Chinthurst School

What are they? A ‘Forest School’ is an outdoor learning programme which originated in Scandinavia. It brings tremendous benefits to children and the sessions, run by qualified Forest School practitioners, develop confidence, creativity and self-esteem. It is also great fun and our Kindergarten look forward to their weekly trip to the woods. They go in all weathers and each session begins with the children looking for changes since their last visit. Crunchy leaves in autumn or beautiful spring bluebells are woven into stimulating learning experiences which involve exploration and investigation. The discovery of a fairy door for example (which has been surreptitiously placed at the base of a tree) sparks an exciting investigation to find twigs and leaves to build a fairy house. The children fill their ‘prickly, tickly’ boxes with items found in the undergrowth and share their treasures with each other. At the end of each session, they are given a chance to reflect on what they have enjoyed the most and their individual progression is observed and used when planning for the next visit.

Why do parents like them? Our parents recognise that the sessions enable the children to learn important skills whilst benefiting from freedom and fresh air. They see it as a welcome break from technology and a reconnection with nature and imaginative play.

Why do schools like them? The sessions are great fun but they are also enormously beneficial to development. Our programme helps children try new things and encourages risk taking within safe limits. Activities are designed to help them make judgements such as how they will climb onto a log or perhaps negotiate a small space when building a den. The risk benefit process is constantly managed and monitored by the Forest School leader to ensure the children can explore and investigate safely.

How successful are they? The Forest School programme is excellent at fostering important life skills such as resilience, confidence and creative learning helping each child to be the best they can be.

How do they work following the traditional school curriculum/assessments? Development of the individual child is at the heart of education at Chinthurst and underpins everything we do. Forest School sessions are an important part of the curriculum and supplement learning by building independence.

Vinehall School

What are they? Forest Schools embrace opportunities offered by the outdoors to extend learning and play beyond the classroom door. At Vinehall our wonderful grounds inspire learning across the curriculum, encouraging children to become more aware of and engage joyfully with the natural environment throughout the seasons in an exciting and creative adventure.

Why do parents like them? The outdoors is a wonderful antidote to the demands of our modern life and helps to connect our generation of children with the pleasures of the natural world. Used well, Forest Schools are one way of offering a structured approach to using the outside, engaging children in a different way and providing a safe way of exploring the ‘wild’. Parents should be urged to look beyond glossy Forest School marketing to find out more about what happens in practice; there are plenty of ways to promote children’s well-being through the outdoors, encouraging happy and healthy children. We ended our summer term by bringing families together, smoking a wild salmon over the camp fire and participating in a competitive den building evening. Great fun was had by all!

Why do schools like them? The outdoors provides an opportunity to bring the curriculum alive and to explore the potential of the (free!) natural materials around us. For example, our Nursery have created fairy gardens and made potions, as well as enjoyed a bear hunt (or two) in the woods. Reception classes have discovered who laid the egg in the forest (it was a dinosaur!), noticed seasonal changes and been able to embed their mathematical skills using twigs to compare and measure. Older children have pretended to be ‘hunter gatherers’, linking with their history topic, collecting fruits and berries to cook over the camp fire. Camp fire activities are wonderful, not just for enriching topics, but for promoting safety and for bringing together the ages.

How successful are they? Outdoor learning engages the children’s interest and encourages hands-on investigation and observation to promote learning at a deep level, even if it gets messy. It provides an opportunity to promote important life-skills including building resilience, confidence, independence, risk-taking and collaborative learning. Qualities such as open-ended problem solving, have-a-go attitudes and a space in which to trial ideas without worrying about making mistakes, are all valuable formative experiences for our children’s future lives.

How do they work following the traditional school curriculum/assessments? Staff are encouraged to be creative when delivering learning opportunities; they weave in activities to cover set objectives while engaging the children’s interest and developing important life-skills and knowledge. If we can nurture a sense of wonder and encourage our children to appreciate the natural world around them, as future leaders at any level they will have a heightened awareness and empathy for our special, yet vulnerable planet. Therefore the outdoors has the potential to support a holistic learning and global change.

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