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‘Forest School’ Programme Explained. By Richard Skrein

In February this year BSB Sitges launched the ‘Forest School’ Programme for Year 5 and 6 students. The programme consists of five weekly sessions which take place in a local wooded area near school, and which include activities such as orienteering, den-building, team-building, challenges and nature-walks. Last week Year 4 children have also started their outdoors ‘Forest School’ adventure.

Since this is now a compulsory and exciting addition to the BSB holistic curriculum, we asked Mr Skrein, Forest Schools Practitioner and responsible for the programme in BSB Sitges, to share with parents his ‘Forest School’ experience.

 

What is the ‘Forest School’ Programme about?

Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children, young adults and adult learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in woodlands or a natural environment with trees. It is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education, whilst also offering opportunities for curriculum-based activities. The ethos is shared by thousands of trained practitioners across the UK and Europe. Its roots reach back to early pioneers of outdoor learning in Scandinavia.

We build dens, use tools, learn rope and string techniques, identify plants, trees and animals, play all kinds of games and so much more. Kids love it!

Which skills are encouraged and promoted in young people?

The Forest School approach to outdoor learning encourages children to become independent, use their imagination, take appropriate risks within boundaries and initiate learning for themselves. Forest School is a holistic approach to learning, incorporating children’s individuality and develops their skills for lifelong learning. It can cover all areas of learning, including the emotional and spiritual aspects of learning where self-esteem and self-confidence can grow and positive relationships with classmates and adults can be formed.

Forest School explores the outdoors and the natural environment with practical, useful activities all year round. It develops peer learning with the adults providing support and enabling activities to take place. The child’s interest will be at the heart of any activity.

As a Forest Schools Practitioner, why did you choose this programme in the first place?

I worked happily in the classroom for a number of years at BSB Castelldefels, always getting the children outside where possible, and starting a Forest School-type club called the Wolf Cubs, alongside Gregg Taylor. I knew a number of schools in Catalunya were using the Forest School method and was intrigued to know more. As soon as I discovered Forest School and the power of the outdoors to change the lives and experiences of young people, I was hooked.

I moved to ISCAT in La Garriga, who put Forest School at the heart of their approach, and worked with the team there for a year before deciding to go full time in the woods – working with different schools across the area. I am delighted to be working with the BSB again. I hope to help Forest School grow locally and regionally, by spreading awareness of its benefits and widening the circle of schools and professionals I work with. I am assisting my own trainer and woodland guru, Patrick Harrison, in delivering Level 3 training here in Catalunya. By training more practitioners in the area, we will be able to most effectively disseminate the Forest School philosophy and bring its benefits to the greatest number of learners.

The woods of Catalunya are rich and diverse. There are adults who want to train as Forest School practitioners. Most of all, there are children who love the woods and need outdoor experiences just as children everywhere do. I am proud to be a part of its growth in my adopted home!

At present you are running the ‘Forest School’ Programme for Year 5 and 6 pupils on a weekly basis in BSB Sitges. What is your feedback about this experience? And most importantly, what is the feedback of children?

The feedback from the children has been fantastic. In an age where more and more children spend large amounts of time stuck to their iPhone, iPad and PlayStation screens, or where their lives are programmed and filled with school and extraescolar activities, meaningful time spent in the woods is such a joy and relief for the students. We are lucky to have woodland and parkland near both BSB sites and I have been delighted with the programme so far.

Are you planning to run Forest School for other year groups in BSB Sitges in the future? Or in BSB Castelldefels?

Every year group (and so every child) at BSB Sitges from Reception to Year 6 will have the chance to enjoy the Forest School programme for blocks of five weeks. It will be lovely to get to know all the children in the school. Sessions in the woods are also great opportunities for the children to spend meaningful time with their classmates and teachers in a new context.

As you may know the BSB has a long tradition of running The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in the Castelldefels campus for students in Years 10 and 12. To what extent do these programs complement each other? Are there any similarities and/or differences?

Regarding the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, I worked with Mr Bower and the team at BSB Castelldefels for many years as Adventurous Journey Assessor and in various other roles. I love the D of E, and The Forest School approach certainly complements it and prepares students for its challenges. There are many links between the two programmes – from a respect and love of nature and the physical challenges to the idea of a more holistic scheme that helps the student develop in a broad range of ways. In fact, one area for growth in the future could be extending the Forest School programme to KS3 to provide a further ‘bridge’ between Primary Forest School and the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award.

You also work with BSB Castelldefels students, as part of their KS1 Enrichment Program. What activities do you organise?

At BSB Castelldefels, Mr Doyle and I take out a small group of children from Years 1 and 2 every week during their Enrichment sessions every Thursday. We head out to the parkland around the school and have a lovely time taking part in all kinds of Forest School activities, from climbing to identifying local birds and fauna. They are great kids!