Natural Outdoor Play – in the playground

Another great report on the value of outdoor play opportunities for children. This one by the Forestry Commission on a project at Merrylees School in Glasgow. Thanks to Judith Wood for high lighting this report.

Lots of East Lothian schools and nurseries are thinking along these lines often initiated or prompted by parents. It is something parents can really help schools achieve  Its fun – its healthy – and its good for the birds and beasties and if that’s not enough reason then it also helps children’s learning. So if you like what you read – get your parent council interested and get stuck in!

Natural Play Study_Forestry Commission_100811[1]


Natural Play: Making a difference to children’s learning and wellbeing

presents the findings of a longitudinal study of the pioneering partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, Glasgow City Council and Merrylee primary school in Glasgow. It provides evidence to show that children’s engagement with a natural play space within school grounds has a multitude of positive impacts on their learning and physical and emotional wellbeing. The study also provides a value for money assessment, concluding that the cost of developing natural play spaces is comparable with those of building traditional tarmac playgrounds. In view of the benefits outlined in the report, it is argued that the provision of a natural playspace within school grounds represents excellent value for money.


Builiding curriculum outside in

Some great new resources on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website. The first one is a comprehensive and practical guide for using the outdoors to achieve educational objectives. It makes the argument that forest school leaders have been making for years now and seeks to place Scotland at the centre of a developing recognition of the importance of nature and the outdoor environment to learners.

The second is a shorter review of how outdoor learning can be developed strategically to enhance and deliver curriculum objectives

Outdoor learning is an integral part of good practice within learning and teaching. Schools need to take a strategic approach to developing outdoor learning. Building your Curriculum is a collaborative and participative process ………..

This document published in the last week is very timely. The discussion at a conference celebrating forest school development in East Lothian held on the 28th October stressed the need for a more strategic approach to the development of outdoor learning. The document makes some clear suggestion about how this could be done both at a regional and school / nursery level. The following are described in more detail in the document – but they form the basis of a comprehensive acion plan.

  1. Where are you now? (audit)
  2. Use How Good is Our School 3 to audit how effectively outdoor learning is embedded into all aspects of school life
  3. Integrate outdoor learning into the school improvement plan
  4. Communicate with and consult parents and carers about improving learning and teaching through outdoor learning
  5. Include reference to outdoor learning when reviewing a school policy
  6. Identify children with additional support needs who could benefit from more time outside
  7. Plan outdoor activities together (practitioner sharing)
  8. Encourage practitioners to support each other
  9. Share outdoor successes
  10. Create opportunities to access continuing professional development about outdoor learning
  11. Make outdoor learning a focus of classroom visits
  12. Involve partner organisations to help enhance the quality of experiences offered outdoors
  13. Get to know your local environment and use it
  14. Develop the habit of going outside regularly and frequently
  15. Enthuse the children and young people about being outside.
  16. Take a broad view of outdoor learning experiences offered across the stages, including the transition points
  17. Compile generic and specific risk – benefit assessments (RBA) for outdoor learning which takes place within the outdoor space and for local or day trips
  18. Organise the resources needed for outdoor work
  19. Develop your school grounds year on year
  20. Ensure learners have appropriate outdoor clothing and footwear
  21. Consider intervals and how to facilitate free play outside




Nature Play & Nurture

Whitecraig primary made a short video about their experience as a exemplar for the nature, play and nurture training held at the school earlier this year. This involved the nursery class working with Aline Hill from Big World training and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher and forest school leader, to run an outdoor learning programme. The programme included sessions that could be observed by staff taking a three day course in Nature Play & Nurture. Stobhill Primary in Gorebridge is currently hosting this training and acting as the exemplars. A further course will be available in the spring.



Jack & The Giant

I have been following the learning of the amazing P2P class at Sanderson’s Wynd who have published their own e-book. Its a re-telling of the Jack & the Beanstalk story and I think their version is better than the original.

In public health at the moment there is a lot of talk about the ‘assets model’ – basically building on and supporting what helps people stay healthy in a community. Assets that support children to have positive experiences, to explore the world in a variety of ways and to be proud of themselves, their peers , their families and communities  have got to be amongst some of the most important community resources.  Following the class blog gives you no doubt that the children of P2P are the beneficiaries of such assets.  Whilst I am sure there is lots of work going on in schools and communities that is just as positive, this is a story we  can all share by promoting and even purchasing the book. The children have decided to donate the funds they raise to Save the Children for a project in Malawi.

This is an asset everybody can afford to invest in by buying their book at the princely sum of 71p at this link:…

P2P have alsobeing out in the woods for forest school – for some really joyful photos visit the Sanderson’s Wynd Forest School blog

TeachMeet and the Outdoors

On the evening of Friday 27th May and all day Saturday 28th May, a TeachMeet is being organised in West Lothian. Please visit the wiki for more information about the event and its location  

Hadn’t heard about ‘Teachmeets’ (which is a Scottish invention) until Juliet Robertson the indefatigable campaigner for outdoor learning emailed the  information below and I took a look at Iain’s blog. Having spent the last week working in woodland – the campfire philosophy caught my attention.  ‘TeachMeet’ is for teachers / educators but perhaps its an idea that can work for other professional groups as well. I don’t know about you but the  idea of sharing between practitioners in more relaxed format than a conference or workshop format has an appeal.

The main person behind this ‘Teachmeet’ is Iain Hallahan, a teacher at an ASN school. He explains his reasons for setting an outdoor learning TeachMeet in his blog 

What is TeachMeet? Learn something new, be amazed, amused and enthused. This is an informal gathering of those curious about teaching and learning. Anyone can share great ideas they’ve trialled in their classrooms, ask important questions or simply sign up to take part in learning conversations. Education professionals from all sectors are welcome to take part. The main part of TeachMeet is hearing stories about learning, from teachers. This is not an event to present about a product or theory – this is a chance for teachers from all types of establishments to hear ideas from each other. Real narratives of practice that make a difference. It is about being engaged and inspired by our immediate colleagues and a whole bucket load of networking to boot! Here is a video from BrainPop about Teachmeet (be warned, it’s a techy cartoon). The main part of TeachMeet Beyond is the campfire philosophy – each of us hearing stories about learning from the other participants. This is not an event to present about a product or theory – this is a chance for teachers from all types of establishments to hear ideas from each other about how to take learning and teaching BEYOND the classroom . Due to the theme of this TeachMeet and the nature of some of the activities, a number of the traditional TeachMeet structures will need to be altered, but the core values remain the same.

Olive Bank nature play & nurture

Olivebank Child and family centre recently hosted a forest kindergarten. Apart from it being a great experience for the children involved it also provided experiential learning for staff on a short training course with Aline Hill and Ros Marshall on nature play & nurture. The video gives staff experience of the forest kindergarten.

Aine & Ross talk about an early session

Olivebank Nature Play2

Staff talk about effect on the childrens use of language

Olivebank Nature Play3

Staff member talks about effect on behaviour

Olivebank Nature Play4

Staff talk about impat of sessions on Olivebabk children and staff

olivebank nature play14

Forest school leaders Autumn Gathering

East Lothian Countryside rangers have been actively supporting the development of Forest school in East Lothian.

A number of rangers have trained as forest school leaders and they play a key role in supporting school based staff in using woodland environments as a learning & development space in a way that is safe and limits the impact on the environment.

Leigh Shearer took the lead in organising a gathering of staff who have trained or are training in forest school approaches. The idea of the gathering was to provide an opportunity for mutual support, learning and networking. The afternoon was a great success and the sun even shined.

Report enclosed

2010 Gathering report

Forest kindergarten

A nature nurture training course starts at the end of this month which will see 18 staff from nurseries and early years centres going on 3 1/2 day training on using the outdoors as a nurturing environment. The training is being provided by Aline Hill a forest school trainer and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher from Edinburgh. The core of the course is a demonstration project being run at Olivebank child and family centre – this will provide an experiential session for the staff undertaking the training.

The Forestry Commission employs a development officer for Forest Kindergarten – Karen Boyd, who would be happy to talk to staff thinking of developing a forest kindergarten. Here is Karen talking about a project in South Lanarkshire. Its a you tube clip so some people might be able to access from a work computeer.

Forest School

The Fast tracking of forest school is one initiative within Support from the Start – over the last year we have commissioned two forest school leader training courses for East Lothian staff that priortised staff in the target are.. The folowing year we hope to train more forest school leaders in partnership with Edinburgh Forest Education initiative, but also to offer training to staff who are supporting forest school leaders – known as level two training and a bespoke training course for nursery staff.

Here is a progress report on Forest School in East Lothian, giving an update on training delivered and equipment and kit purchased.

Forest School in East Lothian (2)

Also a Forest School edubuzz group has been started that may be of interest

Forest school research links

 Over the last year we have been able to deliver two forest school leader training courses for East Lothian staff. The places have been prioritised to staff working in the target communities for Support from the Start. 

The first group of staff that started the training last October are now delivering programmes in East Lothian schools – a minimum six week programme during which they are assessed.

I have encountered the view that forest school is all very well but in a time when we have to prioritise, is it important enough to invest time and effort into developing – usually this view comes with the challenge of wheres the evidence that it contributes to outcomes for health or learning. Well below is a list of research references for those that like their evidence hard and peer reviewed.

Personally I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – go with children into a woodland environment and you will experience how their innate ability to be interested and curious about their world and to learn how it works comes easily to the surface, particularly if the adults with them can resist the temptation to be overly prescriptive and directive .

Maybe the Calvinist ghost in the Scottish psyche frowns on forest school – it sounds too much like fun – and if it is fun it can’t be good for you – can it?.

Summary of Research on Forest School References.

 provided by Aline Hill forest school trainer

 Borradaile, L. 2006 ‘Forest School Scotland: An Evaluation’, Edinburgh: Forestry Commission Scotland$FILE/ForestSchoolfinalreport.pdf

 Davis, B., Rea, T. and Waite, S. 2006 ‘The special nature of the outdoors: Its contribution to the education of children aged 3-11’, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 10(2): 3-12.

Davis, B. and Waite, S. 2005 ‘Forest School: Opportunities and Challenges in Early Years ‘, University of Plymouth

Eastwood, G. and Mitchell, H.2003 ‘An evaluation of the first three years of the Oxfordshire Forest School project’, Oxford: Oxfordshire County Council

 Copy obtained by email from OCC.  Not available on web but copy in the Forest School shared folder.

 Massey, S. 2005 ‘The benefits of Forest School experience for children in their Early Years’: Worcestershire LEA.

Maynard, T. 2003 ‘Forest School Swansea Port Talbot: An Evaluation’, University of Wales Swansea: Unpublished.

Maynard, T. 2007 ‘Forest Schools in Great Britain: An initial exploration’, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 8(4): 320-331.

Murray, R. 2004 ‘Forest Schools project evaluation: A study in Wales ‘, London: New Economics Foundation.

Murray, R. and O’Brien, E. 2005 ‘”Such Enthusiasm – A Joy to See” An Evaluation of Forest School in England’: Forest Research.$FILE/ForestSchoolEnglandReport.pdf

O’Brien, L. and Murray, R. 2007 ‘Forest School and its impacts on young children: Case studies in Britain’, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 6(4): 249-265.

 Swarbrick, N., Eastwood, G. and Tutton, K. 2004 ‘Self-esteem and successful interaction as part of the forest school project’, Support for Learning 19(3): 142-146.

 The two below are experimental studies of the benefits to children’s physical and motor skills form playing in a forest environment

Fjørtoft, I.2001 ‘The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children:The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary School Children’, Early Childhood Education Journal 29(2): 111-117.

Fjørtoft, I.2004 ‘Landscape as Playscape: The Effects of Natural Environments on Children’s Play and Motor Development’, Children, Youth and Environments 14(2): 21-44.

Forest School (the Scandinavian model) is mentioned in this document as particularly promising approach to education outside of the classroom.

House of Commons Education and Skills Committee 2004-2005 ‘Education outside the classroom ‘, London: The Stationary Office.