You’re out for a walk and suddenly, you’re caught short.

But how do you go to the toilet in the woods? 

A conundrum that may face any one spending more than a couple of hours in the great outdoors with children or less if they have me, a middle-aged woman in their company.

My children have always been amazed that within 5 minutes of visiting a new place I know where all the public toilets are. Now the joys of parenthood are also theirs they understand and share my enthusiasm.

Interestingly at the recent Outdoor Learning Sector Conference in Stafford, Carmen Byrne, editor of Horizons magazine, ran a workshop on just this subject, after we had heard from Penelope Chapple of the National Trust about ecological damage to the nations coast line and natural spaces caused by human waste.

“Many Forest School sites now have composting toilets or ingenious tarpaulin and bucket arrangements with effective running water for hand-washing.”

Colleagues leading outdoor expeditions, canoeing, mountaineering etc clearly have different challenges than we might face in a wood. They have fewer bushes to hide behind, for a start. They are often working with mixed groups of teenagers, facing the dilemmas of dealing with periods when out on a day-long hike. Removing barriers for girls and women to join in with such valuable experiences in nature is part of our responsibility, if we do want to connect people with nature.

How do we as educators remove the stigma, fear and misunderstandings around toileting at Forest School and provide safe, dignified, hygienic ways for children, young people and adults to answer the call of nature, whilst minimising the ecological impact?

I got to share my favourite poo stories; including the day some nursery children decided to outdo each other with the amount they produced. One boy was so proud of his achievement, shared the tale and then everyone else wanted to impress. I also shared how Forest School training requires a trainee leader to compile a handbook which includes a Health and Hygiene policy, alongside an ecological impact assessment and management plan.

Many Forest School sites now have composting toilets or ingenious tarpaulin and bucket arrangements with effective running water for hand-washing. Deciding whether to bag up and dispose of waste or bury it is an important decision. Understanding the impact of different options is important. The Scottish Canoe Association has useful here.

I have discovered that talking about different approaches, with a great dose of ‘toilet humour’ and kindness before beginning a Forest School programme is by far the best way of dealing with individual’s anxieties and embarrassment. It also allays the fears of parents and other staff members.

Understanding that all living things need to get rid of waste products as part of living a healthy life is a useful thing to learn. Children know how horrible dog poo on a shoe can be. We all have experienced the paroxysms of adult fury that follows when a dog poo laden shoe climbs inside a car.

Human poo is perhaps even worse, containing a ‘range of disease-causing micro-organisms, including viruses, bacteria and eggs or larvae of parasites’ ( World Health Organisation); good hand washing is crucial and the priority must be to ‘contain and remove the faeces’. Personally, I do not want a poo pit in any Forest School site I use. I don’t want animals or people digging somewhere at Forest School unearthing human excrement.

Children also know the joy of a well-timed fart! However, their bodies are not designed to ‘go to the toilet at lunchtime’ and then wait until they get back to school at the end of a session in the woods. Add

Two of my favourite books on the subject:

For adults:  How to Shit in the Woods, Kathleen Meyers

For children: The Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business, Werner Holzwarth

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