Responses, Regrets, Reunions & Reflections from Muddy Faces director Liz Edwards.
I had a wonderful time at the Forest School Association conference in Danbury this autumn. The atmosphere was upbeat and uplifting across the board - staff, volunteers, workshop leaders and of course all the lovely attendees.
We had food for thought and wonderful food to fill our tums (unless you did what I did and ate a full slice of cake on the Saturday morning and couldn’t face eating lunch!)
I have been attending these national conferences since before the FSA was formed. The first one, if I remember correctly, was at Worcester University in 2010. I think I have attended them all except Oxfordshire 2021, where perimenopause symptoms were just too much to be able to make it. But with some help from HRT I have managed to make the last two and am looking forward to next year's, which little bunny ears have heard is going to be "up north" which is very exciting.
These events are a rich environment to catch up with old friends and meet many different people. It was amazing chatting to people about their experiences and connections with Muddy Faces - it's so nice to speak face to face to understand our impact. We are busy working away and when its online you often don’t get the feedback that shows its all worthwhile so events like this really help with those connections and sense of purpose.
I had a lot of questions and some amazing feedback. I would like to share my favourite piece of feedback and follow up on a few of the questions...
We always receive such wonderful feedback about the Dragon’s Sneeze and the story of how it was first designed to help a lady with osteoporosis. But I was really excited when two separate people told me that their groups love the animated story of the Dragons Sneeze and the children refer to it often when they are fire lighting. This was a lockdown project with my own children that got way out of control and took over our lives and our utility. I can’t believe how long we were all engaged in the project and despite my best efforts to edit it down my children insisted all parts of the story were left in. Meaning the video is quite long. I was concerned it was a bit too long and (in a whisper) boring. But this just goes to show the power of children inspiring other children in such a more engaging way than us old grownups.
I was asked quite a bit about shelters which is a common question at Muddy Faces - we have many phone calls trying to explain the mechanics of shelter building. We have developed some shelter building guides and resources which I hope are helpful for shelter construction. Also a range of shelter options in the shop.
We had lots of admiration for our shelter set up at the conference - it’s a design we are working on that will enable settings to have a shelter on a yard where they don’t have grass to peg out to - the boxes are filled with heavy material (the boxes in the photo are empty otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to lift them).
Here's a short video of the shelter and our set up at the conference.
I had lots of questions about Muddy Faces and the life, skills and kit required of an outdoor practitioner. Too many to mention here. The Outdoor Hub can help with many I hope. It's a library of free resources I have been building over many years. If you have any outdoor information, ideas or events you would like to share with the wider community please get in touch and we can look into hosting (no charge) it on the Outdoor Hub and hopefully signpost some people your way.
I believe if we can develop how settings use and access their outdoors spaces, focusing on the environment, the child and the adults, we can build strong foundations and a deep understanding of children and their play & learning outdoors. This foundation will make all provision such as Forest Schools much stronger in the long run.
Regrets I had a few..
Iregret not making it to more of the wonderful talks and workshops as I was beavering away at the Muddy Faces shelter. To remedy this next year I have roped my husband in to help and possibly my eldest may come too. Which will be nice as he was a tot at the first conference and now well over 6 foot. So with some help next year I hope to get to more or even run a workshop.
I regret not having more time to catch up with old friends and new ones made. Time just flew. A remedy for this would be to borrow Hermione Granger's Time Turner. There is never enough time.
I regret eating a whole slice of cake which, as it turned out, was too much cake and led to a missed lunch.
It is great catching up with old friends at these events. There are always way too many to mention but a couple of stand outs were...
Natasha Branston from Educating Kids Outdoors. Natasha is always a joy to see at FSA meetups and she always bouys me up. During our catch up this year we had a woooweewooowee (that’s meant to be spooky music!) moment when we discovered that we both worked for Raleigh international in a similar timescale and then also World Challenge as well. I worked at both these organizations as a mountain leader on expeditions in Chile and Africa as well as UK based stuff. ‘Twins’ life before forest schools.
I also met up with someone who I had last met under not too pleasant circumstances in 2010. It was interesting to hear his story and the conversation finished in a mutually supporting hug. Life has these ups and downs.
I love Sarah Lawful. She is the source of such good advice and this year’s fireside nugget did not let her down - "If you don’t use it you will lose it!" Thanks Sarah 😉 😊
I can’t miss out Nic and watching him cèilidh off into the distance of the marquee while we looked after his hedgerow gin selection. His mince pie gin was too intriguing to pass up on and was very pleasant.
I even had a vicarious reunion with Jon Cree, who wasn’t there but he had mentioned me to Maria Sprostranova of GreenWise People. Maria and I got chatting and chatting and chatting whilst gazing at the incredible moon. Maria made time on Sunday to pop by my shelter with Bulgarian feta, cucumber, herbs and a tomato shaped like a bottom. Lovely. So through an old friend I met a new friend. Thank you Jon and check out Maria’s GreenWise People.
I felt anxious about going to a large social gathering. This anxiety is something new to me, developed over the last couple of years as a result of perimenopausal symptoms. I have lost confidence in these sorts of situations and have much internal dialogue, but I made it down from Sheffield to Essex and constructed my shelter - had lots of Forest School chat, and ultimately had a lovely time. Plus, I’m looking forward to next year’s conference - Up North - and having some help next time so I can get to attend more talks and workshops.
Fire lighting and campfire cooking can be a wonderful part of the outdoor experience for Early Years and Primary school children. The Dragons Sneeze is a fire steel & striker we designed and created especially for Forest School groups and practitioners - easy for all ages and abilities to make the perfect spark. Find out how and why the Dragons Sneeze became...
If you want a fire or campfire cooking at your outdoor setting or Forest School you'll need a spark! The Dragons' Sneeze is the perfect tool to start you off. But where did the Dragons Sneeze come from? Find out with these origin stories of how the Dragons Sneeze became - as told to us by our amazingly creative customers!
Large group shelters are a great bit of kit for Forest School settings or for use in an outdoor classroom. We're put together top tips on how to set up shelters, fix them out and look after your large group shelters.
Shelter is key if you are to spend any length of time with your group outdoors. Shelter from rain, wind or sun, a place to cosy up and cook around a fire, a place to rest, play, and spend time together.
Our shelter building guides, and resources we've gathered from others, should help you create the shelter you need.
The Outdoor Hub is a massive FREE resource filled with activities, information and events to support you to get outdoors. Connecting to the elements, nature and each other has incredible positive health and wellbeing benefits.