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)