In 2012 Courtwood Primary School was gifted a piece of woodland that backed onto the school. The school already had well developed outdoor learning areas but no woodland, so this gift was very exciting! It was to be developed as a nature trail and woodcraft area. A lottery grant helped fund the project. With help from parents and friends, it was cleared up and named Wise Owl Wood (WOW).
We now have a ‘Talking Circle’ with a fire pit and a trail around the wood. We built a gate to the public footpath and it is a short walk to Selsdon Woods and fields. We decided to become a Forest School!
What is a Forest School?
A Forest School is an inspiring place where children do their learning outdoors in a practical and fun way. They learn about the unique environment around them, how to keep themselves safe, how to use tools and create things. They learn the importance of operation and communication in team work, of perseverance and using their initiative in problem solving. They learn about boundaries, responsibilities and being independent.
Forest School brings learning to life and life to learning!
The history of Forest Schools:
The idea of Forest Schools started in Wisconsin, USA in 1927. It was developed in Sweden and Denmark in the 1950s for pre-school children. It’s philosophy was to foster respect and understanding in young children of the natural world through stories, songs and practical activities. Research noted that children who attended these pre-schools had stronger social skills, worked more effectively in groups, had higher self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities than other children.
In the 1990s, a team from Bridgwater College in Somerset visited Denmark and developed the first Forest School programme in the UK in 1993. They defined a Forest School as:
Forest School is an inspirational concept providing learning opportunities through practical activities in an outdoor environment. Participants of all ages enjoy the freedom to explore and experience the natural world in all seasons and in all weathers. It can be personally and socially uplifting, so laying firm foundations for other learning. Unlike other forms of outdoor education, Forest School embraces an approach of nurturing, supporting and developing the self-esteem of participants. It is an ideal environment in which to develop innovation, problem solving, risk taking, creativity and teamwork.
Croydon started a Youth Forest Project several years ago, offering courses for secondary/Special schools, Pupil Refferal Units and youth organisations. It now operates a network of Forest School practitioners that also includes Early Years and the Primary sector. They meet twice a term to share good practice, while visiting one another’s sites.
The WOW Forest School will have a base camp in our own woodland, although we will be visiting Selsdon Woods on some occasions.
What will the children do at Forest School?
Children will attend a course of sessions and their learning will build over time. The approach is structured but not over directed. Each child brings their own ideas and works at their own pace. The focus is on the process of learning and not just the outcome. They will be in small groups and the activities will vary and depend on the age of the group: bug hunts, woodland, art, den making, tracking skills, story-telling, being a nature detective, making fire, outdoor cooking, making things from wood, making charcoal, listening and looking, making and clearing a camp.
What will they learn?
Forest School is about developing the whole child in a holistic way i.e to develop each child’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials. It seeks to engage children in the teaching/learning process and encourage personal and collective responsibility.
We want each child to:
trust their own judgement and believe in themselves
understand the importance of relationships in teamwork and good communication
be responsible, keeping themselves and others safe
face challenges, problem solve and be resilient
learn technical skills, using tools and managing risk
understand how physical and mental health are improved through connection to the natural environment and one another
know that the natural environment is beautiful, very precious and needs to be looked after because we are interdependent
What evidence is this based on?
There is a significant body of thought that believes there is a growing divide between the natural world and our children. There have been many surveys to look at the different locations they play in compared to where their parents played.
Extract from: Natural England on Childhood and Nature: A survey on Changing Relationships with Nature across the generations 2009
Children 30-40 years ago
The decline in children’s use of the natural environment is significant.The same survey found that 81% of children want to play out more and 85% of parents want to allow this because they recognise how much more freedom they had as children, and yet their worries for their child’s safety prevent this happening.
A ‘hands up’ survey at Courtwood Primary in 2009 showed approximately 30% of pupils had never visited Selsdon Woods, which are very local to the school and estate. Reasons given were: I can’t go without an adult / there’s nothing to do there / my Mum/Dad’s too busy. Through Family Learning Week, an annual walk was organised to this local wood. In the first year 30 adults and children went, by the third year 130 walked, led by one of the Dads. One of the children commented ‘It’s great, I didn’t know woods were so interesting.’
In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ Richard Louv introduces the term ‘nature-deficit disorder.’ He does not use this term in a scientific or clinical sense, but as a concept to understand the accumulating scientific evidence around children’s problems. He persuasively argues, with research findings, that increased levels of childhood physical and emotional illness, attention difficulties and the diminished use of the senses are linked to this alienation from nature, caused by our more urban and busy lifestyles.
A report for the RSPB by Dr William Bird cited studies where patients recovered from operations better when they had natural views to look at, compared to those who faced a brick wall. Another study showed the behaviour of children with ADHD improved more when they had a natural view compared to those that didn’t. Yet another study showed there was more bullying in all tarmac school playgrounds compared to natural playgrounds.
There is much research to support the view that seeing nature is restorative and calming. The RSPB and Natural England are just 2 groups calling on the government to plan for more and better green spaces. We must protect our woodlands and teach our children about the natural world. Forest Schools can play an important role in this learning process.
Let’s teach our children about our wonderful world.