At Ashfield Infant and Nursery School we follow the National Curriculum (2014). We have chosen to include several additional schemes which we are passionate about in helping the children in our care with their journey through life. This includes Forest School. Forest School is now as much a part of our curriculum as writing, science and PE. It began in 2017 when Mrs Charlwood moved to her new role in school as Forest School Leader. It is an all year round, integral part of the curriculum. Our experienced team of educators have long known that a child’s self-belief, emotional intelligence, confidence, problem solving skills, enthusiasm and health – both physical and mental, can be improved through their experiences outdoors. This is continually being proven in research projects around the world.
Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. It is a child led approach to learning which is fun and unhurried. There are six main principles to Forest School: Long term, Setting, Challenge, Outcomes, Training and Pedagogy. These principles are the ethos from which Forest School is based.
Forest School is a long term process. Children participate in Forest School sessions over an extended period of time; there is a greater depth of learning and development both emotionally, socially and physically. All year round children are coming into contact with nature and using all their senses. Forest School is not the same as ‘school in the forest’. It is a learning process that builds up over time. The interaction between children and the natural environment has a lasting impact on our children both emotionally, physically and socially.
The setting is an important part of the learning process. The relationship that the child makes with the natural environment is one that is built upon daily or with every Forest School session. By allowing our children the freedom to explore and develop these relationships with nature, Forest School sessions act as a spring board to their future development and relationships.
Our activities are designed to challenge children – yet still be achievable – so that children are able to stretch their skills and build their confidence with deeper level thinking. We take calculated risks and encourage our children to push themselves into something they have not tried before, e.g. climbing a tree, lighting a fire, explaining why they have chosen a particular tree as their favourite in the woods. We aim to make our children more resilient to events that do not occur in the way the way they first imagined they would.
The outcomes of our Forest School sessions are varied and evolving. An outcome is not defined by a finished product but what the overall achievement needs to be. One of the main principles of these outcomes is children’s mental health. More and more in today’s media we hear about our children’s mental health declining. Much research points towards too much ‘screen time’ and a lack of playing outside. Forest School sessions at Ashfield Infant and Nursery school are year round. Forest School is as integral to the curriculum timetabling as PE or Science. Forest School sessions aim to increase self confidence and self esteem. We look to increase the symbiotic relationship of child and nature. Through a variety of activities, children learn to work on their own and with their peers, building up stronger relationships, team work and leadership. We like to challenge our pupils in a safe and structured environment. There may be times when calculated risks are taken that do not normally happen in the classroom, e.g. climbing trees, lighting fires, carrying long tree branches.
Mrs Charlwood is our Level 3 trained Forest School leader. As well as being an experienced teacher, she has for many years worked with children in the outdoors through her other roles past and present. Reflective practise is a key part of a being a Forest School leader. As with classroom teaching, working with young children in nature is constantly evolving and we are frequently adapting sessions to meet the needs and interests of our pupils. All members of our school team are first aid qualified. EYFS staff have paediatric first aid training. Mrs Charlwood is also specifically trained for first aid in the outdoors.
A learner-centred pedagogical approach is key to our Forest School sessions. Standing back and observing is just as important as being involved in the children’s experiences. Sessions are carefully planned but can also change in an instant to meet the interests and needs of the group. At Ashfield Infant and Nursery School, we believe that children learn best when they are engaged in active learning, possibility thinking and exploring: “What can I do with this?” and “How can I achieve that?” Our school motto is ‘Ashfield Infant and Nursery School – An incredible journey’; we believe Forest School sessions enrich our pupils’ learning journey, providing invaluable opportunities to nurture their social, physical and emotional states.
Forest School aims to promote children’s holistic development, emphasing the importance of their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing, particularly with the age range we teach at our school. The role of the Forest School leader and other adults is more about being a facilitator than a teacher. A selection of open ended activities are planned and implemented, whereby children are encouraged to take their learning in their own direction.
Adults try to ask more open than closed questions. Closed questions limit a child’s answer to one or two words; whereas open questions allow them to think about their answers more, to give explanations and go into greater detail. For example, instead of asking ‘Do you like your magic wand?’ ask ‘What do you like about your magic wand?
Children are actively encouraged to be creative, to consider a problem and possible solutions. They are given time to express their opinions and thoughts. Adult volunteers and school staff carry notebooks to record their observations of the children’s actions, contributions and processes.
Regularly throughout the school year, all children from every class will take part in Forest School sessions led by Mrs Charlwood, who is both an experienced teacher and a trained Forest School leader.
As with PE, Forest School will require parents and carers to supply clothing suitable to the environment and activities. Staying warm and dry will make all the difference to your child’s experience of Forest School. Your child will need removable layers, as getting active at Forest School means everyone warms up quickly. Children must always wear long sleeved tops and long trousers, even in summer, to protect arms and legs from the undergrowth. We ask that each child brings a pair of wellies to be kept at school. Please make sure your child’s name is clearly written inside, or on the sole, of both wellies. Each child will also need a waterproof jacket and pair of waterproof trousers or a waterproof onesie style suit. During the colder months, pupils will also need gloves, hat, scarf and extra pairs of warm socks. When it gets very cold, we will provide a hot drink and snack to help your child keep warm.
Forest School is about exploring and experiencing the natural world through practical activities. The children will go outside in all weathers (except thunderstorms and high winds), all year round, exploring and learning from the seasonal environmental changes. Please help your child be prepared by supplying them with weather-appropriate clothing, as described above, which is clearly labelled with their name.
We are always very grateful for any spare wellies or waterproof clothing that you would like to donate to school if your child grows out of them.
Forest School at Ashfield Infant and Nursery School is about taking calculated risks. For example, rather than instruct a child who is climbing a tree to immediately get down, an adult will supervise the activity in a supportive manner yet without specifically directing the child in what to do. The child is permitted to work out for him/herself how to safely climb a tree through trial and error. Experiencing a branch bending under your weight helps to develop an understanding of personal and environmental strengths and weaknesses. The child can go on to succeed in so many ways: perhaps conquering a fear of heights, accepting a leadership role by instructing peers in effective den building.
Pupils will also be taught how to use woodland tools and skills such as fire building, whittling and sawing wood. Thorough risk assessments are written and overseen by the Headteacher and Health and Safety Governor. Using tools and woodland skills will be taught under close supervision by the Forest School Leader with assistance from school staff.
[Please rest assured that your child’s safety is paramount and risk assessments are carefully written for our sessions.]
Changing into waterproof clothing, wellies, etc and walking to the forest reduces the amount of time available for Forest School activities. Therefore, we are happy for the children who have a morning session to come to school already wearing their Forest School clothes; they can change into their uniform afterwards. We strongly encourage the children to go to the toilet before we leave school and again when we return. We have found that this works for most children; however, if a child does need the toilet while in the woods, we will assess which is better – ‘wild’ toileting or taking him/her to the toilet in school.
The forest grounds and woodland are safe, secure environments. All adults, staff and volunteers must read the Risk Assessment and Code of Conduct leaflet before each session and adhere to the guidelines. Incidents such as ‘lost child’ or ‘staff illnesses’ are covered in the risk assessment. School staff may carry their mobile phones for emergency use. If an incident occurs at the forest while we are on site, the incident will be assessed by the Forest School leader and pupils’ safety will be paramount when addressing the incident.
Pupils will learn to safely use a variety of tools in Forest Schools. These tools, all of which are covered in our risk assessment, include: potato peelers for whittling, flint and steel for lighting a fire, loppers, bow saws and hammers. When using certain tools, pupils wear protective gloves on the hand holding the wood.
For fire building there is a bucket of water nearby, in addition to the first aid kit that is always carried. Children are closely supervised in small groups when learning about fire building. They are instructed to walk around the fire circle not across it, even when it is unlit. Hair is tied back and loose, dangly articles of clothing, e.g. scarves, are removed before coming near the fire circle.
Children will also learn about cooking on a campfire and how to use a Dutch oven. Pupils will be taught how to use them safely and instructed to use gloves when feeding wood to the fire. Pupils will not be allowed to take the Dutch oven off the fire as it is too heavy for them.
Forest School sessions are intended to happen all year round and in all weather. Exploring nature throughout the seasons is important. Helping children prepare for the weather conditions is crucial for their safety, comfort and enjoyment of Forest School; they will need to have clothing appropriate for the weather conditions. The weather will be closely monitored, and if it is inadvisable for our children to venture to the forest site, then we will stay in our school grounds. As stated in our risk assessment, if the weather turns for the worse while we are at the Forest School site, then we will either return to our school immediately or take shelter at the school until it is safe to return.