Lessons learnt at Forest School
On a rather damp Friday in November of last year I did a Forest School fire cooking session for one of our 6th form classes. I used to teach a few of the students when they were very little (age 10, now 18…) yes I feel/am very old) so it is always lovely to catch up with them whenever I am over at the Upper School. They completed a document for me prior to the session with what they wanted to cook. I ordered all the ingredients and Ms Young kindly gave me a lift into work with a huge bag of firewood, my new fancy Japanese grill (which I had purchased at great expense last year) and a rucksack full of kit. I got to the forest early, started the fire so it would be ready in time for the students to cook breakfast and soon I heard the trudge of reluctant (I couldn’t be sure) teenage feet around 9.15am. Within thirty seconds, one student, (Starbucks frappuccino in hand) announced they didn’t like bananas, a second that they hated sausages and the third couldn’t stand fires. Oh and everyone was freezing cold. Despite the fire.
This was a lesson to me that we shouldn’t ever expect others to enjoy the things we think they will enjoy. This is particularly relevant for our young people on the autism spectrum. Sometimes, it can just be about exposing our students to experiences in small doses. These experiences might be out of their comfort zone, they might hate them entirely or they might learn to enjoy (or laugh about them!) in time. Either way, they will have experienced something new and perhaps built some resilience along the way and that is the important part.
Despite initially being very reluctant and being outside (when I am quite sure they wanted to be inside) they kindly humoured me by drinking tea out of my snazzy new camping mugs, everyone tried something that they didn’t think they wanted to try or in fact thought they hated (!), we chatted and laughed together about their lives and what was going on for them and we imagined that it was 25 degrees and balmy versus 10 degrees and raining. They wandered back an hour later having survived the experience/ordeal with full stomachs. If I have learned anything over eleven years at Holmewood, sometimes you need to put aside the plan you have in your head for what you imagine something to be and just be present in the moment and have fun (even in the drizzle!)