The following account is written by a Forest School Leader that I recently trained. It looks at their experience of running their first forest school programme with a group and is a great reflective exploration on what they observed and experienced with their group. It demonstrates their excellent approach tuning in to what went on and identifying what the children and adults in the group really valued and how they help them develop a style of session with the right balance of pace, space and content to support the group effectively in getting the most from their time in nature.
A reflective evaluation of a Forest School Programme by a primary school Forest School leader:
I thoroughly enjoyed running my first forest school programme. I found that it took more planning and evaluation than I had expected, and I found that I had to adapt and respond to the group, individual needs and group dynamic during sessions.
I found that simple, calm activities and games worked well with the group and that some repetition of games/ activities seemed to help the group come together, build in confidence and improve social skills.
I discovered that smaller groups and pairs worked well, especially if I did this early on in the session. I could then introduce larger groups for later activities. This helped mix up the group and allowed some of the quieter children to fully engage (they then often acted as good role models for the rest of the group by fully engaging in activities and their enjoyment and involvement was infectious).
I discovered how important it is to have three adults with the group to ensure good support and to enable the safe use of fire and tools (such as the hammers and mallets).
There were many moments that I will always remember from my first forest school session. The points where you suddenly really look and observe the group and can see everyone enjoying the forest school area, the children are all engaged in playing and adapting the activities to their interests. Observing children, who usually really struggle in the class setting playing confidently with others with a look of joy on their face was a very fulfilling experience.
I particularly enjoyed how the children’s knowledge of the forest school area improved as well. Children went back into class and happily told the teacher about how sycamore seeds travel by the wind and about the bugs they had found. At the beginning of the forest school sessions, the majority of children didn’t know what an acorn was, by the end they loved playing with them, along with conkers and beech nuts.
I felt the children connected well with the space and enjoyed the forest school session. As a group they definitely bonded well and the improvement in listening and behaviour from the first to the last session was much improved.
Perhaps what surprised me the most was that it was often the simple activities and slow-paced activities that worked the best. For example, I would have expected leaf pressing or fire lighting to be the most popular, but the group loved bug hunting and a simple nature spot game.
I enjoyed how forest school responds to the group dynamic and the overall plan of a session adapts with the group. I find this very satisfying and fulfilling way of working and believe it helps to counteract the more restrictive academic approach of the classroom. What I also enjoyed was the look on the supporting adults faces as they began to enjoy the sessions more and could see the benefits it gave the children (almost a moment of ‘oh I get this now’), that made me smile.
Benefits for the group included:
Jon Attwood has been leading outdoor activities in the wider Bristol area for over 20 years. He developed a passion for nature and a love of the outdoors as a child and was lucky to have a free range childhood with plenty of time exploring wild corners of rural Essex. Jon is a Forest School leader and trainer and is happiest in the woods sharing experiences with children and adults.