Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Forest School - an outdoor education

You may have heard of Forest School, it's an inspired idea.
Forest School isn't about an occasional visit to the outdoors, to "learn about nature" though that's better than nothing.  Through Forest School, children have the opportunity to spend time outdoors regularly, building an awareness of the changing seasons, and developing a relationship between themselves and the natural environment.

In Forest School, while you may be following a programme of activities, you'll be responding to the children, who will be responding to the environment around them.  What could be better than stopping your activities to marvel at the spider weaving his web?

The primary curriculum in the UK allows plenty of scope for outdoor learning, learning through doing, and a focus on sustainability and the environment.  Many primary school have therefore embraced Forest School as the vehicle to deliver wide-ranging benefits to their children, as part of the school curriculum.  They may take the children regularly to an established Forest School setting, or may train their own teachers in Forest School practices, setting up their own Forest School area in their school grounds.

In Forest School the children experience the outdoor environment, undertake creative and exploratory activities and drive their own learning.

A Forest School area will usually be fenced off from the main school play areas, it will have trees, shrubs, long grass areas, hopefully some form of water feature, log seating, perhaps a fire pit.  Ideally it should be large enough to allow small groups to disperse and explore, for wildlife to shelter and for the children to move around and play.

Activities that children might engage in are playing hide-and-seek, building dens, searching for wildlife, identifying flora and fauna, creating wildlife habitats, collecting and sorting natural items, investigating weather, creating wildlife art and mud sculptures, making and using natural paints, telling stories, lighting fires, singing songs and using tools.

First sessions in Forest School establish boundaries and lay out ground rules required to keep the children safe.  Within these boundaries though, children are encouraged to try new things, and extend their own limits, assessing their own abilities and risk to keep themselves safe.

C loves Forest School.  They have two Forest School areas.  The first is an outdoor classroom on an elevated spot, with wooden benches laid out, some outdoor musical instruments, and fruit and vegetable areas.  The second is more wooded, with wooden bridges, a fire circle and many more places to hide.  Each class has one afternoon each week set aside for Forest School.  They need to take warm, comfortable clothing (suitable for getting messy), full waterproofs and wellies.  He's been doing Forest School for four weeks now, and has made a spider web from sticks, talked about safety, been out for a local walk searching for signs of autumn, and been searching for mini-beasts.  I'm itching to get involved but am restraining myself at the moment, as I've so much else to do!

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