Bushcraft Week with Thornlie Primary

IMG_20181109_212415Definitely one of the highlights of 2018 for me will be Thornlie Primary’s bushcraft week. Me, Kenny Noble and Jean Ewen spent three days last week running a range of bushcraft activities for the entire school, working with three classes a day. We had so much fun creating, building, cooking, learning, playing and sharing…. with natural materials like hazel, cleavers, birch bark, willow and clay. We made play-dough forest animals, an iron age round house from willow, friendship braclets from raffia, pottery bowls from squidgy clay and tug-of-war rope from cleavers. We cooked and ate bread buns with chocolate spread, mountains of popcorn, cakes in orange rinds and toasted marshmallows. The children worked together with patience and kindness, they were attentive eager learners, they bubbled with enthusiasim and excitment and were always helpful and respectful.

I have been fortunate to work with Thornlie Primary School in Wishaw for a year now, running some bushcraft training for teachers and activity sessions for the children, at the school and at Wiston Lodge. It is a pretty wonderful school: with teachers and staff that foster a happy, nurturing, stimulating learning environment for the children and provide learning experiences that are inspiring and enduring.

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Preparing for the three day session took several days. Kenny and I collected lots and lots bushcraft of materials like seedheads, willow, birch bark, clay, firewood and cleavers. Then there was all the cooking materials: oranges, cake mix, marshmallows, bread dough, popcorn kernals and hot chocolate. With it being November we had to be ready to cope with some bad weather too, using big tarps over the fire and activity stations to keep us dry. The school grounds at Thornlie are fantastic. The playground is really big, it has firepit and there are lots of willow trees, which we harvested to make our round house.

The days were structured into 1 hr 30min blocks, working with one class of about 25 children at a time. We split the class up into two groups and ran two 45 min activity sessions: a fire activity where we learned about natural tinders and did lots of cooking; and, a craft activity where the children did shelter building and created with clay and play-dough.

It is always a delight to see children respond to bushcraft activities. For me bushcraft is a form of play: it’s creative, imaginative and prompts you to explore. There’s something about playing in the outdoors, using natural materials to create things that are basic to our needs, like making a shelter, that is facinating and rewarding.

I’d like to offer my thanks to Jean and Kenny for working so hard over the three days and thank you to the staff and children of Thornlie Primary School for the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for bushcraft. Thank you as well to our P7 helpers – you we brilliant! Oh and the thank you cards were brilliant.

All photos courtesy of Thornlie Primary’s Twitter account.

Here’s a few more detailed notes on the activities we ran:

Cakes in orange rinds: The children work in twos and threes and juice the orange halfs (then can drink the orange juice). Next they whisk up a simple cake mix in bowels and spoon the mixture into the empty orange halfs. The oranges are then baked on the fire (we put them on a baking tray and covered them with in foil). Depending on how hot the fire is they can take about 20min to cook.

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Popcorn: Put a little oil in the base of a dutch oven, pour in some popcorn kernals then cover with the lid. Suspend the dutch oven over the fire and quietly wait for the popping to start. When the popping stops, it’s ready. Sprinkle on some sugar for taste.

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Bread buns: With some bread dough prepared earlier, children take a small piece of dough each and round them into a bun shape, then place in the base of the dutch oven. The children also made plaited bread buns using three sausage shaped bits of dough. Cover dutch oven with the lid and suspend over the fire. The bread can cook in as little as 15min if the fire is good. Enjoy eating them with chocolate spread.

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Friendship bracklets: You can use lots of natural materials for this, but Raffia is partiularly good. Children work in pairs. Hammer a nail into some wood. Get some strands of raffia, hold the middle and twist in the opposite direction. A kink will form. Place the kink over the nail. Each child holds a strand of raphia and then twist the strands to the right. Once tight they swap strands over, twist again and repeat to form rope. Make a length of rope about 20cm long then wrap around the wrist and tie to form a braclet. For more info on cordage making see this blog.

Play dough animals: Make some play-dough beforehand using this recipe. Make different colours. Each child models a woodland animal – like a mouse, owl, hedgehog etc – using the play dough and other natural materials; like, leaves for wings or small sticks for spines. Use cleavers to make nests for the animals. Also use willow to make dome or wigwam shaped little shelters.

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Iron Age Round House: Harvest willow branches (thin ones and thick ones). Trace out a circle on the round using a central stake and some string like a drafting compass. You can make it as big as you like. Ours was 4m in diameter. Hammer in hazel stakes (50cm long) along the circumference of the circle, evenly spaced out. You want to have an odd number of stakes so that the subsequent weave will work. Weave long, thin willow branches horizontally through hazel to form a low circular wall. Use long, thick willow branches and push these into the ground vertically, evenly spaced out, through the circular wall. Bend these willow branches over the centre of the hut circle to form a dome. Tie together with willow bark. Tie on more banches on a diagonal to give the shelter more strength. Our shelter was built over three days.

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Pottery with Clay: Before the session, dig up some clay, take out the little stones, knead and form into balls. Each child takes a piece of clay and makes a bowl, cup, model animal, dice or whatever they like. The clay is then dried by the fire before being placed in the centre of the fire to be ‘fired’. The clay should be fired red hot, then allowed to cool over the course of an hour or more.

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Firelighting with natural tinders: For this activity you need to have collected natural tinders. I used birch bark and seedheads from three plants: cotton-grass, reed mace and thistle. You’ll also need some high-sided metal baking trays and fire steels (ferrocerium rods). Demonstrate to the children how to use the fire steels and tinders to make fire. Children work together in groups of three or four and are given a metal tray, one fire steel and a small bundle of tinder. The metal tray helps to prevent the tinder blowing away and keeps the fire contained.

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