Forest Fun

Kathryn Barton, our Community Education Officer who works on the Forest School project, writes about how she is using Kent's wildlife to educate young people throughout the county.
Forest School

The woods in the early morning light are magical places. Whatever the weather, it’s beautiful when we arrive in Denstead Wood, near Canterbury, to set up our Forest School site for a group of children to experience the wonders of nature first-hand. When the children arrive it is lovely to hear their excited voices drifting through the trees as they play, learn and have fun.

At Forest School, children are able to connect with nature, explore the woods and discover the natural world around them. Outdoor play and contact with nature are so important for children’s growth and development, as well as for physical and mental health. Forest School is one of the ways that Kent Wildlife Trust is engaging young people with nature, creating an understanding of local woodlands and their wildlife. You learn more when you are enjoying yourself, and fun is an integral part of a Forest School programme.

A programme is usually one day per week for a minimum of six weeks, allowing the children to build their confidence, skills and knowledge over time without the pressure of a classroom environment. Through supervised activities, such as fires, shelters and tool use, the programme allows the flexibility and freedom for child-initiated learning to take place. But it is much more than bushcraft or outdoor play.

Forest School

Forest School learning is holistic – yes, they learn and use maths, literacy, science, history and geography during activities but they also improve their social skills, self-esteem and teamwork. They learn to assess risks for themselves, develop independence, resilience and problem solving abilities and increase motivation, concentration and creativity. Children discover their native wildlife and local green spaces and explore and interact with an ever-changing natural environment through different weathers and seasons.

A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood discusses the importance of play, and especially outdoor play, for children of all ages. The group says that ‘whilst there is broad consensus about the importance of physical activity in the battle against obesity, play (policy) has lost political momentum in recent years and the report calls for a fresh approach’. One of the recommendations is to ‘Support the Forest School movement and other initiatives to take urban children into rural settings and likewise, through improved training and design, bring the ‘rural’ play environment into urban schools’

Forest School

Kent Wildlife Trust mainly delivers Forest School sessions for school groups. We encourage schools to develop their own Forest School, either in the school grounds or in local woodland. With this aim, we help with advice, information and staff experience or teambuilding workshops. Schools say that attending sessions with their school group really helps teachers who are training to become Forest School leaders. They are able to gain experience, skills and knowledge to give them confidence to deliver their own sessions when they have qualified.

At the end of the day, we pack away our equipment, looking forward to the next session with the children, as the sun filters through the Grandfather Tree, a stately old beech that looks over our Forest School site.

‘Going to the woods is going home’ – John Muir