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"Circle of Life" - a Question of Childhood Appropriateness?

"I love seeing settings talk about life cycles like this, answering questions honestly and with respect."

Sometimes the things we do at OFK spark strong emotions in people. This is understandable as our approach can be far removed from the pre-packaged, disposable society we live in today where your chicken comes already chopped and wrapped in plastic, with all indications pointing to the fact this was once a living breathing animal carefully removed so as to not invoke any upsetting association.

So the question stands, where does the understanding and respect for animal life come to play in our society? If we are wrapping our children up in equally sterile, pre-prepared packaging, afraid to spark any form of emotion, how will they eventually grow to understand, love and protect our natural world?

Our latest post on social media, we shared with our viewers how privileged we were to get up close to a recently deceased beautiful bird of prey, a Kestrel. This unsurprisingly sparked many strong emotions, from praising our approach to exploring difficult topics, through to those expressing how they wouldn't allow their children to be exposed to a dead animal. Both are valid opinions and both we regard with the same respect, with the latter being understandable as not everyone is immersed in nature as deeply as our forest school children are everyday.

This blog seeks to explain our approach to the circle of life, encouraging open and frank conversations, especially in children, as talking allows them to better understand the feelings bouncing around in their minds and bodies, thus supporting emotional intelligence development.

The topic of deceased animals is one we’ve experienced before, as being in a woodland surrounded by nature, we regularly come across the odd dead rabbit or crow or perhaps some bones that a bird of prey has discarded or the remains of a recent dinner from a skulk of foxes. The topic of 'passing away', in it's softer natural form is generally present in the woodland. However, when balanced against the beauty of everything else we’re surrounded by, death is actually a very small part of our experience. That said, because the children are naturally accustomed to it, when they do come across something like this Kestrel, it's dead form doesn’t present as a morbid thing for them, it instead provokes intrigue and awe as they fully comprehend this is just what happens to animals sometimes...

We are sometimes asked if we give children the choice to be involved or not in these activities involving animals and our answer is always, OF COURSE! Children are never forced to partake in anything they don't want to be involved in. Our ethos centres around being 'child-led'... we let children lead us in all matters...

We also involve parents in what we do as much as possible too. For example, Amber is part of a local shoot and kindly offered to bring in a brace of pheasants.

We consulted parents well beforehand on the option of involving their children in processing the pheasants and exploring them more closely, even cooking the breasts on the fire and trying the meat. 95% of our families decided to allow their child this experience, including a vegan and vegetarian families. The 5% of children were taken on a fun adventures whilst the others explored the birds.

A huge part of the Forest School ethos is about celebrating and embracing nature in all its forms. Often nature doesn't fit the clean, uniformed approach found in our supermarkets, but with the right support, understanding and collective partnerships with families, we can adapt and work together to best suit individual children's needs and interests; To quote one of our readers, "to answer questions honestly and respect" at a level each child can fully grasp according to their developmental level.

We would love to hear about how your childhood explored nature and the circle of life - perhaps you grew up on a cattle farm or you were raised vegan - how has your adult life been shaped as a result of your childhood experiences and what do you wish for your own child/ren as a result?

©2021 Organic Forest Kindergarten.