Council area: Belfast City Council
Forest School contact: Marian Doran
Main Forest School contact email address: email@example.com
School website address: http://oakwoodschoolaac.com/
Year of Forest School accreditation:
Background: At Oakwood we wanted to see what opportunities were out there for our pupils who have a wide range of special needs. We applied for the Forest School Awards using Lady Dixon Park and were fortunate enough to get the funding.
Forest School setting: We used Lady Dixon Park for our Forest School training. The Park is brilliant for doing Forest School sessions, offering many varied and exciting habitats for our kids to explore in. We hope to develop our own Forest School site in the grounds of Oakwood in the near future
Evaluation: Evaluation of Forest Schools
Having examined the origins of Forest Schools it is clear to see that it based on sound, well researched information and outcomes that use the outdoor medium for developing children and young people's skills and competencies. Children don't have to be confined to the indoor classroom to learn. Forest Schools can be developed in a variety of areas.
Pupils, such as those I worked with, were fortunate to be able to make use of a local park, just a short bus journey from the school. They also had access to the school .grounds, with a beautiful Nature Trail circumventing the perimeter, right on their front door.
For pupils who were not so lucky in other schools may have options be to share school grounds or rent an allotment and provide a starting point to grow fruit, vegetables and insect friendly flowers.
Research has also shown how Forest Schools fits in to so many of our government and educational strategies.
It promotes Northern Ireland's Sustainable Development Strategy and encourages our young people to use our natural resources responsibly.
It engrains the work of Eco Schools and shows how biodiversity is of real and immediate importance and we can all contribute to caring for the natural world.
Following a policy of "Leave No Trace" during all sessions helps the younger generation to understand that it is important to protect and preserve the environment where we work, play and learn. It also gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility and an opportunity to be a good citizen.
Forest Schools has provided the pupils with occasions to leave the classroom and get outside. To be more active and observe different surroundings thus fulfilling our Health Strategies and initiatives. For those young people who are confined to wheelchairs it may appear that'just being push by a helper is not considered exercise for them. However, we must remember that disabilities use unseen energy and when disabled students have to maintain body posture in different settings they are burning up energy in an alternative way. It is amazing to observe how tired some can be after a Forest Schools session, but tired in a positive way as they have exercised too.
From an educational perspective, Forest Schools provides opportunities for some of our more disadvantaged pupils. Not every busy family has time or resources to take wheelchair bound or challenging children to the park to play or just enjoy the great outdoors.
Forest Schools sessions facilitated through school or educational run ventures can achieve this. Transport can be arranged and adult assistance provided and pupils benefit.
In the Forest Schools programme, I have been able to highlight and observe, first hand, the benefits to the group.
The activities have developed from the needs and interests of the individuals. They have been working on units of work from the AQA Unit Award Scheme. By completing tree surveys, tree identification tasks and making habitats for our wildlife they have completed three units and will gain accreditation.
Communication skills have been extended along with personal and social skills. Interacting with the public on occasions has been a positive experience. A lot of knowledge has been acquired and it has been great to listen as they offer so many suggestions when asked to name or identify trees. Language development has most definitely• been extended.
Forest Schools has proved to be a programme which encourages the development of many of the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities set out in the Revised Northern Ireland Curriculum: skills such as problem solving, creativity, self management, decision making and working with others. It has helped one pupil to see beyond the television or play station, if only for a morning and make him think that maybe nature could be "his thing".
The pupils were enabled to take a few risks all provided in a safe risk taking environment, this was especially evident when they were using equipment to make bug hotels and woodland cookies.
They could see how important it was to be safe when using equipment outdoors and not just in classes such as Design and Technology back at school. Thus encouraging the transferring of skills and knowledge and bringing connected learning to the fore. Forest Schools has been very well received by all those involved and that included pupils and staff. Even the staff enjoyed the experiences and loved to hear the pupils talk about their next Forest Schools session.
It has provided another dimension in which to review an individual's progress. To cons id er if they have developed any additional physical skills, a better self-image, tested themselves, thought about keeping themselves safe and getting on with the others in the group. Forest Schools has been a positive experience for a group of older less academic boys. They have also participated well in the follow up activities that were necessary to complete their units of work. They enjoyed the creative art work they did to decorate their woodland cookies and loved having their break outdoors, what a treat.
There is little doubt that significant "ripple effects" of Forest Schools affected wider practice within educational settings, teaching styles used, family recreation and cohesion and community involvement. Danish principles have found children to have improved concentration and less illness in the outdoor classes and other evaluations provided evidence of dramatic differences between physical, emotional and social health of children. Outdoor schools have also shown evidence of healthy brain function, muscle development, language development, physical health, wellbeing and social competencies.
With regard to special needs children a major study in the USA found that pupils with behavioural difficulties showed fewer discipline problems than their traditionally educated peers. Similarly, Forest Schools have been found to help children with additional support needs, including Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic children.
So, in conclusion research and personal observations continues to back up what Forest Schools have known al-I along that young individuals are stimulated and excited by the outdoors. Over time they develop a sense of self belief, they develop confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem solving skills as well as emotional wellbeing. All these aspects are so easily addressed by getting outdoors and enjoying and exploring in a safe and natural environment.
Enjoying and achieving at all levels is another important aspect. Even limited participation enables better understanding and it is important that they can say they had an input into a finished product. Making a positive contribution develops self-confidence and a sense of achievement, not to mention collaboration and enjoyment.
Some of our pupils are presently working on a musical accompaniment (in Music Class) to the power point they will help to present to the rest of the school at a future assembly. Thanks to their involvement in Forest Schools they have adiieved in so many ways. Let's hope it continues and well done boys.
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