Posted by Claire Warden on

I always try to spend as much time at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten as my other commitments allow, and on one of the days I was there, the children had a meeting and decided it was time to go into the dark woods. Their choice of location on the site has always fascinated us. What drives the group to go to the climbing dragon (tree) or the rhododendron bush den? It is not normally a dominant child, but often an unspoken understanding of 'today is the day'.

The children talked to each other, almost affirming their own limits for exploration and whether they felt safe. The adults stepped back to allow the conversation to flow - 'We could go to the dip' - 'Let’s just go to edge bitty' - 'Are you coming?'( 2-year-old to an adult) - 'Let’s go all the way through it to the secret den' - 'Ummm’( many moments of significant silence) - 'That’s it! Let’s go in now! NOW! NOW!' As the group, led by the 4 and 5 year-olds, trekked off to find their own way into the dark forest, the adults were left to crawl beneath the low hanging branches and enter the children’s world of scale and proportion. The size and expanse of evergreen forests can be overwhelming, children judge if they need a hand or just to be close to another human.

Once inside the 'edge bitty', they stopped and waited for the group to gather. It was at this point that I took these two photos of the 'dark wood' and the 'even darker wood'.

The group decided to travel to the dip that runs into the forest from a drainage ditch. This became base camp, as children decided how far to explore and push their personal boundaries. You can just see a few children on the right in the second picture, hiding from me.

The children use these woods to push their emotional boundaries, the woods are not visited every day, in the way the more open deciduous wood around it are. The dark days of winter add to the austerity of these woods where other forms of nature rarely enter and the only vegetation appears to be a toadstool. These dark woods have a real atmosphere, of all things fairy-like and mystical; why else would all the adults adopt a whispering voice and look to the edges of light for reassurance? Nature has an effect on the childhood imaginations of all humans.

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