One of woodlands.co.uk's community projects in Kent organises bushcraft days for young people who are blind and visually impaired. Karen Little, who runs a forest school there, says, "we'd like to do camping trips but at the moment we are starting with bushcraft sessions for visually impaired 8-16 year olds with their parents or carers. It's amazing how much they get out of it - as we concentrate on tactile stuff." In Kent the Ashford Actionaaires, part of the RNIB's Action for Blind, have been Karen's key partners in organising these hands-on woodland activities.
Karen just organised a bushcraft day for a group of a dozen young people who built shelters and explored a woodland through touch, feeling different leaves and barks and thinking about which materials would work best for building their shelters. Once they had decided on materials they and their families and carers collected branches, twigs, leaves and moss to build shelters - though not for staying in overnight!
The group also learnt how to use fire-lighting steels to create roaring camp fires and they cooked hot dogs, jacket potatoes and beans, followed by toasted marsh mallows. Safety is particularly important with such a group and Karen insists on going through the safety rules on every trip even if the visitors have previously been to the forest school. For example when working near the fire everyone rests on one knee so that they can't trip or fall into the fire. One of her techniques is to make any forest school students repeat back the rules to make sure they have fully understood how to avoid danger.
Pond dipping is always a favourite woodland activity but it can include partially-sighted children and teenagers. For those with some sight they use specially large magnifying glasses which Karen bought at the Forest School Shop, www.forestschoolshop.co.uk. This is a great website and includes many items some of which you didn't realise you needed such as the "Insect Pooter" for catching very small creatures in a bug hunt. With the pond dipping the group caught newts, dragon fly larvae and a few weeds.
Karen concludes, "We are planning to expand our blind and visually impaired activities next summer to include archery and camping - with the new composting toilets that don't have any steps it will be much safer. Our activities don't just appeal to the visually impaired but are fun for siblings and parents too."