Forest School for Visually Impaired Children
September 22, 2016

Karen Little is a Forest School practitioner at the March Wood Project, a community organisation with their own woodland site in Kent. They offer education and therapeutic programmes based on the natural environment for young people, families and adults. Karen has sent us this report about a bush craft day she organised this summer in conjunction with Action for Blind People.

“A group of 10 young people and their families enjoyed a day of bug hunting, fire lighting, den building and marshmallow toasting in 100 acres of Kentish woodland over the summer holidays. Most young people love the adventure of being deep in the woods, but for a group of visually impaired young people this was something of a challenge.

During the day we hunted for mini beasts under logs and debris. Magnifying glass pots were used to help those with limited vision, while more hands-on tactile interaction was enjoyed by those with no sight. The feel of the creepy crawlies on their hands and questions about how many feet, how big and what colour allowed the young people to try and identify what they had found. For those who found this a bit scary, small cuddly toys in the shape of frogs, dragon flies, hedgehogs and lizards were used to make sure that everyone was included.

Camp Fire

Fire lighting was an interesting challenge for all. Using a flint and steel and cotton wool balls, the group leader first allowed the young people to feel each part of the equipment. They then  listened to the sound of the striker and carefully felt the heat as the cotton wool burnt. With support they each had a go at striking the flint and steel, listening for the right sound, and some went on the light their pieces of cotton wool. Everyone then had to find suitable small pieces of wood for their fire. We did this by feeling different trees, those with leaves and those that felt dry and rough. They listened for the snap of dry wood and collected enough to make a small fire on rounds of wood. All this hard work was rewarded with the toasting of marshmallows around the fires that had been made!

forest den

After lunch some of the group went off the build dens. Using touch again, they had to find sticks that were long enough and lush pine that could be used for cover. A few new dens soon popped up around the wood! The parents really enjoyed this activity as well, many remembering their own childhood experiences of den building. Others in the group used clay taken from the lake to mould shapes into the trees and some used the time to explore the woodland.

One of the parents commented that at first her daughter was nervous about being in the wood and found it difficult to negotiate her way around with her stick. But she gradually gained confidence with her surroundings and was happier to go off and explore.

Having worked with visually impaired children previously, I am always amazed at their ability to engage in the same activities that I do every day with sighted children. We take for granted our sight and often don’t allow our other senses to have a chance at enjoying our environment. I now get my groups to close their eyes, listen to the sound of the wood – trees creaking, birds singing, animals rustling – and to touch, feeling the different barks on the trees and the mud and leaves beneath their feet.

Woodlands are amazing places and bush craft is a fun activity that teaches so much. We not only learn about nature and how to conserve it but also explore ancient and new skills, which can help build our confidence, self-esteem and relationships. Do think about having a go yourself – you could start by checking out Forest Schools near you.”

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