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Taking learning outdoors

Farlington School runs a Forest School to help students engage with the natural world

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 19, 2016 | Sustainability

Farlington School has run a Forest School programme in the Pre-Prep classes since 2013, making great use of its spectacular grounds. Forest School is an innovative way to develop personal, social and technical learning in a woodland environment.

Outdoor learning is a way of stimulating a child’s innate curiosity and providing a learning environment that stimulates and utilises the senses of touch, hearing, sight and smell. It is about connecting with the natural world and learning to manage risk. As society becomes more protective of, Forest School provides situations where children can use tools to whittle wood or spark a fire, letting them learn to take measured risks.

Forest School can make significant contributions to literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing. Topics are cross-curricular and broad in subject. In literacy there are opportunities to engage with different texts such as ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’; in numeracy, challenges are set such as collecting a certain number and type of items, or making fire sticks of an ‘elbow to finger’ length. Encouraging curiosity and exploration with all of the senses - although tasting has to be extremely closely controlled - is a way of engaging children outside of the classroom.

Forest School at Farlington

Claire Hunting, the Forest School leader, says: “The children love their Forest School sessions, whatever the weather. It is an inspirational process that offers children regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. In the early sessions we plan for every child, but we then let the children take the lead. It’s really important that they learn to develop empathy for the group and take self-calculated risks.

“The fire circle is a key part of the Forest School programme. The girls learn the rules that govern it: how to enter and leave the circle, as well as learning to build and spark a fire. This establishes the boundaries of the working area and a respect for surroundings.

“The girls make dens, learning to work in teams and to think of others. One exercise has children in pairs; one has to wear a blindfold while the sighted partner leads the other to a tree. By touch alone, the child has to analyse the size and texture of the tree, so that they can find it again once the blindfold has been removed.”

Pupils build bug houses and learn about weather and the seasons. They particularly enjoyed the kite flying science challenge. By playing in the mud kitchen, for example, children’s self-esteem and self-confidence build as they use role play and learn to play in small groups. The Forest School initiative has had a positive impact on the children’s learning at Farlington and the pre-prep girls thoroughly enjoy their weekly sessions.

Frances Mwale, Farlington Prep Headmistress, says: “I am always amazed when small children squeal at spiders or look repulsed by slugs. Without spiders and slugs we might be awash with flies: far worse, if you ask me. Exposure to the wonderful world that is around us is so important and the Forest School programme doesn’t just expose our pupils to the elements, whatever the weather, it also seizes every opportunity to validate learning in the outdoors.”

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