At Forest School we love exploring the undergrowth looking for minibeasts. However, there is one minibeast we’d rather not encounter and that is the tick. Ticks can carry and pass on infectious diseases including lymes disease and tick borne encephalitis.
Ticks crawl onto you from vegetation or leaf litter. They can’t jump or fly, they just wait for a tasty being that breathes out CO2 to pass so they can crawl onto them. One of the most common bits of advice is “stay on the path”. If children were kept to exploring wide vegetation free paths, Forest School would be a very different experience. So if we still want to give children the right to roam how can we limit the risk?
The deer tick which bites humans feeds on all kinds of animals from deer, foxes and badgers to sheep, dogs and humans. However, many of the sites we use at schools for Forest School are fenced off, dramatically reducing the number of animal hosts the ticks need to feed off. So far I’ve never encountered ticks at one of my school sites. Whilst it important to be vigilant, we should also keep this risk in perspective. If no ticks have been found in an area, is it worth preventing children exploring the undergrowth on the off chance they may get one? On the other hand, having inadvertently camped in a tick nest I would certainly advise against children playing in areas with lots of ticks.
We ask children to wear appropriate clothing for Forest School and this includes long trousers. To prevent ticks climbing on, we recommend that children tuck their trousers into their socks or boots.
If children are aware of ticks they can be reminded to brush themselves off and check themselves for ticks at the end of a session. It’s also a good idea to encourage parents to be aware of ticks and ask them to check their children after Forest School or when they’ve been playing in the woods. This government website has a good video on tick removal that you could share. There is also information on the symptoms of lymes disease and tick borne encephalitis.
So when you are out at Forest School, it’s worth keeping the danger of ticks in mind and keeping children informed about how to protect themselves from these pesky parasites.