Glasgow children, once warned off the forest, are now busy enhancing their environmental skills there
TOASTING MARSHMALLOWS over a wood fire can be tricky. Too short a time in the heat and you do not get a crispy crust and gooey centre. Too long and the pink and white confections burst into flames.
With a whole term of Glasgow's first forest school behind them, the P7 pupils at Camstradden Primary in Drumchapel are in complete control - and not just of the marshmallows.
"They've been showing us how to use tools like saws and knives," David Laverty takes a moment out of the campfire circle to explain.
"We've been learning how to work in teams. First we built a wee den to get in the way of it. Then we built bigger dens that we could sit inside.
"Finding out about wildlife, building dens and helping people were the best bits."
Although Camstradden Primary backs on to woodland, this is not an environment the pupils were familiar with, or encouraged to explore. "They associate the woods with drinking and anti-social behaviour, and their parents would probably tell them to stay away," explains Nicola Mir, their teacher.
Things began to change when a Forestry Commission Scotland ranger, Jo Thomson, visited the school to explain her work. "She asked the children if they would be interested in building a pond here. They loved the idea, so we started coming regularly with our spades.
"They began to notice things. They would ask Jo questions about birds or wildlife or bits of pottery they had dug up, and she would always have a story to tell them."
The children were encouraged to tell stories too, both in woodland diaries, and around the campfire.
Stories and traditions, myths and legends help engage the children's imagination and spark their interest in the environment.
The "journey sticks" they all carry, each one personalised with bone, leaves and feathers picked up along the way, are a visual reminder of places they have been and things they have done.
The sticks are native Australian in origin, Jo explains. "The men used to take them when they went off hunting and would use them, when they came back, to tell stories around the campfire about the animals and people they had met and the adventures they had got into.
"Since this is our last day here, the kids will be telling stories later, using their own journey sticks."
The dreamcatchers the children made one week and used to decorate their leafy dens are also from native culture, in this case North American.
"What wood did we make the dreamcatchers from?" Jo asks a group of 11 and 12-year-olds who have chosen to spend a little more time on their already wonderfully elaborate den.
"Willow," they reply.
"And what's this tall tree we're standing beside?"
"That's right. Oaks are old and important trees because they're home to over 300 species of wildlife. What do we call where an animal lives?"
"We've been getting the kids out here half a day a week all this term,"
explains Wendy Gray, the Forestry Commission's education officer for Central Scotland. "This is the first forest school in Glasgow, but we'll be rolling the programme out to others after the summer.
"I'll also be running in-service sessions for teachers, so they can get a flavour of what forest schools can do for children in terms of citizenship, responsibility for the environment and teamwork.
"At first the kids weren't comfortable up here, but now they have a feeling of ownership. I overheard them talking the other day about people dropping litter. 'They're messing up our forest,' they said."
Wendy Gray, education officer, Forestry Commission T 01698 368556E email@example.com