Quality Forest School...?

I refuse to gleefully announce that 'schools are open' because many including mine never closed. The children who attended had opportunities for both Forest School and other forms of Outdoor Learning throughout. It was possibly the only time these children would've had the chance to explore in such a wide aged ranged group, and their interactions were very positive

But now they are back in school with a new timetable and a new agenda and a new way of working and learning and living day-to-day

Forest School is adapting as it goes, and a lot of what we normally do has either ceased or is being questioned

Meeting the 6 core principles of Quality  Forest School (as listed on the Forest School Association website) may be difficult

  1. Quality Forest School is long enough
  2. Quality Forest School is risky enough/safe enough
  3. Quality Forest School promotes holistic development
  4. Quality Forest School is natural enough
  5. Quality Forest School has learner led outcomes
  6. Quality Forest School is run by qualified and reflective leaders

Quality Forest School is long enough
With classes stretched into smaller 'bubble' groups the next 7 weeks needs to accommodate a lot more classes, which means a full Forest School Session cannot fit in. This does make the quality of Forest School questionable when sticking to core principles, but the need for children to be outside may have to outweigh some procedure and activities in favour of letting children have the experience of nature even if only for an hour at a time

Quality Forest School is risky enough/safe enough
The risks we have to consider now are bemusing

How do we assess risk of children climbing trees when wooden play equipment in playgrounds is out of bounds?

In school children have their own equipment within their class, they don't share rulers or swap pencils, but Forest School is not equipped with a dozen or so of each tool for each group to use personally

Camp fires. In Kent residents have been asked by the Fire Service NOT to have bonfires, because of the potential need for assistance and therefore putting firefighters at risk coming to a site, and putting Forest School participants at risk through the arrival of extra people to the 'bubble' the group has formed. Also, air quality has to be considered if there is a residential area nearby as there may be people with covid or recovering from it nearby. 

Hand Sanitiser is highly flammable and also needs to be considered 

Some of these things we may be able to work around, with wipes and hand cleanser between tool use. Tree climbing can be allowed as long as the children wash their hands afterwards. The campfire.... remains controversial. Personally I will not have campfires for now and perhaps further along this journey we can make a celebration of it and have a campfire finale...

Quality Forest School promotes holistic development
Some have been desperate to get back, some are reluctant returners. All are adjusting to social distancing and no contact between friends. An emotional outlet, a place to be calm or the space to run free seems to be what children need. I've never had so many discussions about coronavirus than I've had since year 6 ventured into basecamp this week. The need to feel free to talk is as important as the need to feel free to move. For some the relaxing atmosphere of outdoors has relaxed barriers and raised questions

Quality Forest School is natural enough
Every Forest School experience is different, each Forest School has their own timetables and participants, each practitioner will find their own way of working through this to the advantage of the children in their care
In our case we are lucky enough to have enough outdoor space to allow for classes to learn outdoors independently and simultaneously to Forest School sessions elsewhere on site. 
That planning and experience will feed into Forest School and FS will feed into that learning

Quality Forest School has learner led outcomes
Well this is always true, but most of us have a skeleton plan as to what we expect to introduce, some idea of a progression of skills and specific learning areas we like to explore in different seasons
We are all muddling through, planning when required in reaction to what the groups need, respond to, and ask for, which only becomes apparent while working with them
The children are in groups they are not entirely used to, often with a different teacher to before, sometimes without their usual buddies, within a timetable they have never worked under. 

Quality Forest School is  run by qualified and reflective leaders
The next 7 weeks are going to be different to anything we've dealt with before. 
7 years of experience hasn't really prepared me for implementing sessions with little equipment and social distancing! It really will be back to basics. As natural as it can get!

The children will benefit from being outside no matter what. 
Outdoors in safer than indoors with a virus about! 
The connection to land, nature, space and time is never wasted. 
So with a deep breath off we go - Forest School DURING a pandemic. 
Watch this space!


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