Forest Schools and their like embrace opportunities offered by the outdoors to extend learning and play beyond the classroom door. At Vinehall our wonderful grounds inspire learning across the curriculum, encouraging children to become more aware of and engage joyfully with the natural environment throughout the seasons in an exciting and creative adventure.
The outdoors is a wonderful antidote to the demands of our modern life and helps to connect our generation of children with the pleasures of the natural world. Used well Forest Schools are one way of offering a structured approach to using the outside, engaging children in a different way and providing a safe way of exploring the ‘wild’.
Parents should be urged to look beyond glossy Forest School marketing to find out more about what happens in practice; there are plenty of ways to promote children’s well-being through the outdoors, encouraging happy and healthy children. We are enormously fortunate in being situated in glorious grounds – but any school can make the most of the environment around them. We ended our summer term by bringing families together, smoking a wild salmon over the camp fire and participating in a competitive den building evening. Great fun was had by all!
The outdoors provides an opportunity to bring the curriculum alive and to explore the potential of the (free!) natural materials around us. Imaginative activities can be woven into the curriculum which engage all children regardless of age. For example, our Nursery have created fairy gardens and made potions, as well as enjoyed a bear hunt (or two) in the woods. Reception classes have discovered who laid the egg in the forest (it was a dinosaur!), noticed seasonal changes and been able to embed their mathematical skills using twigs to compare and measure.
Some of the children’s activities link to storytelling, such as building bridges in a team for the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Older children have pretended to be ‘hunter gatherers’, linking with their history topic, collecting fruits and berries to cook over the camp fire. Camp fire activities are wonderful, not just for enriching topics, but for promoting safety and for bringing together the ages. We have all enjoyed cooking marshmallows and singing around the fire, picnics and treasure hunts, gardening, sport, pond-dipping, parachute games and so much more.
Outdoor learning engages the children’s interest and encourages hands-on investigation and observation to promote learning at a deep level, even if it gets messy. It provides an opportunity to promote important life-skills including building resilience, confidence, independence, risk-taking and collaborative learning.
Qualities such as open-ended problem solving, have-a-go attitudes and a space in which to trial ideas without worrying about making mistakes, are all valuable formative experiences for our children’s future lives.
Staff are encouraged to be creative when delivering learning opportunities; they weave in activities to cover set objectives while engaging the children’s interest and developing important life-skills and knowledge.
If we can nurture a sense of wonder and encourage our children to appreciate the natural world around them, as future leaders at any level they will have a heightened awareness and empathy for our special, yet vulnerable planet. Therefore the outdoors has the potential to support a holistic learning and global change.