Principles of Forest school – Woodland setting

Principle 1: Forest school takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.

For the five sessions we have with 6th class this year we are bringing their attention to some of the principles of Forest school.  We are starting with the principle of the woodland setting.  

These children have had the embodied experience of forest school sessions most years in their time in DSP.   For some, up til now, they will mainly have focused on the idea that it is fun!  This year as they are getting ready to leave primary school we hope to look at Forest school with a more adult viewpoint with them.  We are training them to be assistants for the younger children in the summer term and we hope they will be ambassadors for this type of learning when they leave.  

The first principle is that forest school happens in a woodland setting.  Though this may be obvious from the name, we are looking at why this is important.  We think of the environment as the third teacher for learners (parent and school teacher being the other two).  Among other things the woodland environment:

  • supports creativity and imagination
  • facilitates and encourages communication
  • provides the learners with the space in which to explore and discover and allows for rich, emergent learning
  • supports open ended enquiry based learning
  • allows the use of natural resources for inspiration, to enable ideas and to encourage intrinsic motivation. 
  • enhances physical development

Integrating learning over time

The last time these children were in Forest school was in December over a year ago and they have had Forest school most years they’ve been in DSP.  The ecosystem knowledge they have developed and retained over time is impressive.  

Within the group we recognised/reconnected with:

  • an oak tree by some galls on the branches
  • hawthorn from the thorns
  • dried up jelly ears mushrooms on elder trees
  • ivy by the shape of the leaf
  • navelwort by the texture and remembering that you can eat it
  • roses by the dried up rose hip and thorns
  • gorse by the smell and colour
  • dandelions by the ‘lion’s teeth’ shape of the leaves.
  • bud burst on elder trees

We noticed changes in the season and the growth of plants.  

Using all our senses (including tasting, smelling, looking)

We learned about some new plants too. This group hadn’t ever been in these woods in February before so we got to meet some parts of the plants we haven’t had a chance to get to know before.

  • alexanders – an invasive plant that we can eat.  One child remembered this plant because the last time we were here he had made a snowball from the snow gathered on its leaves.  We tasted a small bit of the leaves and it tasted green and celery like.  The flowers tasted sweeter.  
  • pine pollen tea – We noticed the growths on the pine trees and were wondering what it was.  We also noticed that if we tapped it, there was a cloud of powder released.  
  • lords and ladies.  We noticed that the leaves when bigger have two ears at the bottom but when they’re younger look quite like wild garlic.  

Boundaries & trust

“Can we make our boundaries bigger please?”  Boundaries help keep us safe and also help us feel safe.  Asking for bigger boundaries means that the children feel safe and happy and want to experience and learn more.  As we grow older we need more room to explore.   We also need to feel that we are trusted as that gives us the message and belief that ‘I am capable.  I am trustworthy.’  It is one of the ways we build confidence and self esteem in children.  

Trust as we know goes both ways.  As a leader, I have to be happy that the children can be safe and happy and that the size of the boundaries are within my comfort zone for that to happen.  One of the many benefits of the long term nature of the program we have in DSP is that I know I can trust the children to not only keep themselves safe and happy but also to keep each other safe and happy. 

Playing games

We started off the day with some structured nature based games. We learned cuckoo bee, played bat and moth and agreed the rules for fox and rabbit. Playing these games help us keep warm on cold day, learn about nature and have fun together. They help us develop our physical skills and even our empathy when we play predator/prey games.

There is also playing that is due to the fact we are in a woodland environment. Affordances are the opportunities for action that are present in the environment.  

A steep, rooty slope, a pile of sticks and logs, a tree with branches at just the right height, places to hide, places to run. The psychologist James J. Gibson called these ‘affordances’. In his 1977 article “The Theory of Affordances”  He defined affordances as “action possibilities latent in the environment”. 

There were 2 long fallen trees on the ground where we gathered and the children started balancing on the logs. Before long they were challenging themselves to jump from one to another and were trying to push each other off the log whilst remaining balanced themselves.

Affordances in a woodland environment

Fundamental movement skills are essential for us to be healthy and well. These physical skills such as dodging, jumping, ducking, climbing, balancing, running on uneven surfaces are all part of the sessions as they take place in a woodland setting.

Choice child led experiences

Two of the children started free play wanting to climb trees while others were playing a game.  They then started shouting encouragement to the others from the tree.  Next they actively gave information to those playing the game.  Then they joined in fully.  Allowing the children a sense of agency and a feeling of freedom is so important to their development.

Care for the woodland

Can I throw this orange peel into the gorse?

We discussed this question. Understanding the potential impact of something can help develop pro environmental behaviours throughout our lives. One person said that we could because it will decompose. Fair point. Another said that oranges don’t grow in Ireland so it’s not a good idea. We discussed how an animal might eat it and give it a sick tummy. We also mentioned that litter being visible (and it takes about 6 months for an orange skin to decompose) in the environment encourages other people to litter more. It’s not nice for us to see other people’s litter even if it will eventually decompose.

Being with the woodland

We ended the session with a sit spot and relaxed in our woodland setting allowing space and time to develop the relationship between the learner and the natural world.

Comments are closed.
All the latest school news, updates and more.

Don’t miss news @ DSP!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.