Recently a trainee reflected on her personal journey of undertaking the training with me and delivering her first sessions. She picked up on some key points that many people new to Forest School face about their perception of what Forest School is and how it can develop for them as they explore its possibilities with their groups. It was really interesting that her concerns that it might not work that well for her group (a group with special educational needs and disabilities) and that it might not work that well on her site turned out not to be a challenge and that it actually exceeded her hopes for what might be possible. She also came to the conclusion that the key to successful sessions that she felt were rewarding to both the group and herself was through adopting a reflective practice that adapted to needs and interests of the group. She found that this significantly influenced future sessions plans as well as sometimes abandoning plans mid session to follow an interest in the group. The following is her account of this.
'Since completing my Forest School training, I have become aware that my idea about what Forest School was pre-training was actually what could be described as outdoor learning or bushcraft skills. I didn’t truly understand the concept or value of free play and this was my largest learning curve. I was also sceptical of whether Forest School could work for children with complex SEN and again I learned that this belief was incorrect! Therefore, the largest change in my practice has been to truly embrace the idea that nature has enough resources to engage children without lots of practitioner interference. This can be evidenced by the increasing amount of emphasis that was put on free play throughout my 6-week sessions, my realisation and learning journey can be charted through seeing how much it benefitted the children and then doing all I could to facilitate it on a rather limited site. I also was able to reflect that the practical skills we learned during the training could easily be lost if they are not regularly used.'
'One thing I found particularly valuable during my Introduction to Forest School Programme, was to complete a reflective evaluation sheet within one hour of the session ending. I always met with support staff to get their views and feedback, then found a quiet space to fill in my evaluation sheet. Later I then filled in the more detailed form based on the sheet. This practice was hugely beneficial and key in my planning of forthcoming sessions; it also formed the basis of some of my preconceptions being challenged as has been discussed above. Also valuable to me was gaining the children’s feedback at the end of each session, not only did this inform my planning but it allowed the children a voice which encouraged their autonomy and helped to create positive feelings about the woodland environment.'
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.