What Happens At A Forest School
Forest Schools are long term programmes within a natural space, lead by a qualified practitioner. They focus on developing personal, social and emotional life skills through learner led, nature-based learning. A Forest School develops by individuals in a setting becoming qualified Forest School Practitioners or drawing down funding to bring in an organisation that specialises in the delivery of Forest School programmes.
Initially, projects run from their own grounds/gardens/playing fields (where appropriate) allowing the children to become comfortable with an outdoor approach to education and play whilst in familiar surroundings. Allowing relationships based around trust and self-exploration to develop with the Forest School Leaders who start to facilitate a more child led outdoor curriculum when the group are ready they familiarise themselves with the route to the wood either on foot or by bus.
The group then have their introductory sessions in the woodland exploring the site establishing physical and behavioural boundaries. Safety procedures, hygiene and routines.
Once a group are established in the woodland and routines are set up the project develops through a child led approach with opportunities for projects being taken back to the indoor setting to be continued.
Meeting Basic needs
It is fundamental that Children’s basic needs are met before any higher learning can take place (Maslow’s Pyramid of Hierarchical Needs).
Warmth – correct clothing provided
Food- Health Snacks and meals
Drink – Hydrated water /hot drinks
Safe – individuals feel safe both physically and emotionally
The Forest Schools Site
Each Forest School site is unique; you design it to meet the needs of the group and to fit the environment you are working in, usually in negotiation with your woodland owner.
The site will be constructed in a clearing or cleared area of the woodland, this way will keep your children as safe as possible whilst giving opportunities to explore and discover other areas of more dense ground flora, such as brambles and overhead hazards. Children will grow stronger physically, become more balanced and coordinated.
Your site could range in complexity from no fixed features to a fully constructed shelter and fire area with specially designed areas for hygiene, creative art, tool use, fast games, throwing games, water collection, flora monitoring amongst other ideas.
When you start to plan the building of your site, you will have a circle area for seating made from wooden benches to surround your fire pit, if you can have one. Wind breaks around the benches will provide protection from the wind and to create a cozy, enclosed area for a calm time around the fire area. These are fabulous to build with your children, no matter how old they are and they link to every schema you can think of! Make a group shelter from a tarp or an army parachute by putting up winch to pull up a waterproof roof for any downpours and to store kit under. A more permanent construction will take longer and be more rewarding and appropriate for some groups.
A network of people and groups supporting forest schools often develop a mutually beneficial partnership between different groups. In a couple of our Archimedes Forest school Sites older groups have constructed sites for kindergarten groups to use They have built small people benches and hanging artwork in the trees. This has given a focus to the older groups and created a magical space for the younger groups that is safe and effective.
A Typical Day
Each time your children leave the woods they will take something with them to encourage parental interest and communicative interaction (continuation of the review process). This will also lead to enhanced communication within school, with friends as well as with parents or guardians.
The progress of each individuals will be observed and monitored and a thorough evaluation process will used to ensure that your programme and session aims and outcomes are being met.
Health and Safety checks
You, the Forest Schools practitioner will carry out the daily site risk assessment and ensure all that each member of your group has the appropriate clothing and footwear. You will provide safety brief pitched at the appropriate level for your group and make sure the accompanying adults know the site entrance and the emergency evacuation point.
The daily Risk Assessment of the site will make sure there have been no major changes have happened since the last visit that might cause problems. This is recorded and appropriate action taken if necessary.
Sessions are uniquely designed around a particular child’s natural interests or developing theme. Many children are passionate about a subject area and will become intrinsically motivated in areas that ignite their imagination and creativity.
Themes are sometimes subtle and evolve through exploring the site or more may be more obvious such as dinosaurs, Romans, butterflies, spies, fairies or nature investigators. Many areas of the National Curriculum Foundation to KS4 are intrinsically covered, but not ever the main focus in the Forest Schools experience, as it’s the child’s flow that Is followed without the programmes needing to be curriculum or adult led.
Experiences are all formulated so they are within the capabilities of every person within the group (small achievable tasks). Teamwork skills are developed through problem solving, exploring, discovering and developing threads and journeys throughout the days. Individual skills and a sense of self-worth, self-image and self-concept (self-esteem) are heightened throughout the programmes opportunities presented. Now these are always provisions that meet needs of the children or participants and are means to an end, not an end in themselves. And these could include such things as hide & seek, shelter building, tool skills, lighting fires or environmental art; the list is endless. Each experience develops intra and inter-personal skills as well as practical and intellectual skills.
Tools are used in Forest Schools in a traditional woodland manner and are introduced gradually with a structured safety base that children become familiar with. The use of tools in the wood promotes trust and self-confidence within those taking part; their use will develop both gross and fine motor skills.
As a level 3 practitioner you will constantly evaluate individuals’ progressions and re-adjusted throughout the day to meet each child’s requirements, at the end of the day you will carry out a final reflection. This is a very important part of the day. The children could be asked to shout out, draw, act or play a game to review the day they have just experienced, reflecting upon what they have learnt, or realised, or understood about themselves or others during the opportunities explored. You will be responsible for enabling the children to apply this to the rest of their everyday lives. The ‘so what’?
Off We Go
Often your Forest School site will require your group to walk a short distance and the terrain will differ depending on the abilities of your group. A hard surface approach may be necessary if you are using wheelchairs and buggies.
Remember, the walk in is an experience in itself providing opportunities for observing the seasons, the wildlife, how the woodland has changed, telling a story at different points, a treasure hunt or trail, use this walk in to set the theme or context for the day.
Once at the site, your group may need a toilet visit (different processes are used for different sites) clean hands and a sit down for a hot/ cold drink and a healthy snack (meeting basic needs). This time is often good for calm discussion often about what happened last time you were in the wood (Reviewing) and then about what to expect in the session ahead.