills and a deeper understanding of the world and of each other all come together.

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