National Lottery Funding helps Open Trail cascade the benefits of Forest School to more children
“It’s been invaluable for this group. I’ve seen them do and achieve things that I never would have imagined. Then to see Sophie work together with everyone else, it’s brought tears to my eyes… she usual struggles to make friends”. Teacher, Bromley Hills Primary
“It was wonderful to see the children exploring nature, having a go and working well as a team. Less confident children came alive during these sessions. Fire lighting and whittling were new experiences and the children persevered, developing new confidence and had lots of fun in a safe, happy environment. Very well led, definitely want to book again”. Teacher, Amblecote Primary School
This year Open Trail is over the moon to be supported by National Lottery Awards for All! Their funding is helping us deliver a project that we have always wanted to deliver; to provide Forest School, as out of school activities, to schools and community groups that do not receive it yet.
5 months in and it’s been an incredibly busy time! Our Forest School leaders have been busy delivering sessions at establishments all over Wyre Forest, Dudley and Sandwell Boroughs:
- Amblecote Primary School, Stourbridge
- Bromley Hills Primary School, Kingswinford
- Comberton Primary School, Kidderminster
- Deerhurst Nursery, Kidderminster
- King Charles Secondary School, Kidderminster
- St Paul’s Primary School, Tipton
We have delivered sessions to groups of 8-16 children as part of 6-8 week courses. Focusing on underprivileged children/young people, those from low income families, children who need support building their self-esteem, confidence, social skills, team working skills, or who would not get to experience such activities.
The benefits of forest school are huge
“They’ve all loved it, the older ones were reluctant to try new things at first but every day I hear ‘when is it Forest School again?’ They love to be outside, and I love to see them develop as young people and show me what they are proud of”Member of staff
“Forest School is the best I want to do it every day!”The children
“Forest School is the only place where I feel I can be myself”
“Everything we’ve done has been great like making our own fires, building dens, climbing trees, using the knives and saws and that really cool tree swing”
“I can be creative and free… I never have another chance to be like this”
At Amblecote Primary School we supported twelve year 2 pupils (age 6-7) as part of an after school club. They have participated in various activities including fire lighting, cooking over an open fire, tying knots and making dens, mini-beast hunting and identification, pond dipping, use of tools such as knives, making bird feeders, and nature crowns.
The group were initially described as ‘challenging’. It was obvious in the first session that there were a few characters but they were all very pleasant. Over the six weeks all pupils found their niche and the only challenge was to provide them with more exciting sessions.
After the series of sessions all children were recorded to have shown improvements in their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, ability to interact with other pupils. Some who struggled to listen and follow instructions no longer struggle to do so. They demonstrated a great willingness to try new things and have a go even if they may get it wrong. All have shown greater curiosity in the world around them, happily asking questions.
At Bromley Hills Primary School we supported twelve pupils in a mixed-age (5-11year olds) after-school club. They have participated in various activities including fire lighting, cooking on an open fire, building dens, mini-beast hunting and identification, exploring water flow, making mud pies, splashing in puddles, played searching games, team games, blindfold activities, obstacle courses, used tools such as saws, hammers and drills. They also played lots of games that only they can understand!
Over the course of the 6 weeks they have shown increased confidence in exploring their environment and working together as a team. They have often chosen to work with children that they would not usually work with. They have shown pride in their achievements and have become happier to try new things. When the adult-led activities stopped, and they wanted to continue with them, they demonstrated the ability to work as a team, the independence and leadership to continue with it without assistance. They have demonstrated good understanding and use of specialist equipment such as flint and steel, bushcraft knives, saws.
At Comberton Primary School the reception children benefited greatly from their after-school club. They participated in various activities including fire lighting, cooking on an open fire, building dens, mini-beast hunting and identification, exploring water flow, making mud pies, splashing in puddles, played searching games, team games, blindfold activities, obstacle courses, learning different names and types of tree, used tools such as saws, hammers and drills.
The benefits of forest school really showed, and over the 6 week course the group showed a great interest in the natural world around them; asking what trees we had and why they were different. They were keen to learn lots of specialist skills like how to use the flint and steel themselves and the bushcraft knives. They were very brave and creative in the games they chose to play such as making tree swings and even their own zipline! The more confident, and outspoken children learned to support the less confident ones. The quitter children became more confident to voice their opinion and negotiate with other members of the group. They have also shown a growth in emotional resilience as they leaned to persevere with hard tasks such as lighting a fire, and to keep trying after lots of struggles.
At Deerhurst Day Nursery, we have participated in various activities including fire lighting, cooking on an open fire, building dens, mini-beast hunting and identification, exploring water flow, making mud pies, splashing in puddles, played searching games, team games, obstacle courses, used tools such as saws, hammers and drills.
At the beginning of the sessions the pupils were quiet and unsure of what was going to happen. Over the course of the 6 weeks they have:
- shown increased confidence in exploring their environment and working together
- showed good understanding of how to keep safe around fire and with tools
- used very good imaginations in their water and mud play, and even made boats instead of dens during a suggested den building activity
- embraced the adult-led games and child-led free play with enthusiasm
- developed a positive relationship with a new and much less familiar activity leader in the school.
These youngsters grew in confidence throughout their experience and took ownership of their Forest School session; saying what activities they wanted to do, showing each other how to succeed in certain activities, working together to achieve mutual goals and had lots of fun! They learned how to focus their attention on one thing, work hard to overcome challenges such as tying knots and to be patient with other people.
King Charles I Secondary School, as far as we are aware is the first secondary school in the area to have Forest School on their own site. It is a shame that it is not more widely applied at secondary schools as we found it to be highly beneficial to the older pupils. The young people in year 7,8, 9 and 10 that attended Forest School showed great growth and development, a chance to express themselves be that to let off some steam, show off their talents that do not get a chance to shine in the classroom, or to sit around the fire having a meaningful conversation about life’s problems and challenges.
The pupils said:
“I love Forest School, I have to do it next year, it’s got me doing new things I didn’t think I could do”.
“It lets me talk about what’s going on in life”.
“I feel comfortable out here, I can try things and not get laughed at”.
“There’s less restriction on just being me”.
“I have new team skills I didn’t have before”.
“I feel proud of what I do here”.
“I think I appreciate the outdoors more, I want to see more”.
“I de-stress, think about stuff, it’s like that ‘being present’ stuff that people talk about”
“Forest School is the only lesson where I feel I can be myself”.
On the whole the course has provided development in building relationships, working as a team, working with people you would not usually work with but without being forced to, communication, confidence, ability to try new things, pushing comfort zones. The setting also helped the young people to relax and develop a feeling of presence. They have learnt how to make fire, how to cook outside, how to use knives and other bushcraft tools.
Numerous fantastic case studies and examples of the benefits of Forest School have been found from our work at King Charles I School (too many to mention here!). One in particular: a young man who was at risk of being excluded from school and was very troublesome in the first session. He learnt that the boundaries in Forest School are more relaxed than in standard education settings and he showed appreciation and respect for this. He showed leadership in building the first tree swing, taught others how to do it, and took great pride in everything he created. His abilities to work with others, his patience and natural outdoor skills allowed him to demonstrate what a great young man he is.
At St Pauls Academy the majority of pupils showed a lack of self-esteem, resilience and perseverance; they gave up on things very easily. Over the 8 weeks they learnt how to safely light fires, how to cook on an open fire, use tools such as knives, saws and drills to make items such as keyrings and whistles. Tie knots so that they could construct their own dens, participated in ice breaker and parachute activities, did scavenger and mini beast hunts. They also participated in various craft activities creating bird feeders, dream catchers, clay hedgehogs, and woodland faces; plus many more activities.
Over the 8 weeks we found that pupils had developed their self- confidence and with this, in many cases, also their self-esteem. Activities that 8 weeks ago they would have found hard by the end they were managing to consistently achieve. For example, when I introduced fire 2 young ladies in particular were very scared of the situation, but 8 weeks later were not afraid of fire and developed the confidence and competence to make their own fires with flint-and-steel. Throughout the 8 weeks they learnt to be more resilient to failure, to try again and their self-confidence had improved so much that they were willing to have a go at any activity shown to them, and even help other children succeed at the activities. Those who were over confident at the start of the sessions and were unable to fully listen to instructions had also improved these skills so that they were able to participate in more activities. They also found that through listening they could achieve a lot more and safely.
Alongside delivery we have also developed new Forest School sites at each location. This has meant a forgotten area of the school is now being used to full advantage by members of the community. We held 4 community days where parents, relatives and members of the community could come in and help remove brambles, build bug hotels, cut off unwanted branches, clean out ponds and make the space useful again. Those that volunteered said that they all enjoyed helping and cannot wait to see the results of the project. They think it is great that National Lottery are supporting small charities and giving back to local projects that are going to have a really big impact on the children.
Since working at schools providing Forest School, schools have also been interested in the cycle coaching that we also offer and we may be able to help with this next year.