Over the last year I have been training as a forest school leader with the forest school training company. As chair of the East Lothian Forest education Initiative and a keen fan of the forest school concept I felt I ought to experience it for myself. It has been a great experience.
I had helped out a couple of times at the Saltoun primary pilot project which was delivered by Karin Chipulina – you can see the video the school made on her web blog – but I have never really done any work that involved working directly with school children over a sustained period of time. Altough I have taught woodland craft / conservation skills in my spare time for a number of years mostly to adults and older children – I never really have time to get to know the people I have worked with other than on a very superficial basis – so forest school was a completely new experience.
The concept itself came from Sweden where it developed in response to parent demand following some early pioneering work. Basically the concept seeks to use the nurturing qualities of the outdoor environment to support personal, social and emotional learning through play. Research has consistently shown that quality outdoor environments are stress relieving for all age groups, and for children there are advantages in terms of motor skills development, reduced infections, as well as for confidence and self esteem.
The training is a mixture of taught and practical sessions – including the delivery of a forest school programme of a minimum of six sessions usually delivered over six weeks.
Whitecraig primary kindly let me work with one of their classes for my practical programme, under the supervision of the class teacher.
Here is a link to the session plans I developed with the teacher. whitecraig-session-plans
I have to say that the first time I met the kids in the class i was completely out of my comfort zone – there is something about the scrutiny of five and six year olds that is more unnerving than the professionals and managers I am more familiar with. Leaving comfort zones was also an issue for the class teacher, who admitted to me, that for the first few sessions, the lack of walls in our outdoor classroom caused her some anxiety.
I learnt a lot from the class about the practical application of the forest school concept and a lot from th teacher about the management of a class – how to make sure that they were listening and understanding what was being said. Most of all I had a glimpse of how powerful the outdoors can be as a learning environment for children. It was a privilege to work with the class who were very well behaved – attentive and receptive of new experiences. It was a joy to see their personalities coming out during the course of the eight weeks, and to see them using the experience to grow. The boys who were physically over confident but learnt to understand and respect the boundaries that were placed on them in the outdoors. The quite ones who given the right moment were willing to step into the limelight – the boy with a real talent for expressing himself artistically. The bright girl that always sought the teachers attention in the classroom fading into the background in the outdoors. The girl that struggled with direct adult attention, but was confident amongst her peers with practical tasks. The boy that visibly grew when given direct praise. It was never difficult to engage these kids in what we were doing - they were always up for it – that wasn’t the cleverly designed sessions – it was being outdoors.
From their reactions and feedback I think the children enjoyed the sessions. The parents that came along every week as helpers I think also got something out of it despite the poor weather – it always seemed to be raining on a tuesday morning. The teacher said that the kids always looked forward to the forest school sessions and brought a lot of what they did outdoors into the rest of thier school week – and it was always a quiet and relaxed class in the afternoon after the morning forest school session. I was impressed with one part of the teachers feedback when she observed that she felt the class had developed a group identity and settled as a class more quickly than she thought would have happened without the sessions – it was a P1 / P2 composite class and the session took place in October.