Abbeyfields Forest School and Outdoor Education
At Abbeyfields Forest School, we shift our focus towards an inspiring and inclusive way of developing children beyond purely academic skills and giving a rounded educational experience. We strive to instil a positive mind-set towards school through engaging and stimulating outdoor learning experiences that complement indoor learning and provide links to the National Curriculum and EYFS for an enhanced learning experience.
Inside the four walls of every school classroom, children gain extensive knowledge set out in the National Curriculum that is required to achieve a well-rounded education. Vital though this is, they are sedentary, sealed off from the natural world outside. Yet being outdoors has untold benefits for children that cannot be achieved in the confinement of a classroom both physically and mentally. For over a decade, Abbeyfields Forest School has continued to push boundaries in developing new, untapped areas of learning, forging links between both the National Curriculum and outdoor education.
Abbeyfields Forest School created. Sessions were on a small scale with one qualified Forest School Practitioner and delivered to Early Years only. The site consisted of one small log circle on the School field.
Following the successful delivery of sessions in Early Years, Forest School was opened up to the whole School from Nursery to Year 4. Sessions were delivered by two qualified Forest School Practitioners.
The small scale site was extended to incorporate two large log circles, two fire pits, a wildlife hide, pond and Tipi. Abbeyfields Forest School were given permission to access the surrounding acres of ancient woodland by Northumberland County Council to carry out sessions.
Ross Pearson (Forest School Leader) appointed Chair of the Northumberland Forest Education Network Group, collating Forest School Leaders across the region to share ideas and good practice.
Abbeyfields Forest School rolls out Forest School teacher training courses.
BBC Radio Newcastle begin to regularly feature Abbeyfields Forest School allotment on the Garden Mania show following five straight RHS Gold Medal awards. The first annual camping weekend on the Forest School site open to all parents and children begins.
The school was awarded an Outstanding judgement by Ofsted in January 2015. Ofsted stated: The ‘Forest School’ is a wonderful and exciting resource which makes learning real.
The curriculum is excellent. While outcomes in reading, writing and mathematics are outstanding, a stunning breadth and creativity in the rest of the curriculum captures the imagination of pupils so that they are curious and enthusiastic learners. The ‘Forest School’ and ‘Allotment’ projects play a huge part in making the curriculum both imaginative and real.
Abbeyfields Forest School team up with the Royal Horticultural Society as a centre to deliver teacher training in gardening at school with children.
Forest School hosts its first Country Show.
Forest School allotment is awarded 7th RHS Gold Medal and Best in Category in the Britain In Bloom competition.
Abbeyfields are embarking on a huge project of redevelopment by installing a revolutionary Outdoor Education Centre on site. We have big plans for the future to expand our provision and continue to be leaders in outdoor education in the North of England.
What does a Forest School lesson look like?
Each session we provide follows a course of progressive skills, culminating in the awarding of Forest School Badges upon leaving Abbeyfields First School. The children develop outdoor skills in six key areas; natural fire lighting, shelter building, tool use, foraging and open fire cooking, tree, plant and animal identification, and gardening.
Children arrive at Forest School and are briefed of the sessions learning objectives. We then get suited and booted in waterproofs and wellies (provided for by Forest School) and head off to the site. Sessions are around 3 hours long and always include a stop for either a hot chocolate to warm up or a chilled juice to cool down. Once the children have finished the session and are thoroughly muddy, we carry out a reflection to distill the key learning objectives and head back to school.
Sessions are not just confined to school hours either. We host evening events such as bat walks, star gazing, river dipping, campfire cooking evenings, camping trips, share evenings and much, much more. The benefits Forest School can have on an individual are well documented, but what exactly are those benefits and what impact is this having on children’s personal, social and emotional development as well as their education?
Building confidence and independence – children are afforded the time and space to learn and demonstrate independence which in turn increases confidence. Child initiated learning develops skills that are crucial to independence and self-reliance. Achieving small goals by learning a new skill or reflecting on their learning at the end of a session through the use of oracy helps to consolidate a growing level of confidence in the outdoor learning environment.
Improving communication and social skills – children gain an increased awareness of the consequences of their choices and actions through team based activities such as two person tools and shelter building. Language development is prompted by the children’s sensory experiences and social activities. Working with others to prepare a meal on a campfire or simply enjoying the company of others whilst sitting around an open fire with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day all provide continuous opportunity to improve social and communication skills.
Levels the playing field – Taking children outside the classroom removes the pressures of academia and allows them to play to their strengths. This is hugely beneficial to children who struggle in the classroom because there is more of an opportunity for them to learn at their own pace. The outdoor environment challenges children in different ways, so that those who do well in the classroom are not always the same as those who thrive outdoors.
Developing resilience – Forest school activities are flexible, enabling all children to achieve with a degree of challenge, building confidence and self-esteem and encouraging perseverance that will help to build resilience. Sessions are challenging. Learning skills such as tree identification using scientific names (e.g. Fraxinus excelsior, Betula pendula, Quercus robur) is difficult enough for adults and requires a lot of hard work and effort to master but also teaches children that they reap the benefits of the level of effort they put in. Being faced with obstacles, problems and sometimes failure is a huge part of developing the resilience we all need to succeed.
Physical fitness – improvements are characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills. Climbing trees, using balance to cross rope bridges or log stepping-stones, transporting building or fire lighting materials around the woodland, digging over the allotment or simply travelling from the school building to the furthest point of the Forest School site are all ways in which physical abilities are tested and improved.
Nurturing empathy for others and nature – spending time outdoors learning how to care for, nurture and protect nature helps to develop empathy in children. Working alongside peers to help achieve a common goal, helping them to succeed with a task and giving encouragement to others that are struggling all help to nurture a child’s empathy and are transferable skills in everyday life.
Inspiring motivation and concentration – the extensive Forest School site, be that the acres of woodland or wild flower meadow, provides an environment and natural resources that fascinate children. This in turn develops a keenness to participate in sessions and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time.
Improving physical and mental health – sunlight and soil microorganisms boost the body’s levels of serotonin, the chemical linked to feelings of wellbeing, while vitamin D, which is essential for bone and muscle health, is also provided by the sun’s rays. Mental-health professionals acknowledge that maintaining a relationship with nature can be very helpful in supporting children’s emotional and mental wellbeing.
Honing knowledge and understanding – children develop an interest in the natural surroundings and respect for the environment by studying closely the flora and fauna of our local ecosystem. They develop skills in animal tracking, learn the scientific name of native trees, learn how to identify animal droppings and how to conserve, develop and improve our environment. Our impact on the world as a whole by our practises and our decision-making is highlighted in every session we deliver.
Learning by experience – children can run and make noise, get their hands dirty and discover the world around them. Learning indoors from a textbook or video how a Stone Age settler would make a wattle and daub fence is interesting; building your very own wattle and daub fence using Stone Age techniques is inspiring! We yearn to inspire children and engage them with the National Curriculum by making it real and giving them first-hand experience.
Managing risks – children experience manageable risk, which is essential for healthy child development, through activities such as fire building and cooking or using billhooks, bowsaws and axes to harvest and split wood. Everything the children do is carried out in a safe, risk assessed environment but the choices they make and responsibility for the safety of themselves and those around them rests upon each individual. Learning how to self-risk assess and manage those risks is an invaluable skill.