The Moulsford Forest School Experience

Do we ignore the importance of outdoor play?

I am so lucky to have today visited a forest school with the pre-prep year groups from Moulsford. It was a new experience entirely for me and having bought wellies in preparation, everyone knew how excited I was to be given this opportunity. Outdoor education is something I tend to miss out of teaching because there is either not enough time or the weather in Scotland is horrendous at the time. The forest school teacher was extremely kind and helpful, explaining everything to me and getting me involved with the whole day. We all started by going to the forest from the school around 15 minutes away on the school mini-bus. The children were all dressed in rain suits, hats, wellingtons from home and warm clothing because there is no shelter or indoor area. The journey was short but the children were all excellently behaved and were told a story about Bosun the dog who sat in the back as good as gold barking along with the story. The atmosphere was really heartwarming for a total outsider to forest school like me. Moreover, it is an amazing opportunity to have a dog with the children on these trips which is so well behaved and plays so well with the children.

Upon reaching the forest the children walk from the busses parking place for around 5 minutes to a large clearing all cordoned off with fences and blue rope. This was the childrens are to do anything they wanted play, build, climb, sit. They can literally do anything they want. However, the first thing they have to do is to go and do their own check in pairs around the clearing that the blue rope, fences, ladders etc are all still intact and safe which they then report

My own image taken from the clearing

back to the forest teacher. After this the children are free to play on or build whatever they wish. The dogs ran and played fetch with the children for a long time however after a while the children went off to do their own thing – mostly climbing trees, logs, ladders, pulling the ropes and building swings. Furthermore, many children ran over to the forest teacher to ask if they were allowed to do certain things like building a swing or climbing a tall tree, to which the forest teacher always responded “what do you think?”. The open ended question gives children an opportunity to think about the situations safety and sense and they are also able to decide about something themselves. Giving the children this amount of responsibility can give great results for their confidence, as all children can be successful in answering the questions. The Queens University of Belfast believe that asking children open ended questions can play a salient part in the development of young children’s thinking.

The children received a snack which changes every week, and after that it is time to go home. With this group of children there was no moaning about leaving and they just did what they were told – something I am certainly not used to when leaving something which is so much fun. Leaving was just the same where the children were allowed to run in front with the dogs providing they were always in eyesight of the adults with them. This is one of the only rules of forest school which also include not going outside the boundaries and when climbing a tree ensuring the branches are as big as the children’s wrist and there are always 3 points of contact on any climbing instrument whether this be two feet, one hand or one foot, two hands etc. The relaxed atmosphere of the forest school means the children have a better chance to enhance their social and emotional skills and develop their imagination. Sarah Olmsted states in her book, Imagine Childhood, that the key main keystones of childhood are nature, imagination and play. Building on this, I had a very in depth discussion with one boy about fairies and elves living in trees and he was able to tell me about each room in the tree and what they would eat for dinner etc. He then took his imagination and played with the tree pointing out where the windows were and climbing up and down the ladder to look at them. The same boy also expressed his love of forest school saying he liked being able to play outside and climb the trees.

My own image of the clearing

In addition, it is important to be critical and ask is forest school really everything its cracked up to be? The paper work is intense, the risk assessment alone which I haven’t seen yet but will be writing about later in the term, I can only imagine is extremely lengthy and jam packed with things that could go wrong. The risk of taking the children to a forest is far greater than having them play in a classroom, especially with children climbing trees which they could fall down and building with logs and twigs which they could get splinters from. However, without children taking these risks how can we really ensure that children receive a hands-on learning experiences in a woodland area in a classroom. How can we ensure that their imagine develops to its full potential if everything is structured? Is a forest the most hygienic place to be taking children to? These are all questions surrounding forest schools across the country and its legitimacy in schooling today.

To conclude my blog post for today, the practice which I observed today has given me something to really think about with forest schooling, however for me personally the positives fully outweigh the negatives. The benefits are never ending and forest school is something I’d like to get more involved with here at Moulsford and then develop into my practice as a working teacher in the future. I feel that every child should have the opportunity to just play, yes they need to learn, but what about play! It is discussed all the time about play in education and putting learning into play, but I think good old fashioned play with no structure like I observed today, for me, is the most beneficial thing that any child can do in their lifetime. Because of this, I leave you with this thought…

4 thoughts on “The Moulsford Forest School Experience

  1. Richard

    Another great post. Sounds like a great experience. This question of structure is a really interesting one. Wonder what the teachers at the school think? Enjoy the risk assessment when you get a chance to do one!

    Reply
    1. Katie Rebecca WhithamKatie Rebecca Whitham Post author

      Thank you Richard, yes the teachers at the school all really encourage the theme of play and independence in the forest school which is a fantastic approach to take and for me to see in action.

      Reply
  2. M MackieM Mackie

    Your post warms my heart! Brilliant to hear that the children were free to explore and play in their own way! Sometimes I fear that even forest school sessions can become too adult led and structured. Don’t get me wrong – I think that structured learning has it’s place, but (building on what you say above), free play can develop imagination and creativity, as well as problem solving skills and the ability to make risk assessments. It’s amazing how much they can learn!
    How does your placement track the learning that takes place in these types of sessions?

    Reply
    1. Katie Rebecca WhithamKatie Rebecca Whitham Post author

      Hello Michelle, thanks so much for your comment! I can’t wait for my next forest school session already! So far the practice I have seen in terms of the school tracking the learning in forest school has been mainly through observation, however it is only my third day and I’m sure they have other ways of tracking the learning which I haven’t observed yet as my timetable differs each lesson as to which subject and year I’m with. Hope you’re enjoying placement too!!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *