Forest School basics: Whittling
This article is the second in a series of blog posts called ‘Forest School Basics’.
Although Forest School itself is an educational ethos, these are simple activities that you can use to enhance the play and learning opportunities of the woodland environment.
Now for many people, the use of tools, and especially sharp knives, would not be considered a ‘basic’.
However, while it is true that there is no need to use tools to have an excellent quality Forest Schools session, the addition of tools does add something extra special.
Allowing children to try out a new skill set builds confidence and self-esteem.
The use of small tools develops and improves hand-eye coordination and both fine and gross motor skills.
The element of ‘controlled risk’ empowers children to manage the safety of themselves and others. It is also a creative and enjoyable activity!
A framework of strict safety rules when using tools makes for a much better experience for everyone.
A cut-resistant glove should be worn on the hand not holding the knife.
With the use of any tools, I always teach children about the ‘blood bubble’; this is the area that the tool could reach to cause harm or injury to another person.
When using a knife, the blood bubble is the arm’s length circumference around the child. They mustn’t use a knife if there is anyone else in their ‘blood bubble’.
As with any tool, knives must always be stored securely. After each use, the cover must be replaced, and the knife returned to the lockable storage box.
Brightly coloured knives will make it much easier to spot if any have been accidentally left on the forest floor.
The easiest way to introduce whittling to children is with the use of a vegetable peeler. Please make sure the one you are using is of good quality design as they are not strictly designed for use on wood.
Speaking from experience, it is very frustrating if they quickly become blunt or are not sturdy enough to apply the correct pressure.
Children should begin whittling by using the blade in a downwards sweeping movement. They must always move the blade away from the body.
They should sit either so that their hands can be held to one side of the body or in a wide-legged stance with their hands out in front.
Practising on carrots or other vegetables first can help to get the hang of the sweeping motion required (the resulting peelings can be used to make delicious crisps when fried in a little olive oil over the campfire!).
When using vegetable peelers to whittle wood, make sure the pieces chosen are green (fresh) ones. Hazel, silver birch and alder are all excellent choices when starting.
Try to choose pieces that are relatively smooth and without too many knots and bumps.
When you get started, many children will be amazed at the simple process of stripping the bark from a stick and be quite happy to do that for a while.
There is so much learning to be had from this simple activity, with discussions of the tree structure and life cycles leading onto more complex topics such as the importance of forests to the environment.
The next step is to introduce the use of a bit more pressure on each stroke of the peeler to whittle the end into a sharp point. You can use these sharpened sticks to toast marshmallows, hotdogs or even apple slices over the campfire.
They can be used as a litter spear to take care of your woodland.
You can thread leaves on to them to make natural sculptures or use the pierced leaves to thread onto strings for woodland necklaces and bunting!
Once confident with the safety rules and sweeping motion, you can introduce the use of a knife. We use the excellent moraknivs bushcraft knife. They have a perfectly shaped grip and are brightly coloured for safety.
Great beginners knife projects include:
-patterns in the bark for magic wands,
As with any adult-guided activity, it is important to model the activity alongside the participants. As well as providing additional opportunities to demonstrate the skills involved, it gives validity to what you are doing.
It is useful to have examples of the item in various stages of completion as well as several different examples of a completed item, including ones that broke or failed during construction.
Examples can help to illustrate that, due to the natural materials used, participants items may look different to each others and yours.
The broken and failed items can be used to help reinforce the learning process and to limit or prevent self-doubt or disengagement if learners find an activity does not go as planned.
For more ideas on this topic, we love the book Forest Craft by Richard Irvine.
Disclaimer: When using tools, you must always perform your own risk assessments based on your environment and the participants in your group. Flo & Fawn cannot be held responsible for any action arising from this article.