Winter, it seems has been here now for weeks and for some the excitement of the toboggan and the snowy slopes are just as exhilarating as they were in the first few days when Sheffield came to a stand still and the schools closed and the transport systems across the region came to an abrupt stop.
Christmas is always a truly exciting time, the anticipation, the waiting, the preparation and the wrapping of presents is now all over and the toys and technological gifts have been played with, scrutinised and in some cases abandoned. The Christmas table has been cleared and still there are signs of turkey dinners being cooked and presented in as wide a variety as there are homes in which they are being eaten.
Sheffield is such an overwhelmingly abundant city in so many ways, but for me what sets Sheffield apart form other cities are the profuse and bountiful parks and green spaces that hold in their midst woods and trees of so many shapes and descriptions. The hills are to blame. When I first moved to Sheffield in 1986 my bike quickly became a harder mode of transport than I had previously experienced or indeed anticipated. But then the bus only cost 5p and the reliance on cars was so much less.. Physical exercise was a part of everyone’s way of life, walking to work, walking to school and nursery, visiting and playing in the parks and spending time with our families. How many of our parents, grandparents and great grand parents have accomplished the Sheffield Round Walk? This common Sunday family walking experience with a picnic and a stop off to play in the streams on rope swings and building dams and skimming stones is for some a vague shadow lost in the mists of time. Sunday shopping had not been invented and that precious time we used to spend with our children in our local woods and parks today seems to have become a harder challenge to overcome. A visit to Meadowhall is now seen by many as the family outing. The speed and pace of life seems to have taken over and our children are increasingly spending more time in front of the TV or on computers and games consoles, consuming, we have become consumers of a different breed.
For a great many parents the reasons for not taking our children out is that a ‘walk’ out is considered boring by many children and young people and interestingly the onset of puberty sees a massive decline in the affiliation with the outdoors and reaches its peak for girls in the mid teens. As these young girls grow and become mothers themselves research shows there is again an increase in the use of the outdoors as the playground becomes a valued venue to wile away the time.
Children need to be outdoors, they need to run and play and discover what is out there and parents are the first educators and role models. Most often, we simply do not actually know what to do when we get out there…..the playground becomes outgrown, the grass is very big and usually involves a ball and sometimes a bat, but then you need a few friends to join in, as a game of football can become a bit monotonous when there is only a striker and a goalie. We have all done it, the jumper goal posts and the diving saves.
New Years Resolutions are great and we write them out and for most they are forgotten by the 6th Jan, if not before. Here are ten top tips to getting outside, to actually being immersed in the beauty and inspiring landscape that Sheffield’s proud industry was built on. The water wheels that are still spread about along streams and rivers high on the outskirts of the city, using the energy and power of water as it turns the wheels on its long decent through the valley between the seven hills that is Sheffield. Shepherds wheel is being bought back to its former glory and local craftsmen and women are continuing the mantle that was so generously handed down through generations of knife makers, grinders and buffer girls. These woods of ours hold so many secrets, so many magical memories, where once they were the supporters and promoters of industry and wellbeing today they are as vibrant, exciting and inspirational as they have always been.
Sometimes we just need those tips and pointers of how to use the woods and parks, how to become lost in their magic and how we as parents can give the most needed gift, that of our time, that of inspiration, fun and time together so that the next generations learn to value and invest in their majestic heritage that is Sheffield.
Sarah's Ten Top Tips
One: The biggest consideration this time of year is the types of clothes and footwear have on when you go outside. Hands and feet will feel cold without adequate socks, gloves, scarves and hats. However the biggest reason for cold hand and feet is the need for the body to have on more layers. Keep a warm heart and core and the rest will be roasty toasty. Layer up, thinner layers are better than one thick one, this also means you can regulate your temperature more easily.
Two: If there is no café or shop nearby, take a drink and a snack, hot blackcurrant juice in a flask is ideal as children like it and if it cools down a bit you can still drink it. The physical exercise, fun excitement and challenges will make your children hungry. Healthy snacks like dried fruit will give them energy to continue on their adventure – and nothing is more exciting than a picnic in the woods!
Three: Take different collecting containers, bags, buckets, sacks. Gathering is a natural instinct for children – and most adults as well, and connects you and your child to nature and encourages them to look closely at what is around them. Chose objects of the same colour, the same size, the same weight, because they have a unique feature, grade the colours. String tied with two sticks are a great way to collect leaves, Leak Kebabs, tie a thin stick to one end of a piece of string measured from the tip of your finger to your elbow, plus a bit for the knots. Then tie a chunkier piece to the other end, about as long and thick as your thumb. With the thin stick stab leaves and pull them down onto the string, repeat until you have your kebab or leaf mobile. If you make a few you get a collective mobile if you tie them al to a branch of a tree.
Four: Use your own imagination, tell stories, be creative, use props and enchanted stones and astonishing sticks, magical holes in trees where the happy elves live, or the grumpy trolls hide. You know your own children so be sensitive to their fears and encourage their imaginations and creativity. Be excited and involved in the adventure, your tone of voice and body language will inspire and captivate your children.
Five: Once your children are enthralled, allow them to explore at their own speed and allow them freedom to explore, develop and play without intervention. The simple act of being in a creative mood, inspired by the scene you have set can motivate children to engage for a very long peiod of time. You can do and make your own creations, but do allow them the space and time they need to pursue their own interests
Six: Always remember that children of different ages require different things to stimulate them and to inspire them. Helping smaller children to focus on the physical world will support them to engage and explore. Buckets and bags and other collecting utensils will promote collecting natural objects, some you can use later on, either back at home or later in our journey, others you may need to return to their natural habitat. Throwing sticks of different sizes, playing Pooh sticks on the many bridges, using bows and arrows made out of sticks and string allow children to explore the concepts of flight, movement, weight, forces, speed, time as well as their own strength, accomplishment.
The next few ideas can be done separately or linked together to make an enjoyable adventure as you walk and journey through the woods.
Seven:. The Stick Man is a lovely book to introduce children to playing with natural objects. The great thing about using natural objects is that every one is unique, everything made will be different and be wonderful.
Read the story in a quiet spot under a tree, or in the café if it is too cold to sit for a while, Forge Dam café is open again for hot chocolate and coffee after it refurbishment and Endcliff Park provides the perfect setting with the woods behind the café over the stepping stones, the perfect beginning to an adventure. Go out into the woods and follow stick man on his adventures. Make your very own Stick Man and a stick lady and stick children, use rubber bands or string to connect sticks together. Make Stick Man house to live in………the options are endless.
Eight:. Older children will be engaged by their imaginations and stories of heros and heroines, the dilemmas of elves and pixies and dragons and faeries, army men and women, secret camps and aliens, or even Celebrity get me out of Here! . Make faerie or elf houses and villages, be creative and make them as tiny as possible, as big as possible, as pretty as possible, as waterproof as possible. You could even take a bottle of water to pour over it to test! This can be done any time of year, autumn is especially good with the fallen leaves, but Beech leaves will lay on the ground nearly all year. If your child has an action man or other figures, use that in the woods to make camps and protective screens, dens, camouflage the children with face paints or mud and use different tracking methods to notice squirrels eating tables, broken nut cases, foot prints and other signs of activity in the area.
Nine: Play Hide and seek. This game is such fun and will engage children for hours. Depending on the ages of your child or children, use different rules. With very small children play 1,2,3 Where Are You? A popular Forest Schools game that encourages listening skills, as will as being really good fun. You count to ten and they hide, you shoult 1,2,3, Where are You and they shout back 1,2,3 I’m over here. YOU then go towards their voices and keep shouting 1,2,3 where are you. Once the child is found they then help you to find if there is anyone else. Your child can then chose to be a finder or hider and repeat as many times as you can!
Ten:The Adventure Stick
First find a stick each, measure from the tip of your finger to your elbow and match to the thickness of your thumb.
Use wool, string, multi coloured elastic bands or ribbons. As you go on your adventure you can wrap a colour around your stick to help you remember that part of the adventure. You can ties on a precious object to each different colour to help you remember. When you get home, you have your very own journey stick.
Geocaching is a treasure hunting game with a difference. It is played throughout the world with over 11/4 million caches in place. By using the website www.geocaching.com you can find a location near to where you live, this will give you coordinates to locate hidden containers, called geocaches. Geocaching is essentially designed to use a map or gps device, which a great many people now have on their mobile phones. It is challenging and fun, can encourage a sense of competition to discover what someone else has hidden and develops a range of skills such as navigation, problem solving and determination, it is enjoyed by people from all age groups. Once you have found the geocach you can remove an object from the box and replace it with something of your own. It really is treasure hunting.
Sarah Blackwell has been developing and running Forest Schools Programmes and Training in Urban and Rural Settings in th UK for over ten years. Sarah is the Director of Archimedes Training Ltd. and is responsible for the development of a number of outdoor learning related training courses including Forest Schools, Beach Schools, Foundation in Social Forestry and Outdoors and Up for it! This year, Archimedes Training are delivering their first pilot courses in Australia. Email email@example.com for further information.
Archimedes Training +44(0)114 2855534