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Group-wide Outdoor Learning Initiatives

Posted on: 07 Nov 2013

The benefits derived from outdoor learning have become more apparent in recent years, with teachers witnessing first-hand how the inclusion of outdoor initiatives to the curriculum can help children develop a positive relationship with all areas of their learning.

It is widely accepted that allowing children to take part in meaningful real-world learning outside of the classroom, not only helps to keep them physically active but also develops their confidence and self-esteem, as they are able to enjoy stimulating challenges whilst exploring their natural surroundings for themselves.

A number of schools within the group have implemented their own outdoor programmes, to add a new dimension to teaching and learning.

Forest Schools

When it first opened in September 2012, Wandsworth Prep School was one of the first schools in Wandsworth to set up its own Forest School.

Forest Schools is an initiative which was initially developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s, which aims to increase the understanding and appreciation, particularly among young people, of the environmental, social, and economic potential of trees, woodlands and forests. Led by Reception Teacher and EYFS Coordinator, Polly Hazlewood, pupils at Wandsworth Prep take part in Forest School sessions twice a week, using various areas in and around Wandsworth Common. Watch a video of Polly talking about the programme here.

The Forest School ethos is embedded within the school’s curriculum and during each session the children are set small, achievable tasks designed to engage all types of learners, including climbing trees, catching mini beasts, learning how to use tools safely, and problem solving.

Edenhurst Prep School will soon be launching a Forest School programme of its own, led by Julie Heyhoe-Kirkbride, Form 2 teacher and Level 3 practitioner in Forest Schools.

Julie says: “We are very excited to be able to provide our children with the amazing opportunity to develop self-esteem and confidence which has a transferable positive effect on their learning.”

Headmaster, Nick Copestick, says: “We are looking forward to introducing our Forest Schools programme. During last year, Reception enjoyed ‘Forest Fridays’, while the Nursery children have constant access to the outdoor learning environment. Now we will be able to bring learning in the outdoors to life for a wider audience, through this innovative and inspiring approach.”

Forest Fridays

In September 2013, Gateway School launched their Forest Fridays programme, for children from EYU to Year 2.

Underpinned by the Forest School principles of child-led learning, the first of the Forest Fridays sessions involved EYU enjoying a scavenger hunt, Reception familiarising themselves with and writing stories about the trees in the local area, and Year 1 involved in finding landmarks.

The weekly sessions, each lasting an hour and a half, were initiated by the school’s Year 1 Class Teacher, Rachel-Palmer Jones.

“I lived in Sweden for ten years and was impressed with the connection the children had with their natural surroundings. Children did not start lessons in school until the year they turned seven and up until that time they were encouraged to play, take some risk and be outside, whatever the weather.”

Inspired by Piaget's principles where children learn best through play, and Montessori, where children manage their own learning, Rachel wanted to include similar sessions for her Year 1 class and started Level 3 Forest School training during the summer holidays. 

“During the sessions I hope to develop the children's emotional intelligence, problem solving and teamwork, and give them a feeling of responsibility for their environment. The other teachers at the school have all been incredibly supportive and have fully embraced the idea.”

Woodland Explorers 

September 2013 also saw the launch of the Woodland Explorers programme for Reception and Kindergarten pupils at Skippers Hill.

Woodland Explorers is a weekly programme where learning is taken outdoors.  The children throw themselves wholeheartedly into the explorations and activities which have been carefully planned to cover Reception’s seven areas of learning and Kindergarten’s three Prime Areas.

Activities vary from creating 3D pictures using natural materials, making bird feeders from plastic bottles, collecting and planting acorns, to creating a hedgehog nest which the children check daily. 

The Woodland Explorers Initiative is led by Reception Teacher, Louise Hemsley.

Louise explains: “All children love exploring and understanding the outdoor environment, so providing dedicated outdoor learning experiences every week ensures the children remain enthused and engaged long after the activity has taken place. This helps the children to embark on other areas of learning with enthusiasm, helping to build their confidence and self-esteem.  It also allows them to develop an appreciation of all natural and living things from an early age.”

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