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Storytelling around a campfire and kettle

The Penguin, The Elves and The Goonies…


Once….Not Twice. Not three times, But Once….upon a time, on a cold and drizzly January day deep in the dank Sussex woodland, 30 Forest School Practitioners gathered around a fire to hone their storytelling skills!

I was lucky to join my Forest School friends for a Storytelling day this week, hosted by Jon Cree and Circle of Life Rediscovery. There is something deeply primal and comforting about sitting around a cracking fire hearing old tales – and making up new ones. An ancient pass time that we’ve lost along the way somehow – like playing outdoors from sun up to sun down!

Stories make us human. We all have a story. Everything around us has a story. There’s a story about the chair you’re sitting on, or the food you eat. Most stories are left untold, but when stories are told – magical things can happen! Storytelling has been shown by brain experts to activate the ‘mirror neuron’ in our brains – which is the area linked to empathy, language and self awareness. So telling a story invokes more emotional literacy and empathy than reading one. A told story is also more memorable – especially when told by a great storyteller.

However, you don’t need to be a ‘great’ storyteller to enjoy telling a story. Helping children to tell their own stories can not only strengthen language development, literacy and creativity, but it can have a healing use. Giving them the language or self awareness to deal with big emotions.  The right story at the right time can have a powerful effect.

As a parent I found that a story gives you license to play together, build on each other’s ideas and bond with silliness!

I rushed home after the storytelling day to practice with my boys (3 & 5). Instead of books at bedtime, I followed up on some of techniques and ideas we had tried that day and we made up a tale of The Penguin. The Elves and The Goonies  – with the boys adding characters and actions as we went. Their imaginations fired up and they loved it. It started like this…

I started by drumming my hands on my knees. Dum da dum da dum
Me: What’s that sound?
Big bro: A Penguin!
Me: (Ah of course. A penguin! We have our Character!) And what’s he doing?
Little Bro: He is riding a horse to the North Pole. He’s got no clothes on.
Me: Brr – sounds cold. Why is he going to the North Pole?
Little bro: To look for Father Christmas!
Me: And maybe a scarf?
Big Bro: No. (Of course not mum. Penguins don’t wear clothes!) To find the Crystal!
Me: Ooo – so the Penguin is on a horse, travelling to the North Pole to see Father Christmas, get a robot and look for The Crystal! Why is the Crystal so important?
Big bro: Because it’s a shape-shifting Crystal!

…And so our story started. We had a naked horse-riding Penguin on a mission to find the Crystal from Father Christmas. He had problems finding the Crystal because it had been stolen by the Goonies who were using it to shape-shift and cause all sorts of mayhem. The Penguin asked Father Christmas’s elves to help…

I suspect the story will be continued tonight…and probably tomorrow night… and maybe the next, but that’s ok. Jon Cree mentioned that one story he and his daughter made up on long walks went on for two years! So I’d better buckle up; this scarf-shirking, equestrian Penguin might be here to stay…

Playing outside in winter…and keeping warm.

There’s no escaping it….it’s cold! And if you’re little one is anything like mine playing outside in winter can feel like pulling teeth when they are fed up and cold. It doesn’t help when they refuse to wear their coat…yet it’s freeezing!!

As you can probably tell, I’m an outdoorsy mum. I think being outside is good for my family. Everyone eats, sleeps and plays better when we’re outdoors and we all tend to get along better when we’ve had a good dose of fresh air! Research shows that playing outside boosts immune system – especially when there are so many nasty bugs circulating around indoors.  We get our hearts pumping, our imagination flowing and our moods lifted by exposure to that much needed vitamin D. However, despite loving the great outdoors I am unashamed to admit – I hate getting cold! I really do.

So, here are my tips for maximum enjoyment from playing outside in winter.

1) Base layers! Sounds very adventurous doesn’t it! It’s the technical term for vests and long johns. Pretty obvious, but it was a revelation to me when I found some good ones. And it makes a HUGE difference with my youngest – who can be really miserable in the cold. Thick, long-sleeve thermal vests and thermal long-johns/leggings are amazing if you’re playing outside in the cold.
Merino wool is the snuggest, but can be scratchy for little ones and expensive, so if you don’t want to spend that much, cheap packs of thermals from Tesco and Mountain Warehouse are all fine. For a few more pennies, I would recommend M&S do some super cosy thermals for little ones.

2) Lots of Layers. Jeans, longsleeve t-shirts, tights, tops…whatever you’ve got. You don’t want them to have so many clothes on they’re like the michelin man – we want comfort and flexibility here! I generally put a sweater and lined trousers/thick joggers on my boys over the base layer

3) Thick Socks – especially if you’re wearing wellies. Nothing worse than cold toes!

4) – Puddlesuit. This is the pièce de résistance of winter-wear! We bought two padded Regatta suits last year for the boys and they still fit now. They are amazing! My eldest loves the fact that he can lie down IN A PUDDLE and not get wet! There are lots of brands available and worth a search on the internet, but if you are up for playing outdoors a lot this winter I really recommend the £15. Ebay also has loads of second-hand suits available, so it’s often easy to pick up a bargain.

Boys playing outside in winter in muddy puddlesuits

A winter stomp in the woods.

5) Hat’s, scarfs, gloves….if you can get them on.  Personally, my two hate them and, as a result, will leave a trail of woollen accessories everywhere we go.  I try to insist on a hat (did you know we lose 80% of our body heat from our heads!), but if we have the above covered then I can be ok with no scarf.

6)  Warm drinks! The cold can dehydrate little ones fairly quickly, so keep warm and hydrated with hot drinks. A flask of warm spiced apple juice has been our favourite this year.  Here’s a quick recipe:

  • 1 Bottle Apple Juice
  • 2 squeezed oranges/glass of orange juice
  • 4/5 Cloves
  • cinnamon stick

All simmered together to warm up.  Teaspoon of sugar if it tastes too tart. Strained into a flask. Yummmm.

And if you’re short of ideas on what to do outside, check out the Woodland Trusts Nature Detectives – jam packed with cool (to freezing) ideas for a wintery outdoor adventure.  We can’t wait to have a go at the ice lantern this weekend!

So that’s what we do to keep our winter play fun outdoors.  What about you?  Do you have any top winter warmer tips?  Funny stories? Do you wear a hot waterbottle in your coat or, like an ex-colleague of mine, use your dog’s bagged poo as a hand warmer?  We’d love to hear…

Our Favourite Trees

The things we love about trees - the Bouncy tree (Cedar) - Stanmer Park, Brighton, East Sussex UK

Celebrating trees.

It's National Tree Dressing day this week and as a result, I've been thinking about our favourite trees.
Do you have a favourite tree and what does it mean to you? 
I have lots of favourite trees. The amazing old Oaks and Chestnuts in woodlands I have worked in, the big Beeches at Three Cornered Copse, the huge gnarley Sycamore tree in Hove park...I love all of these trees. They're beautiful landmarks, ecologically important and full of history. I like to point them out to my oldest son, who's 5.
...He usually replies 'meh'. 

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Back to School for Lucy…

I started my new school this week. It’s not quite like the other schools I’ve been to though. This is the School of Social Entrepreneurs…and it’s almost as magical as Hogwarts!

School for social entrepreneurs logoLast year I thought I’d take a chance and apply for the fantastic Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up Programme. After a weighty application pack, two nerve wracking Dragons Den-style pitches and an interview – I was overjoyed to secure a place for Bee in the Woods on the programme!

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