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Forest & Free: rebuilding the village from the forest in – our 2023 programs for kids

Forest & Free is a place of fun, adventure, challenge, and a place of risk for 8-12 year olds in Djaara Mother Country. The kind of activities the kids will experience are fire making and cooking, bush walking and foraging, fishing and wild swimming, safe knife use and simple tool making, regenerative farming and animal husbandry, deep listening and storytelling, tree climbing and shelter building, embodying ancestral lifeways and learning ecological knowledges and awareness, listening to one another and listening to Country.

There are few places left where kids can use knives, climb trees, navigate forests full of old mine shafts, light fires and generally get scratched up and stung by being participants of life. It is in this spirit that we invite children to attend Forest & Free and for them to experience a healthy interrelationship between safety and risk.

In allowing children to attend Forest & Free, parents agree to sharing the risk with us and with their children. The risk is therefore spread three-ways – we as the facilitators, the parents, and the children – and is distributed this way to build personal responsibility and to avoid blaming, shaming and the possibility of closing down this community resource.

Life happens, and we don’t believe this is a good enough reason to submit to the cult of safetyism, which is a mental virus that has bloomed from institutions of the most industrialised countries.

We are not about setting challenges that are too great for the children, and we don’t encourage an overtly competitive or risk-taking culture, rather we encourage children to meet new challenges and learn from others around them, and the forest.

Forest & Free is deep listening, embodying resilience, meeting challenges, learning skills and having fun. The broader culture, up until recently, used to see breaking a bone, receiving stitches, getting lost, being burnt by fire, etc as a rite of passage for young people – necessary for the development of children at this age.

While we don’t wish any of these things on any child, and we explain each skill, challenge, game or wild food in terms of the risks and benefits involved, adversity is the underlying, ever present flip side of enabling such learning and therefore such growth.

As adults we understand that some of our greatest learnings come through discomfort, and it’s how we respond to these situations that really matters in building resilience and bouncebackability.

In 2023 we are running 8 full-day paid events ($20 per child for the day, 10am – 4pm). These dates are either in school holidays or land on public holidays and will be open to not-schooled and schooled kids.

We also run a weekly full-day program for not-schooled kids every Monday from 10am – 4pm. These sessions are based on a gift exchange. If you have surplus homegrown or home-made food, hand-me-down clothes etc, they are gifts we value. When there is abundance let it flow. When there’s not we understand.

Children are required to come with water bottle, healthy lunch and snacks, a sun hat, clothing appropriate to the weather, a pocket knife, and a sense of adventure.

We are looking forward to an exciting year of forest play, learning, exploration and celebration of life. We begin each event with a listening circle so as we can all hear where each of us is at. This helps build compassion and bonds the group, while practicing deep listening.

If you are interested to learn more about Forest & Free, or are thinking of starting up a forest group in your own neck of the woods, please get in touch. Similarly if you know of other bush schools in your area or have experience as a participant in another community bush school, please let us know in the comments. We value your stories and your thoughts.

Signing off for now with blackberry scratches on our shins, and bidgee widgee burrs in our feathers,

Patrick and Meg (Blue Wren and Magpie)

33 comments

  1. Natalie says:

    This is the content that I’m really excited to read from you guys! I would love to hear lots of granular detail about how you organise these forest and free days. I’m sure you have much experience and wisdom to share.

    We’re in NZ with a three year old. I’m from a few generations of Steiner kids on both sides. Very interested in ways to provide diverse experiences for children to grow through. Especially in ways that will strengthen them for the uncertainties in the coming decades.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for sharing a little of your story, Natalie and for asking questions of us. With each gathering we, as the facilitators, come with a few intentions, a game, an activity and a general overview of where the day might lead. However, built into this frame is chance and what the forest is informing us to observe and leading us towards. This breaks from the anxiety around curriculum and meeting targets, and opens us all, especially the children, to being very present to what is. The forest is a different place each time we gather. It is windy, it is still, it is teeming rain, it is dry and hot, it is early spring or deep winter, it is snake season, it is in flood, it’s in full blossom, or it’s wild fruit foraging time. All these things and much more determine how the day unfurls. Our role as facilitators is to keep things spontaneous and have confidence that the day has its own logic and rhythm. It’s a dance between organisation (being prepared) and courting the wild twin. Hope this offers something of use. Thanks for the opportunity to delve into a little more detail on how we facilitate.

  2. Dianne Corston says:

    Brilliant! I wish I’d had the opportunity to give Reuben this kind of education.
    Next time José and I visit your area we’d love to join in for a day.
    Dianne xx

    1. Hello Dianne, we’re sorry to have missed you. Thank you again for the kelp! F&F is for 8-12 year old children, but maybe we can do a similar all ages thing and go bush next time you’re down. Sending love, xx

  3. I love to read this post. Thank you for creating so much juice!

    1. Embracing risk, taking personal responsibility. Not being divided or “protected” or in fear of “legal repercussions” , lacking “insurance”- all seems pretty normal- essential tools in the kit bag- encouraging re-emergence of “common nse”- noticeably absent of late

  4. Herman Roelofs says:

    This is the first time I realized my contribution was worthwhile. Keep up the good work. Too old to join in now at 88.

    1. All your contributions are worthwhile Herman. Thanks for being you.

  5. Maia Irell says:

    May adults apply? Love this♥️♥️♥️

    1. Thanks Maia. We wish we had enough hours in the week for an adults Forest & Free. That would be fun. The closest thing we run to this is the Men’s and Women’s circles in the forest, which is a pathway to rewilding.

      1. Another Meg says:

        I love this! How do I find out more about the Men’s and Women’s circles?

        1. Hello Another Meg, please feel free to contact us via:
          we@artistasfamily.is

  6. Cláudia Varino says:

    Oh my…. so jealous of the Dalesford children!!!! 💛😍😊 wish you were near! 🦊🐿🦉🦔

    1. Oh, we wish this kind of thing was commonplace in every community, but that would overturn the neoliberal money tables.

  7. Erin Dumond says:

    Loving what you guys do and stand for. It inspires me with our 2 young kids. I first appreciated you guys from the documentary (possibly by “Green Revolution”) about your home. I often think about your “bin liner moment” (mainly when I’m changing my bin liner still.. ) Much appreciate your divergence during the pandemic too. The way you experience and interact with the world is truly with a creative playful approach that gives wind to my inner spark.

    1. Thanks Erin, that was probably our Happen Film short doco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCRukvZE2Vk&t=2s
      We’re grateful for your kind and warm words.

    2. Cláudia Varino says:

      Hello! I didn’t know about that documentary. I’m going to watch it! Thanks for sharing 💛

  8. "PermaGrannie" says:

    Such a splendid way to teach. I have a very dear friend who homeschools 5 children. They are the most intelligent, inquisitive, loving, giving, caring, and responsible young people we know. They learn inside, they learn outside, they get dirty – and love it! Thank you, Meg and Patrick, for building a more well-rounded next generation. Oh, how I wish I lived close enough to participate!

    1. Hello across the waters, PermaGrannie! We look at the adults in our own childhood and youth that made a difference by their patience and attendance and we take inspiration from them, many of whom have passed on now. No doubt you have had the same impact on youngtimers in your life and experienced those oldtimers that gave to you in your youth. Sending love and solidarity, Patrick & Meg xx

  9. Kate Beveridge says:

    Wonderful to read Meg and Patrick. A great opportunity for children and their families. Would love to see more of this happening across the country. My daughter runs a nature based playgroup here on the farm, not wild and free but certainly out side in all weather.

    1. Outside play, curiosity and learning! Oh, if that wasn’t the exception… Thanks for sharing that, Kate.

  10. Cat McKay says:

    I loved seeing photos and reading about Forest and Free. I did not realise you were doing this, but of course you are! We have been running Farm Play here at PEACE farm for many years with a very similar ethos. It started as a weekly playgroup when our kids were little but now we run it for school aged children during school holidays. Although we spend some of the day in the veggie gardens, harvesting or planting, learning about seasonal foods etc we always incorporate some wild forest play, building a fire and shelters from sticks, climbing trees, getting scratched and exploring what we can find in our little wild patch at the bottom of the property. This is usually the part of the day that is their favourite time – it is so free and unstructured and different from school – a great antidote to the modern child’s controlled indoor existence. Sending much love to you all, x Cat

    1. Thanks Cat, so good to hear news of Peace Farm. We loved our visit there a few years back, in the days before neoliberal nudge units turned our mob into a brawling mass of insane ideologies with big influencers in the Green Left movement dancing virtuously with medical fascism, such as Tammi Jonas, the president of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, who writes: “Colonisers brought the smallpox and in some cases intentionally spread it to eradicate Indigenous Peoples here in Australia and other colonized countries – genocide via disease transmission amongst other violent means. Voluntary refusal to vaccinate is to my mind a continuation of the colonial legacy of lack of care for the First Peoples of this Land.” Wonderful to hear of the activities you’re running for children, enabling them to develop wild health and connection to Country and the living of the world.

  11. Giovanni Giordano says:

    Where can I find the dates for 2023?

    1. Hello Giovanni, do you mean for the school and public holiday dates? Please email us your interest and we can send through some more information. Thank you.

  12. Mari Kåsbøll Bjerke says:

    I have been inspired by your way of life for a few years now. Thanks for showing that a life off the treadmill is possible and can be so rich. I would love to do some elements of this for my kids who spend most there time in organised sports and on screens. Could you describe some of the games you play in the forrest?

    1. Hello Mari, thanks for your comment.

      One game we play is Blood of the Blue Wren (BBW). Blue Wren is Patrick’s forest name. BBW can be played as either a hunting or tracking game, that is, hunting for those who want to step into that food procuring realm or tracking for those who wish to find the wounded animal to help it.

      The way it’s played is Patrick tears up tiny pieces of orange peel and carries around 50 pieces on him in a bag, dotting them here and there as he moves through the forest, leaving 5 minutes before the children leave.

      Depending on the age and the experience of the children the citrus pieces (blood droplets) can be close together or far apart. The children will feedback to you if it was too difficult or too easy, which is handy to know for next time.

      The game ends when they eventually find Patrick, who is usually up a tree or pretending to have fallen asleep in the brambles. The main point of the game is the journey and discovery and the working together, and Patrick delight’s in taking the more experienced kids over creeks, under bridges, through tunnels and dense scrub and down steep slopes.

      It can be a voyage into the underworld, the magical realm. Two adults are good to have in this game, if possible, especially if the forest is vast. Patrick usually gets so far ahead very quickly that he can observe them as they look for blood drops, and make sure everyone is OK. Meg (Magpie) leaves behind the children and does the same observing from the end of the procession.

      It’s a super fun game, and in a way a variation on a treasure hunt, but with more of an emphasis on ancestral movement, and barefoot where possible. We teach the children to move through the forest silently, but working together, pointing down to show others of the little orange drops instead of speaking or calling out.

      We hope this is helpful.

  13. Micole says:

    From a mother and a teacher, I thank you xxx
    For years my soul has been moving away from the direction of education as perceived and taught in schools. Even alternative educations, such as Steiner, have to comply with regulations and systems that don’t feel right to me.
    For years I have believed my purpose is to create a school, a forest school, just as you have described here! Including the payment of gifting.
    If I lived in Tassie (I live on Turrbal and Yuggura land) I would run to you with my children and support any way I could to bring this beautiful gift to as many children as possible.
    For over a year now my soul has been yearning to run from the system, with my children, and create a space for children to come and play and be wild and free in the bush settings near us. I would love to speak with you more about what you’re doing and ways I can bring this to fruition in my neck of the woods.
    With peace, with warmth, and with good wishes.

    1. Hello Micole, thank you for your beautiful message. We’re in Djaara Country in the Lockdown state of Victoria, and we see you’re in southern Queensland. We know of families and teachers in your general area doing similar things. Please feel free to message us and we can hook you up. Blessings to the courageous ones.

  14. Cláudia Varino says:

    Hello, Artist as Family! I’ve read this post when I’ve received your blog newsletter, and it was a mixed of emotions…. the same way I feel when I read books from Peter Gray…. In one hand I get really sad for not being able to offer this king of experience to my 10y girl (the “forest school” near us is not a community exchange experience, it’s not free and it’s price is unbearable)…. sad…. On the other hand I get really inspired, willing to, and full of desire to do better, even on our own. I have to thank you, you give me so much inspiration, knowledge, and I believe that this is also love!

    A tight hug,
    Cláudia

    1. Thank you for your warm words, Cláudia. We don’t know the complexity of your life or your story so we offer this from a naive place in case it is an affirmation of what you already know or sense: Lead your girl (and her friends) into a nearby forest as often as you can, and the rest will take care of itself. Start a forest play group and from the play and games they make you’ll know what to do. Build a village with fallen branches, moss, rocks and leaves. Little by little the immersion will guide you. Mother Forest will guide you. Father Fire will illuminate your path.

      1. Cláudia Varino says:

        Thank you for your inspiring words. Mother Forest and Father Fire guide us every time, and Artist as Family to ☺
        Next saturday we will dive into the forest in “family mode”, children and adult-children 😄 this time.
        Love and admiration from Portugal 💛🐿🦊🦔

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