Back in January I was contacted by Becky Le Bas, a Forest School teacher at Beechwood Park School, Hertfordshire. I had seen the occasional article on Forest Schools and loved the concept, so was thrilled to be asked to come along and see what it was like in practice.
A Forest School is an innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning, to be used alongside the wider school curriculum and traditional teaching in a participating school. Sessions are set up for children of all ages to visit local woodland on a regular basis.
I can hear the scepticism of some readers bouncing back through cyberspace, so feel this needs a little more explanation. Within the average child spending 6.5 hours per day in front of a screen, projects like this are crucial in re-connecting children and young people with the outdoor environment in a safe and educational way.
Beyond this, it gives them opportunity to learn about the natural environment, how to handle risks, to use their own initiative to solve problems and co-operate with others. Whilst the focus is on emotional and social skills, as well physical activity, a passion for the natural world and the skills learnt from Forest School lessons can have academic benefits in the Sciences, Literature, Art, Geography, Music and Design/Technology. It is also more likely to inspire an interest in climate change issues and sustainable living later in life, problems which will require increasingly urgent solutions as today’s children become adults.
This is a movement not confined to well-funded private schools, but is slowly being rolled out and encouraged nationally for state schools too.
Unsurprisingly, this very much appealed to the barely-concealed hippy in me. This is something I’d have loved as a child, as many of my happiest memories of playing were outdoors and in the countryside. Even now, as an adult, I am happiest around a campfire or pottering in my vegetable patch and write most of my blogs from the back garden.
So, on a drizzly Friday in May, I donned waterproofs and wellies to follow Becky and 20 children in Year 2 into the woods on the school’s grounds. Mrs Le Bas asked the children what various trees and plants were along the way. I was astounded at their knowledge - I had no idea what a hawthorn tree looked like and was quickly proven to not be smarter than a six-year-old.
This, for future reference, is a Hawthorn tree.
The children had a lesson in whittling. Twigs quickly became wands, drum sticks, conductors’ batons, ribbon wands and even quills, after an English lesson about Samuel Pepys, all with the help of a vegetable peeler. One boy asked if being a whittler was a job as he was really enjoying the activity, I’m hoping they’ve inspired the first internationally renowned professional whittler. They then learnt how to lash sticks together to create photo frames, and how to tie a basic knot.
I’ve not worked closely with children before this placement and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, especially as a Forest School teacher. Working with children is clearly very rewarding.
It has ticked plenty of my boxes and whilst perhaps it isn’t for me right now, it is certainly something I can see myself doing later in life. After all, you’d spend your days in the woods, teaching children their favourite lesson.
All photos used with permission from Beechwood Park School.
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