A Guide to Forest Schools Learning at Abercrombie Primary School and Nursery
Forest Schools: A unique classroom in the great outdoors.
WHAT IS FOREST SCHOOL?
Forest Schools is not a place, it’s a philosophy. Our Forest School involves onsite activities as well as visiting the local woodland environment of Linacre.
Forest Schools is different to 'outdoor education' because it is a long-term, sustainable approach to outdoor learning which builds confidence and independence in children through the exploration of, and experiences in the natural world. It is not just a one off outdoor activity with specific objectives in mind. It is a set of regular visits to a particular outdoor area where children develop personal, social and other skills which have been proven to enhance their learning.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT FOREST SCHOOLS?
Forest Schools feature a unique combination of powerful approaches to learning. These are:
- They develop a child-led approach. (Children increasingly take the lead on the activities and learning they wish to pursue.)
- They support children in developing appropriate risk management strategies.
- They include opportunities to develop and apply skills in tool use, knot tying, shelter building and other outdoor and bush-craft skills less likely to be available/ required in the classroom.
- Regular supervised experience of the outdoors can develop an informed sense of respect and appreciation for the natural world which is harder to develop in the classroom.
- They develop social skills and the ability to discuss / empathise with feelings.
- They are fun!
“Play alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”
“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN?
Many studies have shown the following improvements in children taking part in Forest Schools:
- Increased self-esteem and self-confidence;
- Improved social skills;
- The development of language and communication
- Improved physical motor skills;
- Improved motivation and concentration;
- Increased knowledge and understanding
- New perspectives for all involved
HOW WILL IT WORK AT ABERCROMBIE PRIMARY SCHOOL?
Each class, from Reception to Year 6, will access a Forest Schools programme every year during their time at school. Forest Schools programmes will run for approximately 6 weeks or a short term at a time, with each class participating in one session a week for 6 weeks.
Forest Schools activities will be on Fridays and each session’s length will vary depending on the year group, but will be around 4 hours in length. Some activities will be on the school site in a wild area we are developing around the amphitheare, and some will be at Linacre Reservoirs in a woodland site that we have surveyed, risk assessed and developed for use.
Risk assessments are in place, and regularly reviewed, for all activities that children do. Each year group will be split into two groups of approximately 15 children so that children have more attention and better supervision for activities. Ratio of staff to children will always be carefully considered and we are always looking for some parent helpers too.
There will be a fully qualified level 3 practitioner with each group of 15. Mr Himsworth and Mrs Gratton have carried out extensive training for this. Practitioners are also DBS checked and have completed courses in outdoor first aid.
WHAT HAPPENS ON FOREST SCHOOLS?
The group visit the same woodland site on a regular basis except in extreme conditions such as high winds. Games are played and small achievable tasks are set, such as collecting natural materials and building shelters from sticks, ropes and other materials. Children will also learn about fire and outdoor cooking. The children learn basic woodland skills and simple tool use as a method to boost self-confidence, raise self-esteem and improve fine and gross motor skills. The children use natural materials to develop both practical and intellectual skills.
With careful supervision, they will be introduced to a range of tools and, with assistance and close supervision, use these to make objects such as mallets, pegs, frames and more. Group tasks and team-building activities will be regularly undertaken to encourage social interaction and communication, and the levels of challenge are adapted according to abilities. Although there is no prescribed list of activities at Forest School, many National Curriculum targets will be met through the Forest School programme, particularly Science, PE and Geography, and themes of study can be brought into sessions and developed back at school.
Younger children will follow learning schemas such as the following:
Example Forest School Activities
Dropping stones in the water to make ripples, games around the fire and mixing ingredients for campfire cooking
Counting tree rings, stirring muddy mixtures and making dream catchers and picture frames
Rolling in leaves, den making, making a fairy bed, collecting leaves and stones and treasure hunts
Tying knots, journey sticks, bracelets, kites and daisy chains
Collecting wood for the fire in a bag, pouring water into containers, filling dens with leaves, woodland furniture
Taking a story from one place to another, moving across rope bridges and floating things downstream
Tracking, looking at levers, pulleys, ropes and string
Woodland obstacle course, feeding fire, and making jewellery and woodland furniture using lashings
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF FOREST SCHOOLS?
The origins of the Forest School ethos date back to the early 1900s in Europe, when educational theorists (Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, most notably) first advocated the benefits of learning in the natural environment. They felt that healthy development came from ‘experiential play’ and ‘hands on’ learning, which is both real and stimulating.
The 1950s saw the introduction of Swedish ‘Rain or Shine Schools’, where children learnt through play, using nature and the environment as their teacher, much the same as Montessori had encouraged. This spread to other Scandinavian schools and children were given opportunity to lead their own learning, with nature acting as a vehicle.
During the 1980s the Forest School concept was established in Denmark for preschool children, as part of their Early Years education. The Danish Forest School was visited by a group of students and lecturers from Bridgewater College in Somerset. The group were so inspired that they brought the concept back to the UK and began what is now recognised as Forest Schools.
Since then, the Forest Schools movement has been growing rapidly. There was a major milestone in 2012 when the ‘Forest School Association’ was formed, which is now recognised as a national body.