Here at St Mary’s we are lucky to have weekly Forest School sessions for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes run by myself, Mrs McInnes (Level 3 qualified Forest School leader and Year 5 class teacher). I am passionate about children and their learning. I have seen in my 10 years as a teacher how much they enjoy learning outside and how much they gain from the experience. I have observed children of varying abilities and backgrounds thrive in the outdoor environment which allows them to take risks in a safe environment, explore in a free and independent way, use their creativity and imagination whilst also developing their communication skills and physical strength.
Forest School is shown to have gains in the following (taken from An Evaluation of Forest School in England report by Murray and O'Brien 2006):
This is characterised by self-confidence and self-belief that come from the children having the freedom, time and space, to learn, grown and demonstrate independence.
The children demonstrate an increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on other people, peers and adults, and acquired a better ability to work co-operatively with others.
Language and communication
The children develop more sophisticated uses of both written and spoken language prompted by their visual and sensory experiences at Forest School.
Motivation and concentration
This is characterised by a keenness to participate in exploratory learning and play activities as well as the ability to focus on specific tasks for extended periods of time.
The children develop physical stamina and their gross motor skills through free and easy movement round the Forest School site. They develop fine motor skills by making objects and structures.
Knowledge and understanding
Increased respect for the environment is developed as well as an interest in their natural surroundings. Observational improvements can be noted as the children started to identify flora and fauna.
The teachers and practitioners gain a new perspective and understanding of the children as they observe them in a very different setting and are able to identify their individual learning styles.
Ripple effects beyond Forest School
The children bring their experience home and more likely to ask their parents to take them outdoors at the weekend or in the school holidays. Parent’s interest and attitude towards Forest School can change as they see the impact on their children.
Added to this, there are huge benefits of being outside in a natural environment:
Being outside in a natural environment has been shown to relieve stress by reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the brain. Children are increasingly assaulted by stressful environments (media, increasing emphasis on targets and testing, screen time, ever busier urban environments), being out in the woods gives them a much needed time to relax, enjoy themselves and have some stress free time.
Connection to nature
Children are increasingly being kept indoors, even before we were in the grips of a pandemic. A recent National Trust survey suggests that children are spending half the time outside that their parents did as children. As a result, they are missing out on the opportunity to get out and connect with nature on a personal level. Forest school gives them the time and opportunity to do that. Connecting with nature will allow our future generations to understand and value the natural world.
All of this is very much in line with OFSTED's current focus on the development of pupils as a whole and the importance of their health and wellbeing. Particularly given the current global pandemic which has undoubtedly affected children’s mental and physical wellbeing over the last year, meaning that getting outside and connecting with nature has become even more important than ever before. Let’s not forget that we are also in the midst of an environmental crisis and need to nurture more respect for the natural world and the animals and humans that live in it. Respect for nature and living things is at the core of the Forest school ethos as well as a large part of life at St Mary’s as a whole.