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Learning Through Outdoor Play

Written by George Fisher

This summer, I was lucky enough to start my Forest Schools Leader training. I run a nature club for my children’s school, Braithwaite Primary, on a Friday afternoon and am always looking for new ways for the children to engage with nature. The school has an ethos of outdoor learning and was successful in securing funding to develop a Forest School area in the grounds and put some of the teachers (and me) through the Forest Schools training this summer

To be honest, before my training I thought Forest Schools was just playing in the woods and lighting fires, but it’s so much more - as I discovered in my week in the woods!

Forest School is child led and allows the group to learn in a very experiential way. It teaches social skills, communication, sharing, kindness, maths, literacy, drama and engineering - all through being in the woods.

Nine teachers and I rocked up on the Monday morning, not knowing quite what to expect. Simon, our instructor, was a straight-talking Yorkshireman and soon had us working together in groups to get to know each other.

The wonderful thing about this training is that we learned through experiencing all the activities ourselves, then discussing and analysing the benefits. As the learning is child or person led, we were able to make choices ourselves, which felt very empowering. Imagine how it would feel for the children!

''I learned so much about myself, my teammates, about how children learn''

Days 1 & 2 saw us learning knots and introduced us to tools; we chopped down a small tree and learned sawing and splitting skills with bowsaws and bill hooks. Through this we engaged our communication and social skills; trust, spatial awareness and appropriate eye contact. From the wood we made mallets and pegs to build our shelters the following day.

The pyromaniac in me felt very excited when we moved onto fire lighting. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and there was plenty of dry wood; I doubt I will be so successful on a wet and stormy day! As not all of us could have a drink from the Kelly Kettle at once, we learned negotiation skills (who would go first): patience and compromise, all from a kettle!

Everything was brought together at the end when we got to practice all our skills in our own way, allowing us to make decisions, empower us to take responsibility and work together as a group, pairs or individually. We had a choice! We worked together to put up shelters, light fires, cook some delicious food and we even made stools to sit on.

The training was absolutely brilliant, profound and insightful. I learned so much about myself, my teammates, about how children learn and how we can adapt forest school sessions to allow them the freedom to choose.

I still have a portfolio and assessment to complete next June before I am qualified, but I can’t wait to start working with the children and observing the differences that it can make.

I am so pleased that my children will get the opportunity to learn outdoors in an experiential way, to gain physical and emotional confidence and hopefully become well rounded and happy young people. In this day and age where iPhones and tablets are the norm, it is so important to have some time out in nature, exploring, playing and just being - not only for children, but for grown-ups as well!

Words Jen Grange 

Photos Becx Carter