A new sound at Forest School

It's not just the birds who have started singing in our woodlands at Forest School...

The birds are singing, the blossom blooming and little leaves are unfurling at the end of tree branches – spring has arrived and just in time for my group’s last Forest School session before the school holidays.

For the last three months we’ve been coming out into a little woodland nestled between the school and a housing estate, where we’ve played games, built campfires, climbed trees and dug a hole so big you could fit your whole arm down it. Today, the children are using a bow saw to cut wooden discs, which they are decorating and turning into characters. A young boy called Robin and his favourite teddy, Rex the dinosaur, are in the tool area with me, sawing a log. As the bow saw flies through the log with ease, Robin’s disc falls to the floor and everyone watching cheers. “I chopped!” Robin squeals and, clutching both Rex and his wooden disc to his chest, he hurries over to choose some stickers and crayons. All the children have done a great job using the tools this week, but for Robin, taking part in the activity is a particularly big achievement and we adults are all extremely proud of him.

Forest School is a chance for children learn through play and develop skills outside of the classroom in ways that will help them in wider life. Having a go at using a tool, successfully lighting a fire or learning how to identify a beetle can aid children’s development in multiple ways. Whether it’s improving confidence, inspiring creativity, developing empathy for others, increasing resilience, enhancing teamwork skills or something else entirely - each individual gets something different out of taking part. For Robin, Forest School has had a huge impact on not just his confidence but his communication skills too. Forest School has helped Robin to find his voice.

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Succeeding in using the bow saw can give learners a real confidence boost and sense of achievement.

When I started working with this group, Robin was so frightened that he would not even cross the gate into our woodland without his favourite teacher holding his hand. At 6 years old, he had been in the school for two years but he had never uttered a word, instead communicating with others by pointing, nodding or shaking his head.

For the first couple of weeks, Robin was very unsure of the woodland and he did not join in with any activities, instead quietly watching all the other children from his seat on a log. Sometimes others in the group would kindly bring over toys for Robin to play with or invite him to join their games. Initially, he did not touch anything; however, slowly but surely, Robin became more comfortable as the weeks progressed. By the end of the second session, he was happily playing a game with Rex and another teddy. The following week, his teacher did not need to lead him into the woods and he continued the game he had played with the teddies the previous week. Each week, Robin was a little bit surer of himself. When I arrived at school in the 5th week, Robin’s teacher told me the amazing news that Robin had started talking in class – including telling the staff about Forest School. He had told the teacher that he was excited for the next session. That afternoon, Robin (and Rex) explored the woods with the other children, who hid Rex for him to find, and, while we ate our snack round the fire circle, Robin even sang to himself. To say that it made my day would be an understatement.

Robin is just one of many urban children to benefit from Forest School in the North West. Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust has been running its Forest School Project since 2015, connecting urban schools in Manchester and Liverpool with nature and the benefits of learning through outdoor play. It is our aim to create a network of schools that are passionate about forest school and help the children of today to develop into healthy and confident young adults who care about their natural world.

To find out more about the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Forest School Project, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, visit their website: https://www.lancswt.org.uk/forest-school.

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