As a Reception and Year One teacher I had always been keen to develop the opportunities
for outside learning for a while but felt I was lacking the resources and direction. As soon
as the opportunity to train as a Forest School Leader was opened to the staff I went
straight to the Headteacher and explained all the reasons why I wanted to pursue it.
Within a fortnight I was on my first training session.
I felt very nervous going to my first training session and was worried I would walk in to a
massive group all kitted out and looking like experienced Forest School people. Instead I
was warmly greeted by a small, friendly group of people, consisting of course trainer
Shane and the other two trainees. As soon as we were led to the outside cabin to begin
learning, I knew straight away that this was going to be different to any kind of training I had ever done before… and I was excited.
Throughout my career I had learned it was easier to say “No” when faced with the prospect of any risk where pupils were concerned, both for their safety and to maintain my role as carer and protector as well as educator. I had learned to stick to the theory if children don’t take risks then they can’t get hurt. However, particularly since having my own children, I had begun to feel that I was taking opportunities away from the pupils by telling them to “Put that stick down”,
“Don’t put your hands in that mud” and “Get out of that tree!”. I have noticed that
children are drawn to Nature and the experiences it brings. In a culture of Health and
Safety awareness we have been restricting our children to pre-planned learning
opportunities in safe and predictable environments. Children have an inbuilt fascination
with Nature from birth, as every parent with a toddler knows! A quick walk will always
become an exploration into every stick and leaf they walk past, and each stone and conker
a child collects is a treasure to them. I feel we need to work with this fascination, not
Each week in our training we were introduced to new tools and skills. I remember being
shown the bill hook and wondering if anyone would notice if I ran away! I have never used
any kind of knife except for cooking and I was extremely apprehensive. However the
training we received was so thorough and supportive I felt confident using all of the tools
and it has given me a huge sense of pride. And most importantly, I know that when I come
to teach the children how to whittle etc. I will teach them to do this safely and that they
will experience the same sense of pride and achievement that I felt.
Back at school, one staff meeting was dedicated to course feedback. I am generally more
of a listener than a speaker in meetings, however in this one I offered to speak first. I
spoke for about twenty minutes without realising it and all members of staff were
listening and nodding their heads enthusiastically. They were all sold on the idea of how
Forest School can benefit all children and wanted to know how we would organise each
class to have their own sessions. Everyone commented how unusual it was for me to be so
vocal and how lovely it is to have someone so “passionate” about Forest School leading it,
which has encouraged me even more. I had been feeling the pressure of introducing
something new into the school and was worried I might not be able to get people on board,
especially in KS2, but after the meeting I felt that I had possibly inspired them and that
my enthusiasm was starting to rub off on others. They have nicknamed me ‘Forest School
Lady’ which I’m rather proud of!
The next fear I had to face was fire lighting. During the training sessions we had all found
this challenging and I was so worried that I would fail on the skills day. I am lucky to have
been in an incredibly supportive group for my training and on the day we were all
encouraging each other throughout which helped tremendously. In the truest sense of
Forest School I knew I had to keep trying, and after many failed attempts I finally
managed to light my fire, keep it going and actually cook sausages! I can honestly say that
was one of my proudest moments.
I feel that Forest School gives children opportunities that they don’t necessarily meet
within the classroom environment. It teaches them skills that they would not access as
part of the routine curriculum. There are so many children who feel restricted in the
classroom but thrive in the outside environment and who find their confidence through
their Forest School experience.
I believe that the Forest School experience will give children the chance to grow up as resilient, confident and happy individuals and anything that is good for their self-esteem must be championed. Through my training I have had to face so many fears which has made the process even more rewarding and satisfying. I feel excited at the prospect of giving the children the opportunity to experience the happiness and sense of pride that I have been lucky enough to feel.
I always remember being told as a child that empty acorn shells become a cup for the
fairies to drink out of, and I can still recall the magical feeling that gave me. I want to
pass that magic on and I know that Forest School will help me to do that.