The Wonders of Woodcraft

This piece “The Wonders of Woodcraft” was originally featured in Humanitie, Winter 2013 edition 

We speak to three families about their experiences with Woodcraft Folk – a secular organisation for children and their parents that encourages community and critical thinking with a range of mostly outdoor activities and projects.

The Miller family: Angus, Penny. Duncan (12) and Jessica (10)

What has your involvement with Woodcraft folk included?

All four are involved in their local Woodcraft groups, and go on the weekend residentials and summer camps.

Angus: Penny was very keen to get involved as soon as Duncan was old enough – but we hadn’t been involved in Woodcraft Folk before that. Penny took Duncan along to a Woodchip group. What we liked was the environmental message, and the idea of working together. We wanted the children to be part of a group but not the standard sort. We liked the way Woodcraft was less militaristic than the Scouts. Jessica has also been involved as a peer educator in the Edinburgh PowerPod, teaching other children about sustainable energy. It’s a Woodcraft Folk project but not heavily branded so most people don’t realise it’s from them. We were inspired to set up our own Woodcraft group locally three years ago and that’s been great. We work with other parents to keep it going, and to promote it through schools and the local community centre.

Jessica: I first went to a Woodcraft group when 1 was six. I really enjoyed myself, playing games and getting to know other people. I get to do lots of different activities, like cycling and swimming and going ice-skating. All the children enjoy themselves on Woodcraft Folk camps.

Last year I went to CoCamp (Woodcraft’s international camp, this time themed around co-operation) where you were free and you could just go and do anything. You could run around, you could do activities and learn new things. I learned how to knit.

Penny: I found out about Woodcraft Folk in my twenties, before I had a family. The crossover was with environmental education, which is what I work in. I wanted to start volunteering with my local Woodcraft group when Duncan was a tiny baby, but it wasn’t really compatible.

What do you as a family gain from your involvement?

Angus: It’s definitely good for us as a family, particularly the camps. CoCamp was our first international camp, and I was blown away by it. The freedom it gave you, to get involved at your village level or on a wider level. You could try anything out. Woodcraft Folk overall broadens our horizons and makes us part of a network.

Jessica: I like the way everyone is included – no one is left out of Woodcraft activities.

Penny: Woodcraft Folk enables us to mix with like-minded people who have a broad vision and question things. I think there’s great strength in meeting people like this. Not to become blinkered from the rest of the world, but to know there are similar people out there. That’s been a great benefit to being involved. What I like very much about Woodcraft Folk is the way children are asked to voice their opinions. They’re involved in planning group night sessions and camps, and they’re really listened to. It’s very engaging and empowering; it builds confidence in the children. Woodcraft also thrives on this, as young people help run activities when they get older, putting back what they’ve got out of it. Some families are looking to develop social skills, maybe autistic children who are less able to make friends at school.

How do the activities develop your families critical thinking and other skills?

Angus: It’s interesting to be involved in a group driven by consensus. In Woodcraft Folk, we work with other like- minded people co-cooperatively, including parents who are co operating to run the group. It’s challenging, but good for me! Woodcraft Folk helps the children to question things a lot. They don’t have a typical world view.

Jessica: At Woodcraft we have sessions where we learn about climate change and how it’s affecting people around they the world. We learn things through games, including a game about fair trade and how it works.

Penny: We’ve absolutely gained skills as a family. Even the decision-making is a fun process around deciding what game to play and is a skill we’ve learned through Woodcraft Folk activities. Woodcraft activities also teach us not to take things at face value, and to seek information that isn’t in the public domain. We encounter subjects and a way of critically and appraising things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. The children may learn these things at school but they don’t bring the same critical thinking to the topic there.

If you were telling someone who didn’t know about the organisation – what would you tell them?

Angus: It’s not a typical youth organisation: it’s unlike any other youth organisation I’ve been involved in. When I’m explaining it to other people I emphasise that it’s for everyone, not just the children – we as parents get a lot out of it. Woodcraft Folk is about empowering young people, by involving them in the decision making.

I would very much recommend families to join. It’s such a powerful thing, and is one of the many opporiunities for young people. Woodcraft Folk encourages the whole family to be involved at different stages, and when you all go away on a camp together, you aren’t just there to support the kids, you can enjoy for yourself as a parent. You can meet like-minded people round the campfire.

Weekly sessions are thought-provoking and more child-centred than camps. The children have fun, whilst thinking about things. I think the outdoor element is particularly appreciated by young people, and recently we’ve had enquiries from parents who think it may be good for their boys to join so they aren’t just clustered round a screen playing a game together.

Jessica: Woodcraft Folk to me is a group that get together every week and we play games and have lots of fun. It’s different from Brownies and Scouts. There are a lot more (types of) people involved and you get to meet people you wouldn’t usually meet.

Is it important to you that Woodcraft Folk Is a secular organisation?

Angus: Personally – very important, yes. It’s interesting how little religion is an issue. ‘Welcoming all faiths and none’ (from Woodcraft Folk’s Aims and Principles) is a good way of putting it. Their are other values that people are joined by rather than religion.

Penny; I think it’s important that Woodcraft Folk is secular. I went through Brownies, Guides and so on and I really appreciate that Woodcraft isn’t tied up in one religion. The non- religious values are very important to members. Duncan and Jessica had humanist naming ceremonies.

Jessica: Yes. Woodcraft is a great thing because Scouts and Brownies wouldn’t involve all the different people that Woodcraft docs.

 

The Rodger family: Shelagh, William (11) and Eilidh (10)

William: I joined Woodcraft Folk* three or four years ago I remember playing a lot of games, which was fun. We went to the beach in Portobello and had a bonfire. I enjoyed cooking on the fire. More recently I went on a ‘survival camp’ where we had to cook by ourselves in groups round the fire. We cooked pasta and it turned out okay. We quite often have planning meetings where we get to have a say in what we’d like to do.

Eilidh: I started at the same time as William. We were quite good friends with some people who lived near us and went to Woodcraft Folk. Wc started off in a group in Leith and now we’re in one in Portobello. The groups do quite a lot together so it wasn’t difficult to move from one to the other. Recently I particularly enjoyed doing flour trails; some of you make a trail up a hill using flour, and the others have to follow it. It’s not a competition – everyone works together. My family has been on a quite a few camps and most of the hostel trips, including to Rowardcnnan and Melrose. I also went on the survival camp where all the Pioneers (9 – 12 year olds) had to pitch our own camps. There were 20 of us and three or four adults – it was great!

Shelagh: I’d not heard about Woodcraft as a child but I think I’d have enjoyed it. Scouts and Guides were too uniform-based. I got involved when our friends decided to set up a new group in Leith – we had to become wholeheartedly involved because there weren’t many of us. Other parents helped out, and District Fellows (Woodcraft Folk’s 16 – 20 year old age group) who had been in Woodcraft groups themselves. We’ve moved since then and there is a bigger group without need for regular involvement so I don’t help run the group.

In the last six months we’ve been doing camps and residential, and a week-long summer camp.

What do you as a family gain from your involvement?

William: I get to meet people from a few different schools, which is good. Yeah, I think it’s probably good for my family. You get to learn different things and new skills and stuff like that. We learn games we can take and play at school.

Shelagh: Woodcraft Folk has had a very positive impact on us actually. Although you’re all there together having a shared experience, you have a different dynamic and see each other in different lights: it mixes up the roles a bit.

The camps work really well for the adults as well. The clan system (several groups of mixed ages take turns to do cooking, cleaning and so on) means you’re not on duty all the
time – you can get involved in whatever other activities are happening and you learn by
participating. I’ve gained confidence to take a lead on those things myself. It’s also just a fantastic weekend away for the parents because the children are so happy to be with other children that the adults can have civilised conversations round the camp fire.

How do the activities develop your critical thinking and other skills?

William: We learn about things like fair trade. We played a game where everyone played a role in trading bananas, from growing them to selling them in the UK so we understood how people are affected by it.

Shelagh: As a parent, you’re always balancing discipline with empowerment. In Woodcraft Folk, the kids get a lot of the empowerment side of this, in a positive and happy environment, and it seems as if by being valued and listened to they gain confidence without becoming arrogant. The teenagers are Woodcraft’s best selling point, they’re just so lovely! From Pioneers (12 year olds) upwards, they tend to help with the younger ones, and with all these different age groups interacting wilh each other, everyone gains confidence.

William and Eilidh have developed their critical thinking through regular discussions of how the group should work – they think about what’s fair, and don’t just accept imposed rules. Working in clans on camps has also helped them do things for themselves and deal with other people’s behaviour. Some of the activities are good at getting the children to think round a problem, for example Angus (Miller, from the other interview) ran a brilliant session about the arms trade, exploring what happens when countries race to develop more dangerous weapons than each other. Children as young as six were considering the consequences of nuclear warfare.

If you were telling someone who didn’t know about the organisation what would you tell them?

William: It’s a group thing you go to. and you get to do stuff you couldn’t do at school. We do things like cycling and making our own obstacle courses for the bikes.

Eilidh: It’s called Woodcraft but you don’t do much with wood! Sometimes, but that’s not all you do. You’re allowed penknives and stuff which often appeal to people. You can make things, do art and go on walks – although not all at the same time! You can make friends with people of different ages, which is different from school, and you get to know the adults so it’s easy to ask them for help if you don’t know something. There are a lot of fun activities. If you don’t like the first one, you’ll definitely have a few favourites by the time you leave. They’re all really different – they don’t really go together! – but you’re going to find an activity you really enjoy. Everyone should come along.

Shelagh: I usually say it’s parent- led: it encourages collaboration and children are at the centre of it. The whole family can become involved. Woodcraft Folk’s origins were a reaction against Scouts and some of the right wing activity going on in the 1930s. I often mention the socialist and collaborative values and our care for the environment. The main examples of what we do are our weekly sessions and residentials.

Is it important that Woodcraft Folk Is a secular organisation?

William: Definitely. You get to learn about different religions and what they do in each.

Eilidh: Yes. A lot of religions are about being good and kind, which is what Woodcraft Folk is about. Most people who believe in a religion think this, and members of Woodcraft do too.

The Pragnell Girls:

My kids joined the Woodcraft Folk in Scotstoun when we moved into the area and they were seven and five. They didn’t know any kids in the area and this was a great way to very quickly become integrated into the community, since the group is based in the local primary school.

We meet every Tuesday and take part in a whole range of activities from crafts, learning about issues, the environment, recycling and so on. as well as going out and about in the community doing litter picks and independent travel into the city centre. The kids get a lot out of these sessions and enjoy mixing with kids from a range of backgrounds and different schools.

We also regularly go away camping, both as families and wild camping with the older kids, leaving most of the parents behind. As a family, we get lots out of the group. I (the father) help to run a lot of the activities and at the moment I am leading the pioneers. My wife comes along to the family camps and helps out from time to time at the social activities.

There are lots of chances for socialising, from ceilidhs, camps and outward bound activities to parties and visits to the pub. Al in all the group has helped us as a family to feel really welcome and involved in our local community. As a high school English teacher, running the pioneer group has helped to develop my critical thinking, as I am having to pitch the activities at a younger age group than I am used to. I also recently helped to organise the filming of ‘Macbeth’ with the older venturers while we were at Auchengillan camp, which was a bit of a Busman’s holiday in a way.

I often rely on my experience in the classroom to ensure the smooth running of the activities and the kids respond well to my approach. It is also good for the kids, many of whom I teach, to see me in a different environment and where we can have a more relaxed relationship. Anyone interested in joining the Woodcraft Folk would be well advised to do so as it’s a great way to meet new people, both for the kids and for the adults. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of the group here in Scotstoun and it’s lovely to see the kids moving through the ranks and taking on more responsibility as they mature.

What Woodcraft Folk say about themselves:

A movement for children and young people, open to everyone from birth to adult. We offer a place where children will grow in confidence, learn about the world and start to understand how to value our planet and each other.

At Woodcraft Folk we believe passionately in equality and co-operation – everyone is welcome to join our groups. Every week thousands ot volunteers and young people meet in school halls, community venues and a host of other places to learn about big ideas through fun activities like singing, playing and debating.

Our aim is to have great fun, but also to try and develop children’s sell-confidence and build their awareness of society around them. Through our activities, outings and camps we help our members understand important issues like the environment, world debt and global conflict and, in recent years, we have focused on sustainable development.

Image Courtesy: Chris Booth, Creative Commons.

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