I have been working with children for over 10 years, mainly within the Early Years sector and I can honestly say that after finishing my Forest School training I have never felt so enthusiastic and excited about teaching, and to go to the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I was not ready for my first day back in November last year, it was very cold and damp, but by the end of the week I didn’t want it to end.
Forest Schools is a very successful approach to outdoor learning. The programme’s ethos not only reflects on Early Years practice but is also highly relevant to the National Curriculum. Within Forest Schools there is strong belief that nature and movement is essential to a child’s overall development and wellbeing. They act as powerful tools in helping to develop emotional intelligence that can potentially set up children with life-long learning skills.
I am so lucky to teach the Forest School curriculum at Copthorne Prep, where the facilities are limitless. All the children (from Nursery to Year 4) have regular opportunities for positive, creative hands on learning experiences in our woodland area, where we have acres of land to explore. At our school we aim for Forest School lessons to be filled with fun and to pose a managed risk in a safe environment, building a child’s resilience, as well as their self-confidence and self-esteem.
While we are in the woods, Forest School activities begin with developing the children’s independence and confidence through choosing different workstations, such as making paints with chalk and mud, using a grater and pestle and mortar. We have also introduced a log dog which the children have to find, they tend to name the dog and take it for a walk – all encouraging imaginative play!
We use hand drills, mallets and axes among other tools, all managed by teachers to ensure the children’s safety. We recently made a badger (see below) using a mallet and an axe for the shape of his face and the eyes using a palm drill; the children then used charcoal and chalk to colour him in. At the end of each lesson we come together around the burning fire to reflect on the lesson and I invite a child into the fire circle to help put the fire out. As they are pouring the water on the fire, in the way that they have been shown, they like to tell me how much they enjoy our time in the woods, ask when they can come again and how they particularly liked using the mallet as it made them feel strong!
I still teach inside the Nursery classrooms too, but given half a chance, I find myself helping all the children on with their waterproofs and wellies… and off to the woods we go!
by Sophia Pavlou