The benefits of learning outdoors have been well documented as well as how this can open up new ways for children away from the traditional classroom environment. Outdoor learning through Forest School brings learning to life in a fun and more relaxed manner and importantly stimulates children’s naturally inquisitive minds by offering multiple opportunities for exploration and creativity to take place in new ways. Children’s social, language and communication skills tend to flourish in a less constrained outdoor environment with increased independence, self-confidence and motivation as a direct result. Children simply relish opportunities to get messy, make noise, offer ideas and explore all year round come rain or sunshine!
Central to Forest School is the whole human being – head, heart, hands, thinking, feeling and willing. Developing a deep respect for and connection with the natural world is at the heart of Forest School. Childhood is a precious time where a sense of wonder is embedded, something which Forest School looks to prolong, helping children to grow at their own pace. The future and crucial importance of our surrounding environment has never been more well publicised then now in the 21st century. Forest School enables children to develop a profound understanding of this and become responsible environmental stewards.
Ming Kuo and her team at the University of Illinois recently examined hundreds of studies that reported many different positive outcomes of outdoor learning and spending time with nature. They found that nature does indeed boost learning, in several different ways. The more we allow learners to experience nature, the greater the benefits to both their academic performance and overall wellbeing.
The research evidence on outdoor learning shows that it has academic and wellbeing benefits, writes Marc Smith, co-author of The Emotional Learner and Psychology in the Classroom.
This half term we are getting involved with 30 days of wild being run by the ‘The Wildlife Trust’ and our Year 4 pupils’ first act of wild was to build a home for a wild woodland creature. Continuing with habitat theme, Year 3 children were tasked to make themselves a shelter that they could sleep in, in the wood. The girls and boys were fully engaged and worked in teams to create the perfect shelter. They took delight in being introduced to some of our basic tools used in Forest School and learning basic knots to aid using natural resources to build their shelter.
Many cross curricular links take place during Forest School time and some of our Year 4s have had fun with History outside the classroom by turning themselves into Celtic warrior’s decorating their faces with mud, building a fortress and making natural weapons to defend their territory. Team building games such as the Viking game is also very popular bringing out much laughter and team spirit. The children work as a team to knock down the King’s army to see who can win the game by defeating the king.
Others got involved with weaving with sticks using feather needles and enjoyed searching for the perfect stick to use as a weaving loom as well as creating their own needle out of a feather to start their weave.
Hapa zome, flower and leaf bashing is a very popular Forest School art activity. Children enjoy using hammers and material to create their own amazing leaf and flower prints on cloth. Designing clay leaf bowls is another example of how children are able to extend their creative skills and are able to enjoy searching for different shaped leaves to turn into their own bespoke clay bowls.
An example of how Music is explored further outdoors is through making Sistrums. This is an activity which encourages pupils to think about the role that sound plays in nature. The children simply love the freedom to make their own instruments, using natural resources along with decorative materials.
Woodlands are all about imagination as well and creating Fairy houses out of clay and natural resources to leave out for our fairies that live in the School’s forest is of course well loved including creating clay faces in trees by using natural resources and sculpting skills.
Time to simply be and take in our natural environment is a key part within the children’s Forest School time and Year 4 pupils Olivia B and Sofia H, relished their opportunity by turning themselves into trees, moving and swaying in the wind whilst Boris independently made a tree swing, using perseverance and skill.
Outdoor food and catering are huge fun and pupils love cooking damper bread over an open fire. Some of our Year 5 had much fun turning our mud kitchen into a fine dining French restaurant serving some very creative and interesting dishes!
Early Years and Pre-Prep
Forest school in Early Years is very much focused on helping our very young children become confident to explore a different environment such as nature (away from their classrooms and comfort zones). It is about making children aware of all their senses when listening to the birds, watching the trees or minibeasts, smelling flowers or the logs burning. Forest School offers opportunities to talk about how to look after our natural environment, making sure we don’t leave any rubbish behind and release the tiny creatures we have collected in the special bug hotels, back to their natural habitat. It is also about teaching our young girls and boys about keeping safe when approaching and crossing the path towards the Forest School areas or when sitting around the fire, cooking marshmallows.
We have introduced some names of trees or other plants, like oak tree, sweet chestnut, holly, ivy etc. and have brought conkers, acorns and sticks into our classrooms using them in Maths and Arts and Craft activities. We have also created music instruments using natural materials and have sung our favourite songs around the camp fire.
Forest School activities in Early Years are often based on children’s interests and the book of the week that Acorn class has each week. We have been for a teddy bear hunt ( “We’re going on a bear hunt”), made wands using sticks, and fairy gardens using clay and various natural materials for “Even fairies need glasses!” etc.
We are constantly observing nature, and the children have loved exploring our the bluebells in our ancient woodlands and drew some, using chalk, or made some lovely blue bell pictures using glue and tissue paper.
In Pre-Prep Forest School hobby the children were introduced to the guardians of our woods, ‘The Ents’. Ents for those not in the know, look after the trees and animals in a forest and are very long lived. They can move but often choose not to unless really required.
The children were asked to select a tree in our woods that they felt may be an Ent and why. “I think this tree is an Ent because it’s old and bumpy; he is an unhappy Ent because another tree got cut down” said Fergus of one of our oaks. Each child chose a different tree and were then given some clay to make a face on that tree of the Ent that lived within.
Some chose moss for hair, Freddie P selected bluebell seeds because they were long and nobbly. Henry S used a large pine cone for the nose. “He can smell everything!” he said. The results were a fabulous mix of materials with children using cones to give texture to the clay. Miss Holmes and Mrs Barter also had a go which caused much hilarity. The children discussed what the Ents were like and made up stories about them. After the session, we left our Ents to keep watch on the woods – hopefully they shall only have good things to tell us!