We explore the growing popularity of Forest School teaching; using natural environments to develop teamwork, creativity and a sense of adventure
Splash! A group-jump into the largest available muddy puddle is a much-enjoyed end to a Forest School session at Winchester’s The Pilgrims’ School. What child doesn’t like getting wet and muddy?
You might be surprised, says Forest School Leader Alex Judd, who explains that plenty of children won’t have come into contact with mud before their first Forest School experience. Many are terrified at the thought of getting dirty and look in horror at their newly muddy waterproof trousers. Her group of Year 2 boys had spent nearly two hours outside on an almost freezing day, in the rain and with a keen wind slicing across the Itchen River feet away.
Not one boy mentioned the conditions. Perhaps because of the old adage that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing’: the children were little Michelin men in wellies, waterproofs, hats and gloves. But it was more a feeling of being genuinely comfortable dragging logs into a circle to sit on, slipping over whilst playing Sharks & Minnows, and looking under rotting wood to discover woodlice and other mini beasts.
This particular Forest School session tied in with classroom teaching about space and astronauts, and Alex explained that her outdoor sessions often add depth to the curriculum and aim to develop creativity and, crucially, independence and teamwork. Other sessions might be more bushcraft-specific and tailored to tool use, climbing trees, building fires and cooking and den building. There is an emphasis on ‘holistic teaching’ – through gentle questioning and encouragement, alongside activities, a child’s independence and self-belief grows.
Once boundaries have been set (literally – children are shown the parameters they can roam), teachers step back. Which can be hard because adults so often step in and show how to do something instead of letting children discover on their own.
What quickly became apparent was that after initial running around in the high-octane way you’d see in any playground, the volume slowly lowers. Children form their own teams or work solo, hefting large branches and showing each other discoveries such as, “this snail shell is smaller than my fingernail!”. Using the natural materials around them the boys made rockets and other space paraphernalia, while discovering and discussing micro and macro-habitats.
After washing hands, a snack and a huge splash in the aforementioned puddle, it was back to school to change back into uniform. Cheeks were ruddy and the rocket ships were docked, ready to soar as high as imaginations another week. To infinity and beyond, without a screen in sight!
For more about Forest School provision at The Pilgrims’ School visit www.pilgrims-school.co.uk
What is a Forest School?
- They offer a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.
- They take place in natural environments to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
- They use a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.
- They promote the holistic development of those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
- They offer pupils the chance to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
- Forest Schools are run by qualified Forest School practitioners.
Discover more at forestschoolassociation.org/