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  • Jerry Linehan

Forest School and its benefits for Olive Tree School.

Forests are as inspirational for children as they are important for the future of the planet. Who doesn’t have some happy childhood memories of playing in the forest? Forest School trained practitioners take the natural magic of the forest to inspire and challenge children.

The mission of Forest School is to open a door to a new world where children can develop a love of nature and develop essential life skills that will make them the adults of the future we know and wish them to be.

How does it work? you ask. Good question!

It is really eye opening how just the change of environment from the confines of a traditional classroom to the open and exciting space of a natural area can have such amazing effects on a child's behavior and attitude. In my time as a Forest School practitioner I have witnessed children take to the change of physical learning environment and use it to help them explore new aspects of their own personalities.

In Forest School you can see some of the quietest and shyest children flourish and express themselves in new ways you couldn't imagine. You can watch in amazement as some of the most energetic and boisterous children assume a new sense of maturity or quiet introspection. This is, in part, due to the freedom that is to be found in the Forest. Forest school gives children the space, time and opportunity to explore a new world within the trees and new worlds within themselves. Sam, a parent of a year 4 boy, agrees and says that the mix of activities demanding varied and dynamic group work really helped her son. She tells us that her child often “finds it difficult to work in a team” and tends to be a little more introverted.

The Forest School ethos is centered around making children aware of their limitations (physical, personal and cognitive) and setting challenges that give them the opportunity and belief to overcome and surpass these limitations. This philosophy and approach is what helps us become stronger and more confident, resilient people.

This ethos is why Forest school works so well with the children in Olive Tree School. Olive Tree School and Forest School share consistent principles of holistic and child led learning with an emphasis on emotional development. These are principles which run right through the curriculum at The Olive Tree and are brought to life in the Forest.

Olive Tree School is fortunate to have a perfect location adjacent which means that Forest School works in parallel with what goes on in the classroom. Each primary year in Olive Tree School gets the chance to spend one half term enjoying and benefiting from the Forest School program. We spend an afternoon a week immersed in the forest, fun and learning. Children learn practical skills like tying knots, using tools and building shelters as well as developing their interpersonal skills and emotional well being. Forest School brings classroom learning to life. Whether it be understanding what it is really like to live like prehistoric people, see how our wildlife grows, or use our knowledge of physics to work out how to build a freestanding structure only with materials found in the forest.

The benefits of Forest School can be seen right across Olive Tree School. A side from the obvious fun and dynamic learning happening in the forest, Marie, a year 1 teacher at Olive Tree School, maintains that it “strengthens relationships in the class”. Forest School tasks and challenges require real communication and cooperation and this results in children interacting with each other in ways we don't often see. Solving problems that test us both physically and cognitively can bring out the best in us and instill a desire to work together and share in the sense of achievement. This is just one of the reasons children at Olive Tree School love Forest School. Clare, a year 4 teacher, tells us that “freedom of independence” in Forest School helps their confidence grow. A sense of freedom to move around in the forest, work and create with their friends and classmates, discover new things about nature and themselves is why the children at Olive Tree School “ask everyday ‘are we going to the forest today?’”.

The Forest is a world of adventure and exploration in which, just like our surroundings, we grow and change with the seasons. Olive Tree School, in bringing Forest School to its children, have unlocked the door this magical new world. A door these children will never again close.


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