Wedmore First School

For now here is some information below about the schools Forest School programme.
‘What exactly is Forest School?’

‘Set up in 1980 in Denmark as part of their nursery provision, Forest School has spread to the UK, based on the desire to provide children with an education which encourages appreciation of the natural world and fosters responsibility for conservation in later life.

Children benefit from high adult ratios and experienced leadership. They learn respect, rules, behaviour, team work, concentration, independence and other social skills as well as acquiring new skills using full size tools.
Teaching staff at Wedmore school have received training to BTEC level from Bridgwater College, thanks to the generosity of ‘Friends’, and will be implementing a Forest School programme across all classes in the near future.
We are excited by the challenges and opportunities that Forest Schools offer and by working through a programme of small achievable tasks in a safe, outdoor environment, we hope to build children’s self esteem and develop their social and behavioural management skills.’

This was a piece written to inform parents and carers what we hope to achieve through the forest schools initiative. Having had positive experiences of the outdoors as a child and growing up, I was pleased to be one of those chosen to undergo training to lead children in the programme of activities.

I strongly believe that children who have low self esteem and poor social skills can benefit from learning skills and acquiring knowledge in a safe, open and free environment, away from the confines of desks and books.

The activities can also provide those who paradoxically thrive in class, with the opportunity to expand their learning in a totally different set of circumstances.

The evidence of this can be justified through assessing a lesson taught recently. Having taken a group of children outside to investigate natural forms and colours, the pre-planned lesson was diverted by the children’s discovery of some field mushrooms and thistle heads. We gathered around these objects and talked about the structure, texture and biology of them. This ownership of the lesson encourages children to explore, investigate and examine their surroundings on a far more personal level than if in the classroom.

The use of full size ‘adult’ tools adds to the sense of independence and maturity to the child, and as long as everyone is aware of the relevant health and safety guidelines, the experience can be a valuable one.

Obviously the downside of using high quality equipment is that the budget of forest school can creep up. This coupled with the high adult / child ratio does mean that in order for forest school to be truly successful it does require a hefty degree of funding. We have approached various businesses and individuals for sponsorship, obtaining funds from diverse sources such as a cheque from Bristol Water and second hand rope from the local coastguard! The one free asset in all of this is the countryside and this resource should be maintained and sustained in consultation with the children. They should be made aware of the pressures on the rural environment today, (often they already have strong views on current issues concerning us today through exposure to news and press).

Another advantage of forest school is that the grouping of children does not have to follow the same conventions as in the classroom. Those students who traditionally are combined for core subjects usually display similar ability within that subject. When taught in a different environment there is greater freedom to mix the children up into different social groups allowing new dynamics to develop and encouraging team building and bonding. Whilst delivering a forest school lesson about natural textures, I noticed 2 children cooperating to reach a section of moss located high in a branch. Having discussed the options of obtaining the natural material, one bent the branch while his partner peeled it off. Nothing spectacularly ground breaking but an example of the children working together and solving a problem using language and communication skills.

Forest skills also address the issue of physical development and outside play. My class could not wait to be outside, and I gave them ample time at the beginning and end of the lesson to explore for themselves with no agenda. Initially this seem to involve running around the field, but slowly children began to start making their own collections of natural artefacts and walking the entire perimeter of the school grounds we had agreed were to be our boundaries.
Upon return to the classroom the children were keen to display what they had found (teasels were a great hit), as well as tell other adults about the lesson. This enthusiasm is reflected in the feedback I received from mums and dads at a recent parents evening, where the overwhelming response from those asked was a positive one.

Obviously we have a long way to go as a school in implementing forest school across the entire age range. Weather, funding and lack of time in an already packed curriculum will all conspire to make it difficult at times to fit it into the week. It would be all too easy to look out in the winter and decide to ‘give it a miss’ this week, but with a positive approach and some determination the children will undoubtedly benefit from the experience of being outside.
From a personal point of view I am looking forward to the children using tools and timber to create items, as well as being able to answer the weekly question “are we going to have a camp fire”, with a yes!

We have as a key stage now incorporated Forest school into our curriculum planning with its obvious links next term to our ‘jungle’ topic.

So as a final thought, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher said,
‘In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous’. Almost 2500 years later I still agree with his view, and hope to foster a similar vision with the children at Wedmore.
Andy Wookey
Y4 Teacher
Wedmore First School