Forest School First Aid

written by Petra Eperjesi, Manager of National Programs

One of the central tenets of Forest and Nature School (FNS) is that children have a right to play in nature. In fact, children need to play in nature as part of their healthy development, and more and more research is emerging to support this. If you’re interested in reading more about this research, The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada was part of team of researchers and organizations who developed the 2015 Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play and the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.

Check out these links!

And in French:

Of course, all outdoor play has its inherent risks, and injuries – mostly minor ones – can happen in all settings where we human beings play and learn. At FNS, we actually support opportunities for risk in children’s play. But we also must maintain our duty of care to children and families. We do this through our risk benefit assessment process, and by working with and empowering children to understand, assess, and mitigate risk themselves (a process we call “dynamic risk assessment”).

Our duty of care also requires us to be prepared to competently respond to any critical incidents, and to that end, just a couple of weeks ago on our site at the Forest and Nature School of Ottawa, Forest School Canada hosted the first ever Wilderness Medical Associates’ Wilderness First Aid course with a special focus on the Forest School context. Over two days, 15 educators immersed themselves in evidence-based first aid procedures and ways of thinking about risk and safety relating specifically to children and youth in near-urban nature settings. (#nearbynature !)

It’s always interesting when educators become students again, and we found that many of us had misconceptions that were debunked during the course! For example, many of us were under the impression that CPR rarely works, when, in fact, CPR can have a very high success rate in areas where you can quickly access hospital care – i.e., a typical Forest and Nature School setting! CPR can be particularly effective if someone has sustained a lightning or submersion related injury.

Another surprising learning for many of us was that it is no longer best-practice to assume someone has a spinal injury unless there is a positive mechanism for one, which is falling from a great height (i.e. twice their height) or hitting/running into something with great velocity. This information prompted a lot of discussion for us around how best to support children when climbing!

In addition to learning the current best-practices of CPR, and preventing and caring for spinal injuries, we practiced choking protocols for all of the people we work with at FNS including infants, children, people in wheelchairs, pregnant people, and adults. We were also able to practice administering (dummy) Epipens during our discussion of what to do in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.

One learning was less surprising but confirmed how seriously we take safety when it comes to playing and working with ropes at FNS: any sort of trauma to the neck, including something like a rope burn, should be seen at the hospital to ensure that there is no swelling endangering breathing.

We discussed protocols for lightning, tornados, and earthquakes, what to do to prevent and treat tick bites, and even learned to make splints out of sticks, clothing and rope, and stretchers by folding a tarp over two big sticks!

In short, we learned so many invaluable skills and concepts, but perhaps the most important and reassuring message our facilitators conveyed was that if we are ever unsure, we should never feel bad or hesitant about calling 911! A lot of us admitted to having this feeling, but we were assured that that is exactly what 911 is there for, and the dispatchers are trained to talk you through any sort of emergency situation. “Lean on that!”

At the end of the course, all of us left feeling so much more confident and competent in our ability to manage risk and support children to take risks in their play, and supported in our practice of due diligence and our duty of care.