The ethos behind Forest School
Forest School is a long term, planned programme, run by trained teachers or teaching assistants, which takes place in a natural setting. Forest School are well established in parts of Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. The UK, Wales and Scotland are the areas with the best developed Forest School. Forest School provides an excellent opportunity to bring learning to life, allowing the children to explore and learn in a constructive way. Forest School build on a child’s innate motivation and positive attitude to learning, offering them the opportunities to take risks, make choices and initiate learning for themselves. The Forest School learning environment provides opportunities for children to:
- develop self-esteem and self-confidence
- form positive relationships with others
- develop a growing awareness of their emotional needs and the needs of others
- learn to co-operate and work with their peers and adults
- develop strategies in order to take risks within the boundaries of safety
Forest School is about exploring and experiencing the natural world through practical activities. The children go out in most weathers, all year round, exploring and learning from the seasons and environmental changes. The children’s interests, along with the varied natural resources in our wooded area are used to stimulate creative thinking, problem solving and skill development.
Where the children will be going?
In the main, we will be using the school grounds, where we have a small wooded area and mature trees running the length of the school. As part of their topic work, Early Years visit Paxton Pits, and other places such as the RSPB or local parks may also be visited. The Forest School level 3 practitioner at Lawnside Academy is Mrs. Blackford, our EYFS leader. Mrs. Kimberley and Mrs. Levantine are level 1 trained.
What the children will be doing at Forest School?
Whilst at Forest School, the children will enjoy a range of structured activities as well as closely supervised unstructured play. Each session will be carefully planned for in terms of the learning experiences involved in the session however plans will be kept open and fluid so they can very much be guided by events, and by what the children want to do as each Forest School session will be unique. Examples of the types of structured activities the children will do are:
- producing maps
- learning about lashing and knots
- shelter building
- natural weaving
- natural art
- story telling
- safe tool use
- tree recognition
- animal tracks
- games to build skills and self esteem
- cooking on an open fire
We make the most of the unique resources available by using lots of natural materials, working (with appropriate levels of adult support) with tools and fires, and encouraging high levels of independence and team work. Forest School sessions will follow a pattern that the children will feel comfortable with. We will begin with getting to know the woodland area, our boundaries and what keeps us safe. Typically, we will introduce one or two new activities for each Forest School session. They will range from going on a bug hunt, making a forest friend from the natural resources available, testing the strength of leaves, to making dens… the possibilities are endless!
Risk assessments and safety information
The Forest School leader has carried out risk assessments for the site. These will be updated regularly, to take account of seasonal change. In addition, a daily risk assessment will be undertaken of the site before each Forest School session. The health and safety of the adults and children is paramount at all times throughout any activity and session. Safe practice is reinforced through regular reminders. The Forest School programme provides children with opportunities to develop independence and to take responsibility for their own learning. Whilst being independent in their learning, they will develop early risk assessment strategies and understand that their actions have consequences. As previously stated, Forest School takes place in all weathers, apart from in high winds or thunderstorms when it is deemed unsafe to go into the woods. We will always monitor the weather. If we know in advance that the weather will be unsafe for Forest School, we will plan an alternative activity for the children.
Using small hand tools is an important part of Forest School as it enables the children to develop new, practical skills that help them develop self-confidence. Over time, the children will learn to use various tools such as knives, bow saws and vegetable peelers. Children will have 1:1 supervision when using tools. An inventory of tools will be maintained and all tools will be checked at the end of each session to ensure they remain safe to use. Rules are set out clearly at the beginning of each session.
A small campfire is an integral part of all Forest Schools. A fire will be lit on some sessions, which will be used for outdoor cooking or just sitting around. Fire safety is therefore an extremely important aspect of Forest School. We have a detailed policy on Fire Safety, but here are a few of the key points:
- Fire will only be lit in the designated areas.
- The fire area will be enclosed by a circle of logs to prevent the spread of fire.
- Children are not allowed to cross this circle or to step into it.
- Fire will always be supervised by the Forest School Leader when lit and is never left unattended.
- There will always be a bucket with minimum of 5 litres of water and a fire blanket next to the fire.
- The children will sit on logs forming an outer circle around the fire. They will be taught and reminded of the log circle rules from their first visit to Forest School:
- stand behind the log
- step over and sit down on the log
- stand up, turn around and step over the log
Cooking and eating
The following principles will always be followed:
- Everyone should wash their hands before handling food and drink using antiseptic hand wash.
- All foods are stored in airtight containers.
- Only clean equipment is used.
- All staff are aware of any special dietary needs of children with food allergies, and any medication and copies of care plans will be in the Forest School Leader’s bag.
- Food will be cooked correctly.
- All equipment and waste is cleared away.
In case of emergency
If there is an injury to adults or children:
- Forest School leader will administer First Aid or another paediatric trained first aider
- Other staff will ensure the safety of the remainder of the group.
- Emergency services will be alerted if necessary.
- Accident forms will be used.
- Parents will be informed. It is therefore ESSENTIAL that we always have up to date contact details for all parents/carers and all emergency contacts.
Environmental considerations and conservation
One of the principles of Forest School is to promote environmental awareness and encourage sustainability. The children are taught about respect and responsibility for the world around them. Both the children and the adults are encouraged to respect their environment and to be aware of conservation issues of the woodland around them. The aim is to promote respect for wildlife, which will be achieved through detailed session plans, evaluation and careful reference to our woodland management plan and ecological impact assessment. Where possible, and if appropriate, reclaimed, recycled and sustainable resources will be used to maintain and develop our Forest School site. It is important to consider the ecological impact of running a Forest School and with that in mind, the following principles will be central to the running of our Forest School:
- The fire will use very little fuel and we will ensure that the site is left unaltered when it has been put out.
- This will limit the amount of dead wood which is burnt, which in turn is important for the soil layer of the forest.
- Children will be educated not to pick up anything that is still growing.
- To allow the ground cover to recover in between visits we will be rotating the areas we use within the main site, and will also rotate the sites we visit.
What to expect?
Hopefully children will share with you their enthusiasm for the outdoors:
- They may get wet or muddy.
- They may get stung by insects or nettles etc.
- They may be more likely to have minor bumps and scrapes.
Children in Early Years and Year 1 will participate in Forest School activities at least every two weeks. Across the rest of the school outdoor learning will take place to support curriculum areas and will involve forms of Forest School. The whole school will participate in an event such as den building (linked to Save the Children) for a day. A Forest School club will run in the summer months after school.
As with everything at Lawnside, we strive to work in partnership with you and we want you and your child to be as enthusiastic about Forest School as we are.