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A Day in the Woods with Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Forest School Project

Posted: Tuesday 12th December 2017 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

As 2017 draws to a close, so does another year of Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Forest School project, which aims to connect urban children with nature. Thanks to support from players of People's Postcode Lottery, the Trust's Education team have been able to deliver free Forest School sessions to schools in Manchester and Liverpool and train up three staff from each school to become qualified Forest School Leaders.

Forest School helps children in all aspects of their development, whether that’s increasing their knowledge of nature, getting them more active, improving their self-esteem, refining their team work skills and more.

Miss Higgins, a teacher from Blueberry Park Primary in Liverpool, is right in the middle of her Forest School Leadership training with the Trust. Every week, she brings a group of her nursery children to an outdoor classroom nestled in a quiet corner of Springfield Park.

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to join quite a few sessions with this group. In our most recent visit to the woods, we wrapped ourselves in winter coats, put on our wellies, and bundled into the school minibus to head off to Forest School. Every week the children have new experiences and their connection with the outdoors becomes stronger. They’ve made clay animals, searched for wiggly worms, toasted marshmallows over a fire and spent a lot of time getting muddy! This week, the children explored the wood in search for sticks, and used them to make their own stickmen. One little girl in particular was enthralled making her character, and proudly showed off her stickbunny named Ana. As well as this, the children had a lot of fun drawing muddy faces on the ground, and we all had a go at swinging in a hammock. Even Ana had a turn!

Small, achievable tasks and activities like these really help to build children’s confidence at Forest School, as does free play, where the children are able to choose what activity they want to do. By playing with and observing the children, Miss Higgins and all the other adults who’ve attended the session have been able to really get to know these children and understand each individual’s likes and dislikes. This has been particularly beneficial for this group, as they were all chosen to attend Forest School because they struggle to communicate with staff and other children in nursery.

I have noticed the children’s development since the first week I met them. Two months ago, the children were very subdued both on the minibus and during Forest School. They played and joined in with different activities but most couldn’t answer when it came to reflecting on what they had enjoyed most at Forest School and they found it very difficult to share their feelings with the group. On the drive to the park this week, I sat next to two little boys who had been particularly quiet in the early sessions. When I asked them what they had been doing at Forest School recently, both excitedly told me about the day they had a campfire and made s’mores together. They also seemed a lot more confident in the woods, shouting out the rules at the start of the session and chatting and playing nicely with staff and other children.

Miss Higgins told me that both boys’ parents have commented on how much enjoyment their sons are getting out of Forest School. After the day with the campfire, one of the boys told his mum how much fun it was, so they went to the shops to buy ingredients and the family made their own s’mores at home. The other boy meanwhile, was mute in nursery, but has now started to talk. At first this was only at Forest School but he’s recently started speaking back in the classroom too, which is brilliant news.

Even though these children have only been attending Forest School for a couple of months, they already seem more confident and better able to reflect and share their thoughts. Slowly but surely, they are coming out of their shells, thanks to Forest School and the wonderful teachers and Trust staff who work with them.

In January, the Trust will be working with new schools, and while I will miss this year’s children I know that they will still get to experience this form of outdoor education thanks to the Forest School trainees, like Miss Higgins, who will continue our legacy. Hopefully, by the time these children start school their communication skills will have improved even more and they will have a strong connection with the woods and nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.
 

Written by Molly Toal

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