Council area: Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
Forest School contact: Neil Gordon
Main Forest School contact email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
School website address: http://ballyclareps.co.uk/
Year of Forest School accreditation:
Background: Ballyclare Primary School was lucky enough to be successful in winning the Forest School Awards for Antrim and Newtownabbey in 2016/17. We had always been interested in developing more outdoor education and this came at the perfect time.
Forest School setting: Ballyclare Primary School is only a very short walk from Sixmilewater Conservation Area. It is a fantastic local resource with park land, wilder forested areas and of course the Sixmilewater River running through it. It is a great area for Forest School sessions.
Evaluation: In Ballyclare Primary school we are no strangers to outdoor learning. Having attended a course entitled 'Science in the Outdoor Classroom' in November 2014 and led subsequent teacher feedback session in June 2015, a number of classes across the key stages have since been making trips to the Six Mile Water Park and around the town to bring their lessons to life. Notable successes have included the P1 'Welly Wednesdays' and the P5 'Outdoor Science Trails'.
I have taught P5 for seven years and began teaching outside in 2014 to aid Literacy, Numeracy and, in particular, World Around Us topic work. The sessions that the P5 children have the opportunity to participate in are spread throughout the year, so the concept of having a weekly timetabled Forest School session was a little daunting at first due to the time constraints of a busy curriculum. I rotated the teaching of WAU, Art, P.E., R.E. and Music in our afternoon timetable in order to keep a Thursday afternoon free. Our school's application for Forest School was made to the Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in November 2016 and we were pleased to be selected alongside Tir-Na-Nog Primary School to participate in the Forest School programme between March and May 2017.
Our Forest School programme was unique in that it involved two local primary schools from the town of Ballyclare. A total of 36 pupils took part in the programme, 26 from my class and 10 from Mr Mullan's. As I explained in assignment 1, at the beginning many of the children chose to work with others from their existing circle of friends and seek advice from their own teacher. However, by week three many were broadening their friendship and advice circle, even self-initiating the selection of groups prior to the task being set. One child in my class, Corey, had known another boy from Tir-Na-Nog Primary School a long time ago but had not spoken to him in several years. By week four these boys were inseparable and working collaboratively in a context that would not be as free flowing in a classroom environment. The boys had introduced each other to their circle of friends and the friendship circle expanded from there. Each Friday the pupils completed their 'Forest School Log Book' (the children loved discussing the session outcomes and looking at photographs!) and on the final week I asked the children to record their 'final thoughts' on Forest School. This is what Corey wrote:
On this evidence it is clear that Forest School has succeeded in creating a cross- community link between two schools in the town as well as providing memorable learning experiences for pupils to draw upon. From my own observations over the past few months I have witnessed a great sense of enthusiasm, success and raised self-esteem as the children undertake a range of practical activities and complete small achievable tasks away from the classroom environment. Some children have even managed to harness this new found confidence into leadership. Matthew, who would be quite a quiet and reserved boy in our P5 class, was very natural in his transition to the outside classroom each week and led his group's ideas on several occasions, most notably when they were making an animal shelter. Matthew enjoys outdoor activities with his family at the weekends so this is a perfect example of Forest School being led by a child's interests. For him and many others the series of lessons we undertook over a six week period really stimulated his imagination and brought a series of lessons to life in a real context.
Over the course of our Forest School programme the majority of the class were notably more observant to the seasonal changes around them as we moved from winter into spring and then early summer. The children also became more confident in how they moved around the forest site within the established boundaries. When we visited the site with the other P5 classes later in term 3, the teachers commented how pupils from my class were much more engaged with their task and worked better in groups as they drew upon their Forest School knowledge and familiarity with the site.
It was clear throughout Forest School that there was a strong sense of pride in the pupil's creative responses to tasks set. Activities such as the animal shelter (week 2), the bridge design (week 5) and bird hide (week 6) brought a lot of excitement and encouraged the children to bring back friends and relatives to show off what that had been doing in Forest School that week. It is hoped that this will encourage families to visit their local woodlands area more frequently and benefit more from this fantastic community space on Ballyclare's doorstep.
Having had experience with outdoor learning before I personally found the Forest School programme to be very informative and I plan to continue to promote Forest School within my school in the future. I found the timescale of the programme to be realistic and flexible around school life. The efforts and enthusiasm that Brian (our Forest School tutor showed during sessions has to be commended. He was quick to get to know the children in the group and had a lovely way with the class in general. Brian was very supportive when discussing lesson ideas and was a great source of knowledge for the pupils and teachers as each Forest School session unfolded.
Admittedly I did find the assignments that had to be completed an added strain on my time as a teacher. I now understand the historical importance of Forest School and its place within current government policies but perhaps in the future it may be worth considering the submission of a portfolio of evidence of teachers practising Forest Schools with their own class or evidence of teachers sharing ideas from Forest School with staff from different year groups. I feel that this would be beneficial to the staff involved in the process and it would also further promote Forest School throughout the school applying for the award.
In summary, Forest School gave me renewed confidence in what I am encouraging in my own year group and provided me with fresh ideas that I intend to introduce to other year groups such as P7. Because Forest School was timetabled as a regular part of my weekly timetable it became more than just outdoor learning, it became part of our week to look forward to. A time to be together and work together in a safe space that we felt an ownership of. I am hoping this can continue next year!
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