Council area: Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
Forest School contact: Jonathan Henry
Main Forest School contact email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
School website address: www.carrickprimary.co.uk/
Year of Forest School accreditation: 2018
Background: Carrick Primary School is an active eco-school. We are constantly looking to develop and deliver new initiatives and saw the Forest School as a perfect opportunity to progress our outdoor teaching. Funding was secured from the Public Health Agency in 2017.
Forest School setting: We have a wonderful outdoor space with seating and mature trees and hedgerows for us to undertake our outdoor teaching.
The beginning of this process brought me back to a curriculum area that I knew my school and in my Key Stage we had never really ventured into-the world of Activity Based Learning. After much research and countless google searches of other schools and their practices a notice regarding Forest School was pinned to our Staff Room Noticeboard encouraging someone to look at this for our school and if it was of interest to volunteer yourself. I immediately connected the dots and discussed this with my Principal that this could be a good starting point and cover an outdoor element of ABL. I was forwarded Brian's contact details and immediately rang to seek more information. Brian came out very promptly and discussed the process and what Forest School entailed with me and another colleague. We then made contact with another Primary School who had recently become a Forest School. Seeing the passion of this Forest School Leader in his school ignited a desire to develop this in my own school.
My school is very fortunate to have such extensive grounds and an already perfect site location with a secured wooded area. This therefore meant that no cost was incurred to transport children or long walks to a local park to get to a site. Upon discussing the cost of the programme and training with my Principal I later received the ecstatic news that we had been selected through further funding received by the NIFSA to have all finances covered. Developing a Curriculum area, a ready-made site and no cost; everything lined up!!
After a number of Forest School Demonstration Sessions I was let loose to experiment on my Primary 3 Class. In all honesty a class who found it very hard to work together and communicate with another in an amicable way was not the ideal when I heard of all the group work activities involved and I was filled with trepidation as to the success of initiating this and trialing it. However week after week of engaging with one another my pupils learnt the art of sharing, turn-taking, communicating, following instructions, listening and working to an end goal. This had a major positive contribution to my classwork as the skills learnt were transferable. My pupils became more confident to trial their ideas and not get upset when things needed readjusted or completely revised. Our WAU topic on 'Minibeasts' lended itself perfectly to Forest School sessions and the children's happy face assessment at the end of each session was proof enough that this was being enjoyed by my children. As the teacher, I found that I was able to let go of control and let the children take risks and experiment. I was also able to draw alongside my pupils in a less formal manner than the classroom and even with a change of clothes to a more casual attire broke down barriers between me and them.
Having read about the effectiveness and success of Forest Schools conducted by Plymouth University 2005 by Bernie Davis and Sue Waite before embarking on my own journey I can concur with their findings that Forest School can have a very positive impact upon a child's:
- Personal, social and emotional development
o Disposition and attitudes e.g children were observed to work together in a happy and content manner.
o Self-confidence and self-esteem e.g there are no right or wrong answers therefore all abilities can partake in feeling valued and enthused.
o Ability to make friendships e.g. due to mixed ability groups children worked alongside children that they may not have always associated with in class and therefore encouraged new relationships to emerge.
o Behaviour and self-control e.g. children were not bound to desks and chairs- the freedom of movement was exhilarating and liberating for them. Children with behavioural issues were also seen to be enjoying the freedom of walking around without impingements placed upon them and carrying out the tasks due to their practical nature without argument or contention.
As well as the academic and educational side of developing a child's:
- Communication, language and literacy
- Mathematical development
- Knowledge and understanding of the world
- Physical development
- Creative development
Having now trialed Forest School over this past year it has firmly verified its place in my Classroom, Curriculum and School. Forest School has also contributed greatly to the process of my school obtaining the coveted Green Flag in Eco-schools and has furthermore prompted us to purchase an outdoor classroom shed for those days with less favourable weather conditions- hence no excuses not to go outside!! We as a school have also erected a polytunnel to encourage more learning outdoors.
Forest School to date has only penetrated into our Nursery and one of our P3 classes, however we we now want to disseminate this programme into all our Foundation stage classes as well as Key Stage 1 classes which links very well to Structured Play and Activity Based Learning. It is then anticipated that we gather momentum and introduce this to our Key Stage Two classes with the development of a new Forest School Site at the other end of our school. It is hoped that survival skills and more Science based activities could be carried out through the means of Forest School and the development of various links with outside agencies e.g. Scouts could be utilized.
Can I take this opportunity to thank Brian for his invaluable work and on seeing the last count of 31 Qualified schools, 91 Trainee schools and over 17000 children engaged this is testament to the effectiveness and longevity of this programme. I trust that not only will it continue to be a success in my school but also develop and find its place in all schools in NI- maybe it just takes a little poster in a staffroom to begin this journey!
My final words are not mine but those of my pupils,
'Thank-you for allowing our school to be part of this - we really enjoy being outside- getting our coats and wellies on, having fun, working together and learning new skills. '
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