How to make outdoor learning more fun and engaging
Simon Fearnehough from the Hideout House Company explains how to make your Forest Schools sessions more inspiring for students
The philosophy of the increasingly popular Forest Schools initiative within a school setting is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age range through an innovative and long term approach to outdoor learning in a woodland or outdoor environment.
In our increasingly risk-averse world, it also somewhat refreshingly teaches children to value nature and to foster an interest in the outside by taking and evaluating certain risks.
As this programme becomes ever more widespread, we are regularly asked to visit schools where we are shown their outdoor learning area or forest school set-up (usually some woodland or a cluster of trees!) and are quite simply asked: What would you do with this to make it more interesting for the pupils? This is the sort of open brief we love because our creative juices are allowed to flow!
The following are therefore some ideas that your school might also want to consider when deciding upon what to do with your outdoor area:
♦ Fire pits and shelters. This can simply be a basic arrangement of having a fire pit in the middle and encircled by woodland type benching or as is most common, the school wants to provide some sort of shade and shelter as well. We have therefore developed a fire pit shelter which is typically an open-sided octagonal building with a special hole in the roof to allow the smoke fumes to exhaust upwards and out. These shelters also have inter-post benching and are treated with a fire-retardant varnish.
♦ Outdoor Classrooms. At the Hideout House Company, we have supplied many outdoor classrooms to schools but we like to add a bit of creative spice to ours so that the building itself becomes an educational resource as well as somewhere to be taught or seek shelter – over the years we have supplied eco classrooms which feature internal mini dipping ponds, amphitheatre style seating, sedum living roofs, renewable energy systems including wind turbines/solar panels and special electricity-creating dynamo bikes.
♦ Treehouses and pods. A big favourite with the children as they love the feeling of being in somewhere a bit different and special so we have developed a range of treehouses and a new addition to our range is a Hobbit style “pod” with a large circular door and rear window.
♦ Dens. We have developed various products which assist in the den making process. The first is a living wall tipi which has a wire mesh system as the walls. Children can easily then cover these walls in items they find in the forest or woodland or we can supply special climbing planters which over time grow up the sides of the tipi and given time, totally cover it creating the ultimate den.
♦ Nature Watch Shelters. These are very simple shelters which allow children to get up close and personal with nature as they have discreet viewing windows and even come with an RSPB activity kit.
♦ Seating. Sometimes schools simply just want somewhere for the children to sit, study or listen. Depends on the individual setting of course but woodland style rustic benches are very popular or even a unique range of farm yard animal seats which are covered in artificial grass.