Back Woods Skills

One more post about YOYO, and then I might start talking about this term…

One of the sessions I attended at the YOYO weekend was Back Woods Skills.  Not Backwards Skills, as some people (I think deliberately) mis-heard it.

It was amazing.

The leader was very enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. The enthusiasm was contagious. I didn’t speak to a single person who didn’t enjoy that session.

Amazing what a power drill and some imagination can do, isn’t it?

The leader, Fiona, runs a forest school for 0-5 year olds, and works with all levels of Girlguiding.  She told stories about getting 2 year olds to use power drills!  She takes children out and teaches them about nature in a way that makes them want to learn.

What did we do?

First we had a little chat about how to get children risk assessing their own environment.  We talked about danger in the forest – the canopy, the shrub layer, field layer, and ground, and how each layer has it’s own problems and rewards.

We talked about tools that might be useful – power drills, saws, knives of various types, cooking equipment, cotton wool (yes, really), potato peelers, and so on.

We laid fires and lit them without using any matches at all.  That one-match trick is for cheaters, apparently.

Seriously, we used a flint and steel, and the cotton wool ball, which burns really well if you open it up a little. No matches needed.  I love steels – they work even if they get wet, and once you’ve got the knack it’s really easy.  And you’ll never get to the end of the box and realise you don’t have any more.

Of course, once we’d lit the fires we had to use them for something, so we made dampers and s’mores.



That’s where the potato peelers came in – to peel the sticks to cook the food.  Did you know, if you peel a stick, the inside is sterile?  And the potato peelers mean the girls can whittle their own stick in (relative) safety.

Here’s another thing – why have we never thought to add things to our damper mix?  My Brownies love making dampers.  It’s just bread mix, so it’s really easy.  In the past we’ve provided jam and chocolate spread to put on them.  But Fiona suggested wrapping the bread in cheese strings, or adding garlic or sun-dried tomatoes to the mix.  A revelation!

We also, and this was very exciting, made pencils.

First, we collected some soft wood – in this case willow.  Place it in a tin with some holes in, and put the whole thing on the fire.  The bigger the tin, the longer it takes.  The quality street tin in the picture took about 30-35 minutes.  You can tell it’s ready when the smoke changes colour.


A word of warning.  Don’t use a paint tin (for what I hope is obvious reasons).  And burn your tin before doing this with children, to get the chemicals used to make the pretty picture off the outside.

Once we’d made our charcoal, we needed another piece of wood.  This time a stick with a pithy middle, like elder.  Carve out the centre – if you do a large pencil you can use a tent peg to do the carving, but I did mine with a smaller stick.  Stick the charcoal down the centre of your other stick, and voila!  One pencil, ready for use.


I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and I would encourage everyone to try it at home!  Don’t be put off by not knowing much – just take the girls somewhere, give them a couple of ideas to get them going, and see what they come up with.


3 thoughts on “Back Woods Skills

  1. It sounds like you had an amazing time! I’m definitely going to take notes from this post – potato peelers, making pencils, sun-dried tomatoes – YUM! Can’t believe we’ve never added them. Like you we just provide toppings for after the damper cooked. Thanks for all the fun tips!

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