Recently in the 'Raring 2 Go' awards our holiday club 'Forest Camp' was voted the BEST for the second year running. We believe wholeheartedly in the program, but we have to be honest, we were surprised to win.
Forest Camp is different to many other holiday clubs, one of the differences is that we only enrol 24 children per week, and compared to some of the programs we were competing with it's a tiny amount, every family that attended must have voted for us.....again!
We enrol such little numbers because we believe that strong communities are built through connection, and connection often begins on a personal level- at Forest Camp everybody knows each other; the staff know the children and their interests, the children know each other and together we build a strong community to that connects and helps us build a connection with nature.
Forest Camp offers children an opportunity to play freely, learn about the natural world and try a variety of skills and activities ranging from nature art, music and outdoor yoga to bushcraft, outdoor skills and campfire cooking. It is all carried out in a play based fashion, we respect each child's choices and give them the freedom to join activities as and when they like, they are not ‘forced' or scheduled into the program. We also create an environment where children feel like they are part of a community and each day they volunteer to do things that keep the whole experience in 'flow', these range from fire monitors (we always have warm food and drinks) to random acts of kindness.
Throughout the whole program we try to foster a sense of community where people recognise that the whole is greater than it's individual parts, all of whom rely on each other to flourish. Along with being a ton of fun this type of program is heavily linked with positive physical, social and emotional development and all of our activities are designed in a way where children feel connected with the natural world.
Our staff have extensive experience working with children and young people with skills as Youth Workers, Art Teachers, Photography Teachers, Outdoor Education Professional, Forest School Leaders, Outdoor Instructors, Child Yoga and Child and Adolescent Counsellors. Although we have a great time and it's an excellent and very worthwhile experience for everybody there are times, like on any program when things don't run as smoothly as we'd like.
When this happens we don't become all totalitarian but instead turn the responsibility towards the children and give them the power to govern their own community, with us acting as equal members. I'm often amazed at how well they manage this responsibility and have seen disagreements and quarrels overcome when particular children have brought up their discontent during the community gathering which happens at the end of each day. To date the only one time that we've encountered any problems was when one child disagreed with the 'one marshmallow policy' and asked for votes on making a new rule that allowed children extra marshmallows, of course they all voted YES and for the next two days we sent children home both happy and slightly hyper.
During the school term we thoroughly enjoy working with schools delivering Forest School and our own Outdoor Learning program. It's wonderful that head teachers recognise the benefits and importance of the programs we deliver and are including us in their curriculum. At this time of year most teachers are looking forward to the summer break and hoping for some time to relax and get through that stack of marking. For us however, we're looking forward to summer so we can once again welcome our Forest Campers, help them feel connected to themselves, each other and the world around them and ensuring that each one of them have an experience they will always remember!
Forest Camp is every child's dream, its school holidays the way nature intended.