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“(Let) the wild world weave its magic on young people. Wild places have a unique capacity to release a sense of adventure, stimulate imaginations, unleash creativity and restore a sense of wonder… The wild world is ripe with endless possibilities for play, creativity and discovery.”
Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks.
I’ve been a qualified Level 3 Forest School leader since 2011; Forest School is an ethos which sees the natural world as a place which inspires creativity, imagination, movement, thought, interactions and a place in which learning never stops. Working in the natural world fosters respect, community and a sense of care.
Recognising the rich, diverse, landscape a wood provides, sessions ideally take place in woodland or as close to that environment as is possible - in a space that is rich in natural awe and wonder, full of natural materials, rich in fascination and packed with opportunities for discovery.
The Forest School approach is not about a quick-fix or a one-off experience; Forest School sessions take place year round, with any one group having sessions over many weeks and months to enable children and young people to explore many different experiences outside. Sessions are specific to those participating and aim to give individuals space to explore their own needs and ideas as well as enable a sense of community.
Different possibilities are introduced – and children are able to explore these in ways that meet their individual interests and needs and there is always a huge element of child-initiated learning. Rather than prescriptive, adult-directed activities with a pre-determined product, forest school is concerned with exploration, with child-centred learning, with igniting curiosity and with time to imbed learning. Time to gather together and share ideas is built into sessions, often with starting and end points around a gathering / fire circle area, opportunities for reflection are important and time is made to find out what each child has been interested in.
Sessions might include some of the following:
collecting natural objects and treasure hunts,
den and shelter building,
following and creating maps,
art-work with natural materials,
making up stories and songs, games
creating things with tools (always under close supervision), eg – chairs, stools, tent pegs, cooking implements,
using ropes and lashings to create things
learning about plants and wildlife and exploring eco-systems,
fire lighting and cooking e.g. making bread, drop scones, popcorn, soup, dahl.
exploration of ponds, streams and lakes
use of hammocks, swings, opportunities to lie and look at the tree tops and notice the myriad of detail in nature
There is always time built into sessions for participants to reflect on and discuss what they’ve experienced and plan what they’d like future sessions to include.
All children (and adults) learn a wonderful amount from the natural
world; they make discoveries, gain independence and pride, they build
friendships and they develop confidence. Forest School sessions are about giving all children access to the wonder and possibility for learning in the natural world.
Forest school sessions take place on a regular basis – to enable a deeper approach than a one-off visit. Children go out in all seasons and in all weathers – with appropriate clothing and resources (this includes waterproofs, wellies, warm hats for cold days and sun hats for sunny days, gloves etc and also sometimes includes use of different shelters outside). There’s always time built into every session for food and drink, conversation and sharing: usually in a central camp area.
At present I'm resident forest school leader at Nethergate Academy in Nottingham, a wonderful special school where I'm working with all year groups, I run weekly after school forest school sessions with the lovely Cromford Primary School and a number of other projects in various locations. The forest school ethos seeps very much into all areas of my work.
I was resident artist / forest school leader at Dunkirk Primary School (in Nottingham) between 2007 and 2016, and a huge part of my role there was working as part of a team to develop an outdoor learning space called the Discovery Garden. This space has been used for forest school sessions but also for wider curriculum work, for staff training and for school community events with families. For more details, images and information on my residency at Dunkirk Primary and development of our forest school work, see the Dunkirk page on my website here.
I'm a member of the Forest School Association and insured to deliver forest school sessions. I also hold a current Level 2 Outdoor Cooking and Food Hygiene Certificate.
“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed… the residual magic of trees and wood that still touches most of us not far beneath the surface of our daily lives”
Some kids don’t want to be organised all the time. They want to let their imaginations run; they want to see where a stream of water takes
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv: