What worked well – an essay by one of our Hackney March 2018 students

Whole School Impact – When beginning my training, senior leaders were uncertain of the impact Forest School would have.  Since sessions started, we have received a wealth of positive feedback.  We are reorganising the topic curriculum across all year groups to incorporate “green” campaigns from September 2018.  I have received further CPD opportunities on sustainability and our school is looking to becoming a “Green Flag” accredited school in the next academic year.  With our playground redevelopment, children offered ideas to include planters and green areas.  The redesign begins this summer and this has been included.

Forest School has been extremely successful in Reception, senior leaders have agreed/suggested sessions for other year groups.  I have started leading sessions in Nursery and Year 2 to support their topic on “Living Things and their Habitats”.  I led an all day session for another school in our federation, widening the impact beyond my own setting.

Preparation; Staff, Adults and Children – Before starting, a Forest School launch was initated following the receipt of our SLA agreement.  Information was provided for parents via a leaflet, letter, workshop and website.  We also prepared children; sharing with them information and incorporating rules into our setting that they could rehearse.  Using FSLI’s suggested rules of “Stop, no picky, no licky” we practised these with actions and unpicked what each meant.  Helping children to articulate and understand the rules helped them to feel confident in staying safe.  They could demonstrate “x factor”with dogs and returned to base camp calmly when they heard “123 basecamp”.  Children enjoyed re-teaching the rules to each other and siblings accompanying parent volunteers.  In sessions following, we could quickly introduce activities and stations knowing children and adults were safe and knew procedures.

Topic – Forest School launched during the topic on “Mini-Beasts”.  Our sessions enriched this learning.  Children were able to find mini-beasts and enjoyed using natural resources to find them.  Children were highly engaged with few resourses and built upon knowledge learnt in class.  The flora and fauna guide created as part of training continues to be an invaluable resource.  Children refer to it each session and this has deleloped their vocabulary, motivating them to discover; identifying and classifying linked to the “Understanding of the World” EYFS strand.

Parental Involvement – Parental involvement has been high and some parents have become regular and highly reliable.  By having repeat parents, sessions run more smoothly.  Adults are competent in addressing issues swiftly and competently with me (FS lead) and are good at reporting key moments to aid observations.  Adults support the saftey of all children and are aware of safeguarding and emergency procedures. One child’s parent refused them to go initially.  Feedback showed that they didn’t believe it was academic enough.  After 3 visits, I met with parents and shared what others had learnt through photos and with anecdotal evidence.  I shared children’s achievements and how this impacted on learning back in class.  Following this meeting, the child  joined from the fourth session and this has supported her language and social development greatly.  Feedback forms have gone to all parents since.  Feedback received has been wholly positive and some partnes have requested their children continue Forest School in Year One.

Attendance – Attendance has increased on Fridays (Forest School).  Children enjoy Forest School greatly and ask when we are going whenever I go into Reception.  One child whose attendance has been flaged as concerning (Hackney Learning Trust have tracked this) has really enjoyed and benefited from Forest School.  His parent now volunteers weekly and his attendance has improved 7% overall and is 10% greater on Friday than Monday.

Local Area & Extra Curricular Use – Forest School sessions have supported our observations of children and have provided evidence for our end of year teacher judgements.  Observations of children at Forest School were used in an external moderation and supported our judgements about which children had met end of year targets and achieved a good level of development (GLD).  Below are the 7 areas of the EYFS curriculum and how Forest School has served to support each area:

Communication and Language – Communication and language has developed dramatically since sessions began.  Children have acquired subject secific vocabulary (mini-beasts), rote language (recital of rules), imaginative language (role play) and negotiation (resolving conflicts and talking about rules with one another).  Children have 2 hours each week to talk to each other without adult direction.

Physical Development – The physical activity guidelines for children under 5 suggests 180 minutes a day of physical activity a day which we know many of our children do not get.  Forest School has supported their physical development beyond what they receive in school.  Hackney has the fourth highest rates of obesity (2018) across London boroughs and we hope Forest School supports parents to get their children outside and moving.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development – Children have opportunities to work together weekly with little adult involvement.  Children show self control in following the rules and keeping themselves safe.  Children who aren’t usually friendly in the classroom have formed relationships outside through shared interests.  A group of 6 children decided to be elderley men with walking sticks while another group of 5 built chandeliers for the troll’s den!  Children have worked cooperatively and can organise activities independently.

Literacy – Fine motor skills have been developed throughout (knots etc).  This has supported children’s writing grip.  Children have used what they’ve created as a stimulus for language and story telling.  In the class we have used Forest School as a stimulus for story writing, letters, recounts, labelling etc.  Children have read the flora and fauna guide and letters hung from trees independently.

Maths – Children independently use the language of size to check the length of their sticks.  Head counts provide children with the opportunity to count over 20.  Building dens has suppported the language of shape, space and postition.  Knowing when we go, how long it takes and how long we have left has supported their language of time.  Snack station and water for digging has supported the language of capacity.  Looking for legs on mini-beasts in order to identify has also supported their maths development.

Understanding the World – For children to be exceeding in the end of year expectation in this area, they are expected to know their impact on the environment.  Many can now confidently talk about now leaving mini-beasts in their habitat and know not to pick living things.  Some can talk about footfall and know not to dig across the site.  Children are able to talk about growth and decay, and similarities and differences amoungst other things.  They take pictures on the ipad (technology) to document their time.

Expressive Art and Design – We have had much fun creating woodland wants, bookmarks, key rings, sticky grass crowns and pictures in Forest School and this has been extended in the classroom.  One child came to school after the weekend with a flower crown they had made at home.  Linked to communication and language, children use their imagination to extend role play.  They have made woodpecker songs and created fire dances!

Characteristics of Effective Learning – Children are able to take risks and recognise their own limits.  Children have shown determination and are motivated to tackle tasks independently.  They have opportunities to play and explore and problem solve.  They have opportunities to be creative and show critical thinking weekly.

Well Being – Many wow moments have been recorde but an overarching theme of positive impact has been the increase in children’s well-being.  At the end of each session we do a mindful activity linked to breathing, reflection or yoga.  Children us “calm” “relaxed” “happy” and “smiley” each week to describe how they feel.  Throughout the week, children often talk of their enjoyment and share this with the staff and partens.

Public Access – Our base camp is in a public site and weekly site sweeps have been particularly lengthy.  A number of dangerous/concerning items have beenf ound including glass, drug paraphernalia and clothing.  The base camp area is large so children have room to move (class of 24) but this makes clear up time consuming.  Despite notices to the public, our base camp seating is often taken/burnt.  I have contacted the council who have offered support.

Clothing – Moving into colder months, we will need to be vigilant about clothing to ensure children are adequately protected.  All children now have puddle suits but often children come in t-shirts and shorts.  We have provided spares that cover arms and legs fully but this will need to be reinforced.  Transition days for new parents will include Forest School information.  Transition visits this term have supported key messages.

Tool Use – Adhering to the ratia of 1:2 adult:children restricted my capacity to oversee the whole group and observe group interactions.  Using tools also created a “queue” and this was, at times, difficult to manage without directing children away.  While we were establishing routines and helping children to feel competent in the space, we limited tool use to support more.

Adult Ratios / Staffing – Reception love Forest School and other year groups are eager to go.  A next step for us is to consider training more staff as my capacity to do more sessions is limited in my current role as Assistant Headteacher.  Parent volunteers need to be established next year as on one accasion, we had to source staff to allow us to go following cancellation.

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