1 March 2017

On Wednesday 1 March 2017, the Pre-Prep boys took part in the construction of a living willow den. The rationale behind the playground project was to provide shade from the sun, stimulate creative play in and around a living natural resource and to construct something that the boys could identify with. This was an ideal opportunity for the boys in Pre-Prep to have ownership of what will be a long lived feature in their playground environment.

The living willow den is a multi-functional asset to the Pre-Prep as it will allow for a variety of imaginative play by the boys, be it physical, sedentary, quiet or loud. It will also provide a continual source of quick growing willow whips for Forest School resources, for example: pointy sticks for cooking marshmallows, fire fuel, craft resources, den building materials and more. As a living plant structure, it will also attract a variety of invertebrate life and provide opportunities to observe and develop their own relationship and understanding of their immediate natural world.

The construction day itself was cool and cloudy and began indoors with a specialist, Ruth Parsons of Woodland Learning, giving a short talk to the boys about the magic of willow.  Ruth, myself and a team of able and excited Forest School parent volunteers, enthusiastically took charge of spades and got dug in!

During the course of the morning small groups of boys came down to assist with various processes in the construction. The Reception boys helped by selecting and carrying willow whips and then inserting them into the prepared holes. These were then bent over to form the initial skeleton shape of an igloo.  By the time the adults had laid the weed suppressant membrane, the Year 1 boys were able to back fill the trench with soil using trowels, heeling the whips firmly into the ground. The boys were then treated to the sight of our groundsmen delivering two large bags of bark chippings with a tractor! These bark chippings were scooped up by the boys and thrown onto the membrane as flooring. The cooperation and discussion they had was a joy to witness. The Year 2 boys were able to integrate their afternoon Forest School session into the den’s construction, or ‘wigloo’ as one of the boys called it – a ‘willow igloo’ is a ‘wigloo’! Some teams went with adults and the trolley to collect tree trunk discs to use as seating, others were shown and helped with weaving and tying the whips together to produce, strengthen and fill gaps.

The wigloo was complete, and with willow whips to spare two or three boys helped me construct a living fence on the Forest School site to act as a windbreak near our fire circle.  Another team of three asked to have six whips to construct an entrance arch. The adults were amazed and awestruck with the buzz of boys playing, exploring, cooperating and practising new skills, all without formal direction. 

The boys of the Pre-Prep are looking forward to the next few weeks to see the new growth and being able to play in it. The fun will continue…

Steve Treadwell
Forest School Leader and Y2 Form Teacher

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