Join the tribe with a stone age forest school

  • Join the tribe with a stone age forest school

Starting fires and throwing spears would usually cost you your job, but not with historical outdoor learning, says Ross Pearson...

What’s the best way for children to understand the stone age? In my opinion, it’s to take them outdoors to trial the everyday activities of the men and women who lived in this fascinating period.

Not only will this help them to retain historical facts, but the positive memories they create of working in the natural environment will stay with them – an experience missed by so many children these days.

But before we get stuck into the types of activities you might explore with your class, I have a quick recommendation for teachers who might not be completely at home in the outdoor classroom – take a one-day forest school induction training course.

It will open up entirely new ways of learning. You’ll also need to arm yourself with the basic forest school toolkit, which includes a bow saw, a bill hook and knives or potato peelers.

Start a fire

This might sound like a risky one to start with, but it is a fundamental skill of forest schooling, and leads on to so many other opportunities for learning about this era of history. In the stone age there were two main techniques:

  • Using flint stone, hit the flint against a fire striker (which would have been made from iron pyrite) to create a spark for the tinder, then blow on it gently when it starts to smoke.
  • Make a bow and drill bit out of wood and string, drag the bow back and forth rapidly to create fire through friction.

Teaching children with behavioural issues how to make fire might seem like a bad idea, but personally I’ve found that, with the right guidance, this level of risk can actually be more effective in encouraging the child to become more responsible.

Make your tools

Use stones to shape flint into knives, spearheads or a scraper. Fix sticks to the stones securely using string and knot-tying to complete the tool.

Certain tasks that seem simple for us can be a real challenge for children. Tying a knot to secure a spearhead to the handle takes intricate fine motor skills and lots of patience.

Practising these techniques with lengths of paracord or climbing rope can help to build a child’s confidence, not only in the task at hand, but in transferable life skills. One child struggled to tie a simple knot and became increasingly frustrated with himself, disengaging with the task as a result.

But after a short session practising knot tying he was so pleased with himself, not only for successfully fastening the two objects together to make a spear, but also as he proudly exclaimed: “My mum will be so pleased I can tie knots. It’ll save her tying my shoelaces each morning!”

Spear-throwing competition

Show children just how difficult hunting in the stone age would have been with a fun spear-throwing competition. Tell them that children their age would have been expected to take part in all hunter-gatherer activities with the tribe. Get the children to measure each throw, recording the distance, and the winner is whoever threw the furthest.

Create jewellery

People in the stone age would often create jewellery using bones, stones, shells and animal teeth. These were simple designs, but were ornamental displays of a person’s most prized objects. The discovery of stone age jewellery is a key point in history as it showed the development of human traits such as self-awareness, status and decoration. Use white clay to make the teeth, bones or shells, punch holes through the clay and string together with leather laces to make necklaces.

Hot stone cooking

One of the most engaging and memorable activities you can do from the stone age is cooking and eating. If you have an allotment you can harvest herbs, onions and mushrooms and add in some meat for a delicious stew. Place the stew in a leather bag and place on hot stone taken straight from a fire to cook.

Spit smoking meat

Smoking meat or fish on a spit over a fire was another typical method of cooking. Make a wooden rack that will hold fish over the smoke from a fire. Then let the food cool, before eating it with your fingers. Or, if you prefer, you could always use a spoon you have hand-carved from wood.

Build a tipi

Stone age habitats used wood or bone for the structure and animal material for warmth.

Construct a shelter out of tall, straight sticks to mimic the bones, and cover it with blankets in place of animal hides. Make it more inviting inside with comfortable soft cushions, creating a multifunctional learning space.

Use your imagination

Above all else, children love stories, and what better than reading a stone age story around a fire pit or sitting on floor cushions inside the cosy tipi you built as a group? Reading stories outdoors can really engage the children as it helps them imagine life in the stone age.

It is highly recommended that anyone looking to teach Forest School activities takes a Forest School Induction Training Course before doing so. Contact rpearson@
for information.

Tips for Ofsted Evidence

There is currently no guideline for providing evidence to Ofsted with Forest School learning, but there are still simple and effective ways of doing this…

Take photographs

A lot of Forest School activities are practical, so before and after photos of progressive work – as well as action shots of activities – can showcase achievements and children’s reactions.

Use confidence charts

Gauge children’s confidence levels before an activity by getting them to say how competently they think they will be able to do the task, using a score out of 10. Then do the same during and after the lesson.

Make observational notes

Observe the long-term progression children have made over a half term, term and the year.

Try a badge system

Just like in the Scouts or Brownies, when they’ve mastered a certain skill children can earn a badge. This not only visually demonstrates a staged learning experience but also acts as a great incentive for children as they can display their badges (our children have Forest School jumpers with badges sewn on). For instance, you could create a ‘stone age’ badge.

Let children reflect

Asking the children to formally or informally recap the session through various methods (expressive, creative and written) to reinforce lesson objectives and new skills learnt.

Gather extracurricular evidence

Get the children to build a portfolio of any extra work they have done outside of school that extends their learning, e.g. walks in the outdoors with family, practical constructions, written work. This is also important for instilling an affinity with the outdoors beyond primary learning – hopefully for life.

About the author

Ross Pearson is Forest School Leader at Abbeyfields Primary School in Morpeth and educational consultant for
, a supplier of educational soft furnishings (as seen in these photographs) specially designed to inspire a love of learning, indoors and outdoors.

Pie Corbett