This is a guest-blog written by Loretta Hourigan, author of From Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks: Creating a Path to Happier, Healthier Children. This article was originally printed in the magazine ‘Independent Schools’ in August 2015.
“A Student led approach to learning in the great Outdoors”
Forest Schools are sweeping through the UK and despite the notion that the concept is relatively new; this type of Outdoor Learning pre dates back to the 1800’s where in Scandinavia ‘friluftsliv’ (free air life) remains a childhood staple.
Forest Schools offer children the opportunity to take part in regular outdoor sessions, often in all weathers in a woodland environment where leaders act as facilitators rather than teachers. A broad range of skills are developed; problem solving, conflict resolution, confidence and communication. Crucially Forest Schools differ from other organisations in their awareness that children need to attend regular sessions of Outdoor Learning over an extended period of time in order to reap the benefits. An evaluation by Liz O’Brien & Richard Murray support this theory, stating “a number of children took a long time to become familiar and confident with Forest Schools”.
The evaluation found that parent’s attitudes to the outdoors changed over time, including how they perceived risks in an outdoor setting (making fires, using sharp tools, climbing trees.) Rather than excluding or avoiding risks, at Forest Schools risks are managed. Far from traditional lesson planning; most activities evolve from the spark of interest a child demonstrates in a particular task and around which future sessions are planned. This leads to engaging experiences meaningful to the children.
James Kendall, an experienced Forest Schools leader set up Woodland Classroom in 2013 with Lea Wakeman; both have seen children who struggle to perform within a traditional educational setting thrive in the woodland classroom. I would highly recommend the video on their website which answers the question “What is Forest Schools’ succinctly. (You can find that video HERE)
James explained how one of the key features of every Forest School session is to gather around the fire circle. “Firstly, in a circle everyone is equal. Ideas can be readily passed around; games and activities all work well in a circular setting. Minus the constraints of four walls; children’s confidence increases alongside their freedom to roam further away, the fire provides the ideal base to return to.”
Forest Schools don’t quantify success through standardised testing; how therefore can we be confident that spending time outdoors really does benefit our children? Apart from numerous studies on the subject, a simple way is to reflect on how you felt when you played outdoors as a child.
My own memories of jumping through long grass and hiding beneath the cool boughs of the weeping willow provided much of the inspiration for my children’s book ‘The Adventures of Cameron Carter, Knight in the Forest’ where a young boy sets out on a series of outdoor challenges following the discovery of a tent in his garden.
Sessions are available from qualified Forest School leaders using a suitable green space in your school; alternatively at an established external location. Children learn and develop through outdoor play and with many links to the National Curriculum; Forest Schools are engaging both children and adults alike.
You can find out more about Loretta and her work at lorettahourigan.com
Find her on Twitter @LorettaHourigan