Urban Forest School

Urban forest school

Our community Engagement Officer Claire Bates reflects on her experience running an urban Forest School as part of the Painting the Town Green project.

In the middle of a housing estate in Milton Regis, Sittingbourne is a small, cosy, slightly overgrown green patch of land enclosed by a fence. This area was made into a memorial garden after a tragic house fire incident that sadly took the lives of a woman and her 3 children.

Milton Regis forest school site

Milton Regis forest school site

Quinton Memorial grounds has not been used very much by the local community and, unfortunately, fly tipping and littering have occurred, making the site look less inviting.

As part of Painting the Town Green project, I chose to run an urban Forest School. To start with, uptake from the local community was low. I felt nervous about running this type of programme as it was not in woodland and the space was fairly small. By week 2 we were overwhelmed with interested children from nearby. Some wanted to know what was going on, others wanted to try their best to stop activities from running. Those that wanted to cause disruption soon got bored: perhaps they did not receive the reaction they had been expecting. We tried not to react to their presence by using the “Keep calm carry on” philosophy.

Forest-school fun

Forest-school fun

I was most worried about what would happen during free time, something that is key to the Forest School ethos. Is the site is too small, will they get bored, what will they do?

A few of the children did not know what to do to start with, they had never just been given free time. Others climbed trees and played imagination games. The longer the session went on, the more experimental the group were with free play.

I had to be creative in my use of activities to run sessions in an urban environment. We made forest creatures, elder pencils, jewellery and experimented with outdoor art.

At the start of one young person did not always want to take part in all activities. She said:

“School’s ok, you just get sent home if you’re naughty and then you don’t have to do anything.”

The same individual, 3 weeks later, began to arrive on site early to help with litter picking, where previously she had been dropping litter and then assist with setting up and packing way, which had previously not been seen as a valuable thing to do.

Urban forest school activities

Urban forest school activities

At the beginning, most individuals talked about their domestic pets or exotic zoo animals. After a few sessions talking about wildlife that might live in urban outdoor sites, the group were much more inquisitive about native wildlife.

The best moment for me was noticing the children become more aware of their surroundings, stopping what they were doing to watch a robin visit the site, and the moment I was able to introduce them to a queen bumble bee who was buzzing around looking for a hibernation spot.

Many of the local children said they had not played in the space before attending activities. They now look forward to revisiting in their own time to climb trees and play games.