For a number of years parents from my Forest school clubs have remarked on how they would get a lot out of doing Forest School themselves. Watching our children thrive outdoors seems so natural to parents but we often don’t afford ourselves the same care that we do our young people – giving ourselves opportunities for self-care, reflection, spaced learning, risk, and community spirit.
A word about women’s mental health
During the Coronavirus Pandemic some women’s lives have become busier than ever. Some working women are juggling working lives with unpaid caring roles and childcare responsibilities. Due to working from home women are facing increased household labour, further caring responsibilities and balancing these work home commitments is a daunting and sometimes overwhelming experience . For those of us who are working from home, women are more likely to be interrupted whilst working and get a third less uninterrupted work time than their male counterparts.
We are all experiencing less social contact and anxiety over world news and loss of our regular structures.
Socio Economic pressures are currently stronger in the female population due to the fact that women are traditionally more likely to work in part-time lower paid roles or work in ‘Frontline’ or Healthcare roles.
Encouraging women to spend time in nature may just seem like another task to add to the list, but spending even ten minutes outside in nature will vastly improve your mental health as it is uniquely placed to deal with the emotional and physical outcomes of the isolation period – flooding us with vitamin D, helping our eyes focus on things other than screens, which is good for our eye health, breathing deeper and noticing the minutiae of our environment all improve wellbeing, alleviate anxiety and just make us feel good.
The Sit Spot
The Annake outdoor school, authors of ‘The coyotes guide to mentoring in the outdoors’ encourage creating a ‘Sit spot’ that is within a few minutes of your front door, that has some plants or things growing, is relatively private and feels right to you. Spend ten minutes in your sit spot per day. On the First day try looking and noticing textures, how the light falls, what plants are growing, what insects are there. On the second day become aware of touch, texture, feel the bark, notice the smoothness of a leaf. On the third day use your hearing, listening to the sounds around you – can you hear birds, traffic, people talking.
Creating a routine that includes ten minutes outside sitting or walking in a favourite spot is essential for well-being, even if this is just outside on the doorstep or in a garden or park. There are myriad studies on the benefits of nature connection on well-being and positive mental health. Just 20-30 mins walking or being in nature reduces cortisol by 20%.
When I first trained to do my Level 3 leaders course, I thought I knew a lot about hanging out in nature; survival skills, bush craft, creating things out of found objects, lighting fires and open fire cooking. But what I didn’t know a lot about was why we find these tasks so compelling and therapeutic, how weaving a journey stick could ignite thought processes and excitement such as awe and wonder that I hadn’t felt since being a child. Or how much a sense of community relies on the sharing of small incremental tasks, or that I had an innate need to feel both solitude in nature and gratitude and share this with others.
By the end of the training week our little group had solidified into a tight knit community who could share thoughts round a fire, teach each other new skills, laugh, feel tearful, we had all grown in confidence, felt ruddy cheeked from a lot of time spent outdoors, had learnt something we hadn’t known before and felt a sense of spiritual connection to our space. Amazing.
What I now realise is that Forest School is so much less about the activities you are doing but the intention behind the doing, the personal discovery, the sharing this with others and the sense of celebration of the people and environment around us.