I am very much enjoying opening our Forest School doors this week to show visiting families why we are so passionate about outdoor education and the undeniable benefits it brings the children in Pre-Prep.
We are now in our twelfth year of having Forest School deeply embedded into our curriculum and I have yet to meet a child who has not grown as a result of having the opportunity to take their learning into our forest environments. I have also not yet met a child who does not look forward to their weekly adventure in either Little Wood or Big Wood. There is just something very special about leaving the four walls of the classroom behind for a few hours each week, as the forest areas inevitably bring a freedom that simply cannot be matched when learning inside. I am not therefore advocating we should be at Forest School for longer periods as much learning is best placed to happen in a classroom environment and by extending the Forest School hours we would perhaps lose that uniquely special feeling we have for it. However, I do strongly advocate the benefits of what Forest School gives our children and would like to share my ‘top five’ with you based on how we deliver it in Pre-Prep (please note they are not in any hierarchical order as they are all inextricably linked and equally important):
1. Managing Risks: in a world where we often read of the dangers of ‘wrapping our children up in cotton wool’ I can say with certainty that Forest School can never be accused of this! The children are provided with experiences that give them opportunities to explore and challenge their personal limits within a familiar environment and with familiar adults. Whether this be in relation to finding the courage to climb a tree a little higher over time until the maximum height one is comfortable with is reached or working out the safest way to move materials or taking part in an activity outside of one’s usual preferences and learning it wasn’t as bad as initially thought, all help a child grow and the impact of that growth can be seen carried over into all other learning.
2. Independent Learning: a bit of a ‘buzz word’ phrase in the world of education and one which we thoroughly embrace at Forest School. The premise is simple: provide the children with a variety of open-ended activities they need to complete each term with the guidance that they have to choose the order in which they are completed, they are free to interpret both the process and the outcome of each activity, they are responsible for ensuring they have ‘evidence’ of what they have done and ultimately have ownership of their learning. The role of the staff team is to facilitate their learning and ideas rather than tell them what to do and how to do it. The joy lies in watching children approach the same task in a multitude of different ways and yet have fulfilled the activity criteria. It begins to help children understand there is not always a ‘right’ answer and that they are free to choose the learning style that most suits them.
3. Co-operation, Negotiation and Teamwork: children can never be given enough opportunities to develop these essential life skills and Forest School lends itself fantastically to enabling plenty of practice! The children will often want to work in pairs or small groups where we spend lots of time thinking about the need for everyone to be part of the ‘team’ by listening to each other’s ideas and respecting each other’s abilities.
4. Outdoor Skills: our children love learning how to handle tools, tie knots, build fires, respect the woodland environment and its inhabitants, recognise nature, stay safe and use natural materials to create structures, art and design. All of this learning also supports their developing motor skills, their ability to listen, observe, communicate as well as both their creative and critical thinking skills……..and because they are having so much fun they don’t even know how much they are learning!
5. Fresh Air: there is no doubt that being outside is good for everyone’s health! The beauty of Forest School is the children experiencing the forest areas in all seasons as each one stimulates a different sensory response and undoubtedly captures the awe and wonder of nature as it evolves through its seasonal cycle. I am also convinced the very act of getting muddy serves well in building up immunity in the confines of an increasingly sterile world!
How lucky we are!