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What does Forest School involve?

By creativelearning, May 2 2019 10:14AM

Forest School, and its specialist learning approach, is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, but what does it actually involve?

And why do we at Creative Learning believe is it so important for our children?

Forest School has been around for decades, especially in Scandinavian countries. One the reasons for its growing popularity in recent years is, simply, as a reaction to modern day life.

When raising children nowadays, it is hard not to feel a pang of nostalgia for the childhoods of previous generations. Whole days would be spent outdoors, exploring, creating, and basking in a heady sense of freedom and independence. It is a different world we live in now, which must be acknowledged, but we believe it is important to foster those feelings of freedom and independence where possible.

At Creative Learning we are proud to have four fully accredited, Level 3 Forest School leaders, across both settings. To become officially qualified is intensive and costly, with a significant time commitment, but we believe the value of that qualification in enriching children’s learning is immeasurable.

Forest School is not simply a badge to collect or a box to tick. Nor is it merely ‘getting outside’. It is a process, which for us starts early. Our Toddlers begin the journey in our purposeful woodland areas at the back of both nurseries. They learn to explore their environment, climb trees, tackle obstacles, and observe nature. They also learn to listen to instruction, line up, take turns, and start to think about keeping themselves safe.

Next, in the preschool room, the children will begin to go off site. Again, the process is gradual. There are varying degrees of involvement. Children will first visit the nearest set of woods. To get there, they walk carefully with a partner in a line that is headed, followed and punctuated with an adult. The ratio is reduced and risks are constantly assessed.

Eventually, they will visit woods further away, and stay out for longer, sometimes taking a packed lunch. For some children, it will be the furthest they have ever walked. Their cheeks are pink and their little legs might be tired, but their spirits are soaring. The exhilaration when they reach the opening of the woods and are able to ‘roam free’ is electrifying. The play and learning observed is both subtle and magnificent.

Teamwork is a pivotal part of Forest School, and it is something that is facilitated and encouraged every session. From the moment they line up and join hands with a partner, it’s a team effort. Children stand over piles of sticks and logs and talk about how best to build a den, they pass resources back and forth, each of them having a role to play.

Forest school is becoming more widespread, but there are some parts of our sessions that are distinctly ours. One of these is our beloved ‘Pride Rock’, christened by a former Pye Nester years ago. It has become a staple of our Forest School, and the children race to climb it. It is a source of great delight, and sparks plenty of imagination and play.

At our Elland setting, children love travelling by bus to the woods. This is a big part of their Forest School sessions, and we always get compliments on how wonderfully behaved they are during the journey. Upon arrival, they look excitedly for the local groundskeeper, who they have affectionately named ‘Mr McGregor’ after the gardener in the Peter Rabbit books.

There is something very universal about our sessions- we are part of something bigger, a widespread ethos. At the same time though, they are very personal and special to us. Nature has a way of making you feel big and small all at once- explorers discovering everything for the first time.

The woods are a perfect learning environment as the abundance of natural resources make it easy for learner-led discovery. The opportunities are endless.

We take full advantage of this, and we come prepared. Children shriek with glee as they take turns on a zip line, shout instructions to each other as they build dens from materials they have foraged, balance carefully on a low slack line as their friends call out encouragement, crouch down to inspect nests and observe wildlife.

However, it’s not all ‘Bear Grylls’ and building fires (although that does happen sometimes!). Forest School doesn’t necessarily need an array of specialist equipment, and the most important learning doesn’t always take place in the most ‘exciting’ of ways. We see examples of this every single session:

One of our little learners, just turned four, walks carefully, part of the line. She is heading to Forest School, and excitement is high. She clutches her partners hand and knows they mustn’t let go (and she tells him so- several times!). She is learning about road safety and her own autonomy, to take careful note of herself, others, and her environment.

She spots numbers on the doorways she passes, and calls them out to the teachers. She gets them wrong sometimes, but that doesn’t matter. She arrives at the woods and the world changes instantly.

The woods are vast, and seem to go on forever. She stands in a circle with her friends, and sings our ritual song- ‘Hello To the Woods’. She shouts every word, there is no need for quiet voices here. She is beaming with pride as she joins in. She is part of something. We let go of hands, and she is free to explore. She sees a log she wants to move and asks another child to help her. They manage to move it together, although it’s quite difficult. A teacher calls her name- “1, 2, 3, where are you?” and she shouts back, with gusto “1, 2, 3, I AM HERE!”

And there she is indeed, alongside the others, learning and exploring in subtle but brilliant ways. Growing in confidence, testing limits, developing social and technical skills, learning about themselves and the world around them.

We are delighted and proud to be able to offer these opportunities to the children in our care, led by qualified staff who have a deep understanding of the ethos behind and the practice of Forest School. We believe the children’s learning to be incredibly enhanced as a result.

The benefits of Forest School are huge, and cannot be underestimated.

Nature, in itself, is a wonderful teacher. Our children experience the seasons in real time. They feel the crunch of snow under foot. They will see new buds bloom as far as the eye can see. They watch the sunshine stream through trees. They take note of the leaves as they change colour and fall to the ground.

A vast, boundless classroom that is constantly changing, what could be more exciting than that?

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