Forest School is a child-led learning process that takes place in a woodland or natural environment, where children are encouraged to explore, play and develop their imagination by pursuing their interests in a natural setting. At Buckshaw Primary School we support every child to learn new skills and take risks appropriate to the environment through hands-on experiences at Forest School. Our approach sees and values the whole child, nurturing their confidence and self-esteem. We foster a sincere respect for living things and understanding that we can enjoy our life to the fullest without harming the world around us.
Our Forest School sessions aim to extend our children’s personal experiences and improve their capacity for learning by helping them to develop an inquiring mind. We aim to show pupils that their sphere of experience is not limited, be it through activities such as constructing shelters, surveying wildlife or using tools. Sessions promote pupils’ independence by giving them agency to direct their own learning. We support our children to view the world, not as something that just happens to them, but as something they belong to, are able to influence and change for the better.
Key Stage 1 pupils have a full cycle of Forest School sessions, in every season, before they enter Key Stage 2. This begins in the summer term of Year 1 and continues throughout the autumn, winter and spring terms of Year 2. This gives younger pupils an opportunity to experience the seasons in order, which is beneficial to their understanding of the world and builds a strong foundation for future learning. Key Stage 2 pupils then have one term of Forest School sessions in a different season each academic year to afford them the full range of activities.
Pupils take part in sessions weekly over the course of a morning or afternoon. Forest School sessions consist of team games, curriculum-linked projects, skills-based challenges, snack/ story time, free choice learning and play. Our Forest School programme promotes good physical health by providing pupils with access to frequent outdoor play and physical challenges. Mindfulness activities also support children to experience the benefits of spending time outdoors on their mental wellbeing.
Curriculum-linked projects are designed to deepen pupils’ understanding and develop their learning of curriculum content across different subject areas. Year 2 pupils, for example, undertake a project to improve a woodland habitat for hedgehogs, which they then observe and document to develop their scientific understanding. Forest School sessions are planned with the aim of advancing and securing key skills progression across the curriculum.
Other Forest School activities include natural crafts, den building and using a range of tools. Our teaching of safe tool use recognises the benefit that taking supported risks can bring to children, both in allowing them to expand their abilities and in building their resilience and self-belief. Risks are fully assessed, supported and tailored to each child’s needs, abilities and development.
The content of our Forest School programme is planned to make the most of opportunities afforded by the environment and local community. Sessions are planned to improve pupils’ practical life skills and develop their interpersonal qualities. Team challenges provide pupils with opportunities to make decisions, self-regulate and communicate effectively with their peers. Pupils are encouraged to act independently in sessions, taking responsibility for equipment and organising snack time for themselves.
At Forest School, pupil progress is evaluated through formative teacher assessment. Planning is adapted based on observations of pupils to further their personal development and knowledge across curriculum areas. Class blogs are used as an interactive platform to document Forest School sessions. Pupils can engage with the blog to reflect on their learning, place their experiences in a broader context and share their knowledge with families at home.
Our Forest School programme encourages pupils to learn from what excites and interests them by facilitating free play and independent enquiry. We nurture a philosophy that values play as a natural state through which children learn, allowing them to master skills and understand ideas in a context that is meaningful to them.
Forest School provides us with a real-world context in which to educate children about their environmental impact. We encourage pupils to act as stewards of the environment and consider the wildlife sharing our Forest School space. We believe this awareness of our effect on others, of how we relate to both the environment and the people around us, is central to creating a positive community of learning.
We feel that our Forest School philosophy at Buckshaw Primary School assists children to take managed risks and set their own challenges, increasing their confidence and resilience by helping them to enjoy regular success.