The Fire and the Knife and the Peak Experience

This blog post is fascinating, and this looks, from the lovely website, to be a great example. It would not be my intention to do down a setting so clearly that states:

…we pride ourselves on helping your little adventurers be the best they can be. Part of this shared journey involves providing appropriate risks for them to face, encouraging them to learn how to overcome them independently.

At the same time I return to the principal idea in the blog post, staring from its headline photo and title: “Our Forest School sessions have revolved around using a variety of different tools for different purposes.”  My issue is the one I raised on this blog about what Outdoor Learning is for. The farming and teaching background at Welton Free Rangers gives it a particular, and very rich slant on countryside appreciation. Their sessions are described as having “revolved around using a variety of different tools for different purposes.” In other words there is a purpose behind the sessions.

I’m not wanting to quibble here, but simply to add (for my students, whose essays on risk in Early Years are due this week) a query about the more dramatic elements of Forest School: knives, fires and the like.  Are they the essential element to Forest School? “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” … What do we ask children to do when we take them outside? do we take children out for peak experiences or something more subtle? Or is it that the week-by-week experience builds into something less instantaneous but just as momentous?  I worry that when we talk about knives and fire we diminish the slower learning that for me is at the heart of being outdoors.  “Red Fox” (Ed Harding) makes it very clear that at Welton Free Rangers time is on their side, but is spent wisely. The last lines are lyrical:

By providing the time and space for them to experience failure, to experience losing their balance, they learn to get back up, to try again, and to succeed. They will grow up stronger, and safer for it. Come on everyone. Let’s get risky.

Let the reader understand: risk is often experienced over a longer term than the immediate hazard, and the benefits are deeper than simply mastery of a tool.


2 thoughts on “The Fire and the Knife and the Peak Experience

  1. Spirituality is for me bound up with a sense of place, although Forest School does, to some extent engender this idea, I wonder how explicit this aim is. The Principles mention building a positive relationship with the natural world, but this can be somewhat superficial compared with what you are describing….and could just mean a sense of respect for nature and sensitive actions regarding wildlife. I think also, whilst OAE aims for the ‘peak experience’ through challenge and risk, I do not equate FS with this – almost a ‘gentler approach’. That is not to say that it does not happen at FS….

    Knight alludes to spirituality in her 2009 book suggesting ‘it [FS] is so special’ and that ‘FS is such a powerful emotional experience the children need to be prepared for the block of sessions by the Forest School Leader’ – this implies a deep connection (with nature, the woodland itself?), which might reflect your ‘peak experience’? Additionally, in her 2011 conceptualization of FS, she includes spirituality as one of the key elements, (alongside bush craft, education and neuroscience, amongst others. This model is, I believe, still a work in progress, and the relationship between the elements is not yet clarified).

    I need to go away and reflect more on this….I think there are many factors at play, and at present I cannot disentangle them to make sense. FSLs talk about awe and wonder, which again relates to the ‘peak experience’ but whether FS actually provides the sort of long-lasting enlightenment I think you are referring to, I am sceptical. I am really grappling at the moment with what FS is all about – nature, purpose and educational value. This ties in well I think, with your questions and needs unpicking.


  2. Thanks, Tracey. I think you hit the nail on the head when trying to distinguish between slow-burn spirituality and the peak experience. I too need to think of this some more…


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