Forest School means many things to many people. The Forest School Association defines it as “an inspirational process that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.” (Forest School Association 2020).
It is a specialised learning approach that has the learner at the centre, whatever their age. At Forest School the learners are all seen as equal, unique and valuable, which here at St Paul’s Primary School is central to our ethos too. Forest School promotes child-initiated learning at its best. It creates a world where children are believed to be competent to choose and drive their own learning and development at a pace which is appropriate and meaningful to them. They are freely able to explore and discover whilst learning how to manage appropriate risk and challenge which is vital in their decision-making. The adults are there to support the children, guide if asked, look out for dangers and most importantly celebrate the learning taking place. It creates a positive atmosphere of support where the children learn to become independent in their physical skills and mental thought processes. They learn to trust their own ideas, believe in their capabilities and recognise their own needs. They understand that support comes from trusted adults and friends alike as they are nurtured to develop positive relationships with themselves and other people. Everyone is equal. It is a safe place where they can be themselves or lose themselves and leave day to day stresses behind. Central to all of this is the environment. Children experience the seasons, the wonders of nature, the highs, the lows, life and death. This enables them to build a strong, positive relationship with their natural world helping them to make sense of the wider world.
A Forest School encourages children to:
- develop personal and social skills
- work through practical problems and challenges
- use tools to create, build or manage
- discover how they learn best
- pursue knowledge that interests them
- learn how to manage failures
- build confidence in decision making and evaluating risk
- develop practical skills
- understand the benefits of a balanced and healthy lifestyle
- explore connections between humans, wildlife and the earth
- regularly experience achievement and success
- reflect on learning and experiences
- develop their language and communication skills
- improve physical motor skills
- become more motivated
- improve their concentration skills
- improve their communication
- and explore the world through all the senses available to them
At St Pauls School we offer a broad and balanced curriculum to develop the whole child. Forest School will offer the same broad range of experiences designed to develop the whole child; physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and morally.
We aim to challenge and support the children to become independent resilient learners who enjoy trying out their ideas, working together with their peers to solve problems and conquer challenges. Some of the challenges might include:
Shelter building Using tools
Group games Drama
Rope and string work
Looking closely at wildlife
Cooking on an open fire
Traditional woodland craft
Planting and harvesting
Carving and whittling
Telling and listening to stories
Sculpture with natural materials
Looking after wildlife
Building bug homes
At St Paul’s, Forest School sessions take place within the school grounds. The area includes a small area of woodland, hedgerows, recently planted orchard, and recently planted wild meadow and fire circle.
Forest school sessions at St Paul’s generally follow a common pattern.
- At the start of each session there will be a short input during which children are reminded of the expectations that are in place for forest school and, any new safety
- information is relayed. The theme or focus for the week’s activities is then introduced.
- A short starter activity usually then takes place.
- The main activity follows. Activities are commonly offered that link into the interests of the children wherever possible. Where tools are being used there is a high emphasis on safety. If the activity requires a high ratio of supervision the group may be split.
- ‘Free time’. A key element of the Forest School approach is the opportunity for children to explore a natural environment and pursue their own direction of learning. Therefore in each session an opportunity for children to pursue their own interests is included. Quite often children will continue with the activity they have started or will continue with something that has sparked their interest in a previous session. Although it is ‘free time’ there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of all, which participants soon become familiar with.
- Finally the group is brought together for a period of reflection. This may involve a review of whatever guided activities have taken place or their independent activities. Whilst this is very much a child led activity it may be guided by the Forest School leader when necessary.
Forest School Code of Conduct
Entering the Forest
We will enter the Forest school area respectfully and know that when at Forest School specific expectations are in place. We will explore, investigate, learn and play in a manner that will not damage our Forest environment. We understand that we share our Forest School with plants and animals and that when we are in our Forest School we are sharing the environment with them.
During their first Forest School session children will learn where the physical boundaries for activities are and any no-go zones. Each group will work together to generate some rules for safe and happy learning and children will understand that they are expected to follow them. If you lose sight of a child shout ‘1,2,3, where are you?’ The children have been taught to respond ‘1,2,3, I’m here’ through classroom games that are practised regularly.
Children will be encouraged to use the toilets before a session starts. They may go to the toilets by using the side door at any point if they need to just as they do during outside PE lessons. Younger children will be supervised.
The Fire Circle
A fire circle using log sitting stools may be established around the perimeter of 1.5m left from the fire square. For everyone’s safety, no one is allowed to walk or run inside the fire circle even if there is no fire lit. If anyone wants to move around the circle or change places, they must step out of the circle and walk around the outside. The fire is kept within a fire pit in the centre of the circle. Children may be invited to approach the fire pit for cooking or fire lighting but only under adult supervision. No items must be carried and placed within the fire circle unless by an adult.
A fire can only be lit if our fire safety equipment is present and correct. The Forest School Leader will always take the lead during fire lighting. All helpers will be briefed prior to a fire lighting session to set out protocols. A lit fire will never be left unattended. Open fires will only be lit in raised fire pits.
Picking up and playing with sticks
Wood is collected for fire lighting from the recreation field and wild life area. We look for three different sizes of wood: spaghetti sticks, finger sticks and big sticks. We try to use freshly fallen wood to protect creature habitats. Children can carry sticks shorter than their arm’s length but are encouraged to think about how close they are to other children. Longer sticks may be dragged or carried with the help of another person when each person is at either end. Sticks must not be thrown. Sticks must not be pulled from living tress.
Collecting natural materials
Natural materials are collected for art, sculpture and woodland craft. Children are encouraged to look for the materials themselves but leaders will supervise to check that nothing harmful is gathered. Children are not allowed to eat anything gathered on foraging trips without adult supervision.
Picking up and playing with stones
Stones may be picked up and transported. Children often like to make patterns and pictures with them. Stones may not be thrown. They may be dropped but thought must be given to whether it is safe to do so, i.e. is there anyone beneath where I am dropping it. Stones will be returned back to habitats when complete.
Carrying and Transporting Materials
Children are encouraged to roll, lift, drag and to pull materials, either by using their hands or by using ropes. We encourage safe lifting by bending our knees and keeping our back straight. Safe lifting should always be modelled by adults. Heavier objects should be rolled, lifted or carried by more people working together.(Safe lifting risk assessment)
When investigating the environment, children may carefully move logs or stones to look for insects, taking care not to harm the creatures or destroy their habitat. They can dig under the soil using their fingers or small sticks but they may not use tools to dig deep holes. Deeper digging opportunities will be included in the planting activities.
All tools have their own clear code of conduct for correct use which will include consideration of specific personal protective equipment, correct use of a specific body posture, and consideration of the appropriate types of activity that each tool may be used for. (See tool use guides and risk assessments).
Climbing trees is a good opportunity for children to learn to manage their own risks. They will be shown how to climb safely, checking the ground below for sharp objects, looking for a safe path of ascent and descent, numbers in the same tree and which trees are suitable for climbing. Children are permitted to reach their own limits to a maximum of 1.5 metres. Adults will supervise tree climbing activities and ensure that children are wearing appropriate clothes and shoes. The Forest School leader will assess the trees to check for rotten or broken branches.
Eating and Drinking
Nil by mouth policy for anything found in the Forest, unless this activity has been specifically planned for during the session (e.g. blackberry picking). Children must be reminded not to put their fingers or hands in their mouths or noses. When having drinks and snacks children will use wipes & water to clean their hands before consumption. Food allergies will be noted as part of the risk assessment for the cooking activity.
String, ropes and knots
Children will learn a useful selection of knots for different uses. Adults will supervise activities where ropes are tied to trees for tarps or shelters. Safety tapes will be used if ropes are considered to be in dangerous locations. Children are also shown how to use ropes and string to move or carry materials.
Leaving the Site
We work according to the ethos ‘leave no trace’ that we were in the forest as much as is reasonably possible. Shelters should be taken down, imported materials need to be removed. Very occasionally large items may be left between sessions. All rubbish and toileting items will always be removed. If artefacts have been found or made these may be taken off the site with the consent of an adult.