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A final essay by Patric from Bromley Beacon Academy

Posted by FSLI on December 12, 2017

FSLI Director, Chris Dee has described this final essay by Patric from Bromley Beacon Academy as a "fab reflection". The task was to 'Summarise own personal development and learning during the Forest School training process and explain how this may inform own wider practice'. Here is the result, in Patric's own words...

My first exposure to Forest School was a session held on our training day at James Dixon Primary School.  Their setting was a small roped off area; the children had the choice to choose or to continue one of the previous activities.  This session made me realise how beneficial it could be for learners in general but partially the type of learners that I teach.

The Forest School Leader led such a successful session with little structure. She sat the kids down and went over the rules, getting the learners to repeat them to her. She then let the kids go do their own thing, but the lesson ran smoothly and all learners were partaking in one activity or another.

Not having any previous knowledge of Forest School, I took it upon myself to set up our Forest School in a similar manner and plan most lessons with a similar structure.

We didn’t have any sort of Forest School programme at our school and most learners had never taken part in Forest School before, so it was going to be a challenging but exiting adventure. I first had to get permission to use the private land behind our school.

This was a battle on its own but after several months of ongoing negotiations I finally got permission to use the land and it was all go from there. The land had lots of rubbish dumped on it over the years and was very overgrown, so it all had to be cleared and cut back to make it safe and more practical.

I started researching and buying equipment and tools, buying a set of wellies and waterproof for each student. I began our sessions at BBA, I was not yet trained, so it was all a learning curve and lots of research was done to ensure I was on the right track.

From not knowing what Forest School was, to doing my training and observing a lesson on our training day, not having a site or any Forest School equipment, I now have a full site which fits all our needs. I have been running Forest School sessions for the last four months, teaching one group each day (Monday to Friday).

It has been good fun but mostly with the learners having fun and learning. When I first started leading my own sessions my teacher instincts took over and I found it hard to stand back and watch and ask questions, instead of jumping in and telling and doing it for them.  

I have a specific plan in place for the majority of the lesson, supporting our learner’s needs and lots of structured activities for learners to choose from.  I find Forest School not only beneficial for the learners, but I also find it fun to teach.

Coming from South Africa I feel more at home in an outdoor classroom and it has opened my eyes to how the children I teach must feel and has allowed me to truly see the benefits a programme like Forest School can have on all children. 

At first the learners weren’t sold by Forest School, but every learner now enjoys Forest School and I get asked on a daily basis from most of the learners, ”when are we having Forest School again?”.

On a daily basis in normal school lessons they can’t get on and they often fight and have behaviour issues every five minutes. They go out to Forest School and not only get on and enjoy themselves while learning and experiencing new activities, but they also help each other and play.  It’s just nice to take step back and watch.

One of my favourite Forest School sessions was in the very beginning where I got the learners to take ownerships of their Forest School. I got the learners to decide how we were going to get Forest School setup - where base camp must be (it has moved 3 times now, but each time to a more sensible place).

They also decided where the boundaries must be, what we wanted in our Forest School and just general rules.  I just stood around the learners, listening to children coming and going as they pleased, chatting with each other and asking and answering questions. 

It was amazing to stand back and listen to the children coming up with some very good ideas and some very creative ideas. At that point I did not really realize how much they were learning, and I am sure that they had no idea how much they really knew and how much they were learning and developing simply by talking to each other. 

My journey on becoming a Forest School Leader and setting up a Forest School programme within our school, Bromley Beacon Academy, was a new experience and a very enjoyable one.

I will always be learning new things, trying new things and looking to ways of improving the Forest School programme and offering it to all learners. I am currently the only teacher taking Forest School sessions, but my goal to get more staff involved and more Forest School Leaders trained to ensure Forest School becomes a bigger part of our learning.