Forest School and extended outdoor learning
The Forest School ethos & principles:
- Forest school is a long-term process of frequent & regular sessions.
- Forest school takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the children & the natural world.
- Forest school aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent & creative children.
- Forest school offers children the opportunities to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
- Forest school is run by a qualified Forest School Practitioners.
- Forest school uses a range of child-centered processes to create a community for development & learning.
‘Nature deficit disorder’:
A turn of phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book ‘Last child in the woods’. There are a worrying number of facts and figures relating to the current state of our children’s engagement with the natural environment:
- Children’s roaming radius has shrunk by 90% in the last thirty years (this is the distance a child travels from their home without the supervision of an adult).
- Less than 10% of children experience ‘wild play’, compared to 40% a generation ago. Areas that are classed as ‘wild’ are woodland, meadows, wetlands, conservation areas, undeveloped coastland, etc.
- The NHS states that children under 5 should be physically active for at least 3 hours a day. They estimate that 75% of children do not achieve this.
- 1 in 3 children are overweight.
- There has been a 35% increase in children with vitamin D deficiencies.
- 1 in 5 children aged between 0-11 has a medically diagnosed mental health issue.
- There is a direct correlation between the decrease in time children spend outdoors (compared to previous generations), and the increase in mental health conditions.
- Words such as ‘Dandelion’, ‘Conker’ and ‘Nectar’ have been replaced in the Junior Oxford Dictionary with words like ‘Blog’ and ‘Chatroom’. There is a beautiful book called The Lost Words (Robert MacFarlane, 2017) which has illustrated some of the words that have been replaced. There is a current fund-raising campaign to raise enough money to put one copy of this book into every Primary School in Kent.
How does extended access to an outdoor environment support your child’s learning and development?
By providing opportunities for children to experience calculated and managed risks (such as climbing, making fires, cooking, using tools, tackling different types of terrain and weather and problem-solving activities) we are supporting the development of their own risk management skills. It also makes for creative, problem solvers and adults who are adaptable, confident and resilient. Rather than saying “No” to an activity which could pose some level of risk, we encourage children to think about what the risks are, if we can find a solution to reduce the risks, and how to stay safe. This is valuable learning in itself and demonstrates a level of trust in the children’s ability to make safe decisions themselves.
Freedom, space & time:
By providing extended periods of time outdoors, children are provided the time to reach their goals. For some that is navigating a challenging rope assault course between trees, for others it is simply getting through some long grass. The sessions we run have focused elements which involves more adult support, but there is always the choice to partake in free-play activities of their choosing, supporting the child’s confidence in planning and decision making, and allowing the freedom to explore at their own pace. By having regular sessions, the children’s skills can be built upon, so challenges can be retried and pushed further as necessary.
We have been encouraging the children to achieve their goals with as little physical support from us as possible. For example, if a child wants to climb on to a tree stump, we offer them verbal encouragment, and pose open-ended questions to enable them to solve the problem. By allowing them the time to climb the stump by themselves, the end result and learning process is much deeper than if we had just placed them up there. Their proud smile once they achieve it is worth the wait!
Less is more:
“We do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we are educated out of it” - Ken Robinson. In an outdoor environment, the resources we use are more open-ended. Indoors, a toy car is pretty much just a toy car. It can roll, spin, race and rev, but that’s about it. However, outside, a stick is not just a stick. A stick is a wand, a spoon, a den, a tool, a spade, a character, an animal, fuel for the fire, and so much more! Being in an outdoor enviornment surrounded by more natural resources children’s creative thinking skills come alive.
Never the same:
With the variations in weather, temperature, seasons and wildife all around us every session is different, with new learning opportunities arising from a fallen down tree, or noticing how the leaves are beginning to fall or why there is a hole dug into a bank. This creates new questions and experiences which supports a whole host of developmental skills.
Slippy, slidy, squelchy, sticky, wet, chilly, breezy, thundery, swaying, crackling, crunching, howling, smelly, snapping, whistling, whooshing…With the wide range of sensory experiences on offer outdoors, comes a wider range of descriptive language. Being outdoors also encourages bigger questions and enquiries – Where does rain come from? Why do the leaves fall off the trees? How can squirrels jump tree-to- tree? How do badgers keep dry in the rain (the answer – badger umbrellas according to The Kindie Room)? These types of questions are usually ones which fully engage a child and we often notice themes continuing for long periods of time with lots of creative thought and discussion occuring.
Big spaces = big physical opportunities. Outdoors we can climb, swing, balance, build, throw, catch, jump, run, skip, hop, crawl, slide, roll, and on such a bigger scale than any indoor opportunities allow for.
An outdoor environment provides daily problem solving opportunties, whether it is how to get to the bottom of a slope, or how to get our rope swing onto a high up branch. These opportunities support team work, peer collaboration, creative thinking, planning, learning from trial and error and persisting when a challenge arises.
It has been proven that being outside for prolonged periods each day reduces stress levels, improves immunity, reduces illness, improves appetite, and leads to more restful sleeping.
The bigger picture:
By surrounding children in a natural enviroment we are championing environmental stewardship, an awareness of their natural environment, and their social responsibility within their World.
In action at Gorringe!
We have a designated area on the school grounds that we have been developing into our Forest School site. This a natural area where we are able to spend time with nature in our very urban environment. Our site is fully fenced and enclosed, meaning the children are free to explore safely.
In order to stay safe whilst we are off on our adventures we take all necessary precautions, with extensive risk assessments for each individual site, fully stocked first aid kits, phone contact with the School and/or emergency services at all times and extensive kit with all our essentials – spare clothes, food and drink, activity equipment.
The children’s core rules:
- No licking, no picking
- No shaking, no breaking
- Stay inside the boundary lines
- Is it safe?
- Listening ears on
These rules have become part of the beginning of each session to ensure the children are safe at all times. Depending on the age and development of the children we encourage them to make their own simple risk assessment before we begin.
There’s no such thing as bad weather… just bad clothes!
The aim of Forest School is to go out in all weathers. The only exception to this is in storms or high winds (exceeding 31mph) as this poses a strong risk of falling branches, etc when in a wooded environment. As long as the children are provided with appropriate clothing then they are able to be out in rain and snow. The key is to provide plenty of layers and a waterproof outer layer.
Layers can be removed if too hot, but it is difficult to warm up someone once they are cold.
At Gorringe we have waterproofs and wellies that we can provide for all children attending Forest School. Should you wish to send in layer, wellies or waterproofs on your child’s Forest School days this is completely fine too.
However, as well as good clothing we have lots of techniques to stay warm when it’s cold. The number 1 way it to keep moving. We will adapt sessions to involve more walking/physical activities such as climbing, or incorporating more games and action songs when we know it is going to be cold. Being able to ‘survive’ the cold weather is a key factor in developing resilience! We are also able to take warm drinks with us when necessary to warm us up. Having a fire or taking part in some cooking on the fire is always a great way to warm up.
Forest School garden
Great for: Fires, nature watching, problem solving, den building, team work, wild play, rope climbing, rope play, adventure, hide- and-seek.
Linking to the EYFS:
Forest School activities support the learning and development for children across all areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage, in particular the Characteristics of Effective Learning, which we are especially passionate about promoting at Gorringe.
What are the affects we are noticing?
- Improved focus and attention (outside and consequently when the children are back indoors too).
- Risk management and more comprehensive understanding of safety.
- Greater peer collaboration and working together to solve problems.
- Self-initiated peer support – helping each other and demonstrating more empathy towards peers.
- Improved resilience and more focus in seeking challenges.
Finally… A must watch!
‘Kids gone wild’ (Amos Roberts) is a ten-minute film you can access on YouTube, which looks at the outdoor learning environment in Denmark, where outdoor education, especially in Early Years, is a huge part of their every-day life. It’s a good watch, if not slightly shocking to our British way of thinking!