Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Helping our kids learn through experiences in the forest and giveaway

Jane wearing her forest back pack

When I was younger, I didn't really see the point of a lot of things I learned at school.  Algebra and fractions were something I needed to know about in order to do my maths homework and science was mostly about trying not to get experiments wrong.

Now I'm older I realise a lot of what I learned has very practical applications. How am I going to divide dinner so there are no arguments? How much money will I need to get the shopping?  How can I figure out why my son is having a meltdown?

Fortunately at school, I was focused on doing my best and getting good marks but that's not motivation for everyone.  And it's not necessarily motivation for my autistic sons.  Their learning needs a purpose, a point.

And whilst I'm an advocate in the way this can be utilised for one of my autistic son's through an ABA type of school setting, the other needs something else.  His EHCP and support plans at school focus a lot on concrete learning.  It's nothing to do with concrete in the playground, it's about something tangible.  It's about practical experience, doing things and learning through them.  This makes things real for my eldest son.  It means there is a point to learning something. It makes it interesting and even better when he's learning without realising it.

I've always enjoyed the 'every day is a school day' idea.  There is simply so much to learn in whatever you are doing.  Counting coins into the parking meter, how the doors on the bus work, why the deer are fighting and even making letters out of sticks when playing in in Bushy Park are all learning opportunities.   Having a guide can be very helpful too and on a visit to Blackwood Forest, that's what we had when we took part in a Personal Forest Ranger Adventure.

Kids in forest

As a family, we've tried some Forest Ranger activities before but we've found them too difficult for us.  It's often run in a group and so our kids feel surrounded by unfamiliar people.  Unfamiliar things can be very scary for my autistic kids - they are unpredictable.  Being in a group would previously have meant covering topics of interest to the overall group at the groups pace.  It will involve different teaching styles and methods to engage the whole group.

This works well for many people - it's what I do when I teach.  But for my kids this is scary and confusing. It's unknown.  There are unpredictable people.  It's jumping from task to task without time to figure out what's happening or the point of it.  Often it's whilst worrying that they aren't doing things right.   It's means we've previously left Forest Ranger activities after just a few minutes to avoid an upset.

But we did our Forest Ranger activity as an individual group at Forest Holidays.  By providing a personal service that allowed just our family to take part in the Forest Ranger activity, we were able to access it.

My son's didn't have to meet a group of people they didn't know.   It was just our Ranger guide who we could meet before hand if we wanted to.  The Ranger could tailor what was going to be covered in our adventure to be of interest to our family and it could go along at a pace that was comfortable for us. It was something we could not only do, but enjoy and learn from.

Our Ranger at Blackwood Forest was Alison. She listened carefully when I talked to her about our family and what we were like and thought about activities in the forest our kids could access.  She came and met the family at our cabin so the boys didn't have to go to the main meeting area where it could be busy.  Alison used what she knew about the area and what was happening to give us a really enjoyable and educational experience.  And it was practical enough for our eldest autistic son to engage in but not too demanding.

We went looking for slow worms.  I had no idea what a slow worm was until I went on this activity. It's actually a legless lizard that looks a bit like a very small snake. As a reptile it seeks out warm places and so there were places in the grassland area around the Blackwood Forest where the Rangers had put out black mats.  The black mats would get hot during the day and provide a warm refuge for the slow worms when it got cooler.

In looking for slow worms, my kids felt how hot the black mat got in compared to it's surroundings.   On a very practical level my kids learned through the experience that black materials get hot in the sun.

Anthony fire lighting

We also did some fire lighting, which Anthony loved.   I remember from science the three things needed to start a fire.  Heat, fuel, oxygen. I can still picture the red triangle that was up in my chemistry class.  Fire is something that can burn and as such, we tend to stay away from it on our home.  The closest things the kids will have experienced is birthday cake candles - and of course, you blow on these to put them out.  So in a way, it could seem that blowing on a flame would put it out.

Along with excitement of being able to make sparks using magnesium and a steel, Anthony also learned that gently blowing on a small flame will help it light.  Covering a small flame in sticks will only smother it because it can't 'breath'.

I feel our kids miss out  at times because of their difficulties, but this wasn't one of them.  By being able to tailor the adventure to their needs we were able to participate and enjoy something as a family and learn some useful things too.

How do you learn when you are out and about?  Do you enjoy the forest?

Children's holiday pack including teddy, kids binoculars, bug box and magnifying glass and canvas drawstring rucksack to keep it all together


To help more kids learn when they are out in the woods, Forest Holidays have offered one of our readers to win a children's holiday pack.  Simply enter via rafflecopter below. 

Conditions: UK Residents only. Entrants must be aged over 18. Entry is via Rafflecopter. Entries can be made up until midnight on Friday 27th July 2018. One winner will be chosen from all valid entries at random the day after closing. The winner will be contacted within a week of the closing date and have one week to respond. The Prize is one Children's Holiday Pack from Forest Holidays including drawstring bag as shown above. Prize is sent direct from Forest Holidays. The exact contents of the pack may change with an alternative product of similar or higher value sent included. No cash alternative.

Forest Holidays gifted us a Personal Forest Ranger session when we stayed at Blackwood Forest.  
We are pleased to test and feedback to them on our autistic family experience of their services. 


  1. Lovely article - and it was nice to read your other stories linked to it.

    1. Thanks for reading - I hope it provides an insight into our autistic/ ADHD kids. xxx

  2. Lovely giveaway and blog posts thank you!

  3. A very interesting and helpful post. Thank you.

  4. We've done something like this before and have to say it was one of the best days we've had together as a family and I have to say we all learned so much too. I still don't know what a slow worm looks like though! Thanks for linking up with #coolmumclub! xox

  5. This is lovely, my son is autistic and very sensory. It is useful to get ideas to help

    1. Both my boys are sensory but in often in different ways. I'm glad you got found it useful.

  6. lovely post and some really great ideas here - this is my husband's cousin xx

  7. Anthony stores his worries in his school bag - that is a great idea

  8. My daughter would like a pack like this.

  9. How beautiful - would be such a joy

  10. this sounds amazing ! well thought out and tailored to your family needs .did you see a slow worm in the end.

    1. Yes, very much so. Sure did, looked like a little grass snake.

  11. This is brilliant, more schools should encourage these activities

  12. This sounds like a fantastic experience. I'm all for learning and it's great that the organisation tailored to your family's needs. #coolmumclub

  13. A climbing wall is really good for their motor skills development

  14. Great post I found out I am autistic last year and I am definitely a sensory seeker I love walking bare foot in the grass but I also can get over load a lot.

  15. This is a super blog post and a great giveaway! We love to spend time outdoors it is good for us

  16. Thank you for lots of useful information.

  17. I really like the idea too of personal family sessions so that the learning environment is more controlled and predictable. My son would enjoy this!

  18. It's brilliant that Forest Holidays are really encouraging children to love getting out into the woods to explore and learn new skills.


I read all your comments and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our readers. I welcome any feedback on my posts and you can always contact me directly. Thank you.

What is Autism?
It's so much I couldn't possibly try and explain. For us it's wonderful and heart-breaking. Joyous and truthful. But as far as diagnosis is concerned, why not have a look at the National Autistic Society for their definition of Autism.
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