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SENsory Forest school

What is the rationale for forest school programmes?

Forest school sessions are about using outdoor environment and adventure experiences to nurture people in a holistic way. Activities are ‘learner led’ and often involve creativity, problem solving, play, cooperation, and meaningful human interaction. The purpose of the activities is to build self esteem, confidence and happiness in a calm and inspiring setting.

The sensory nature of Forest School can be very therapeutic for children. Screen led learning is a two dimensional and adult led. In the outdoor setting, one can smell the wild garlic, hear a cacophony of bird song, feel the grass below your feet and see the trees dancing in the breeze. It is a feast for the senses. A strong connection to nature helps one to feel grounded and in tune with the world.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Children are in fact just smaller versions of ourselves. The answer to the question about how we learn best, has the same answers as if you asked an adult. Within the boundaries of safety, we don’t believe they need to learn to obey, sit still, be silent or be confined to learn. Real learning does not happen from a book or a screen. So here are what some of the children said:

When do children learn best?

  1. When they are interested. Is it fun? Is it inspiring? Does it foster my curiosity?
  2. When they are involved. Can I touch? Can I smell? Can I ask questions?
  3. When they have choice. I would like to burn some energy. I would like to do something calm. I would like to eat.
  4. When they can be creative. Can I express myself? Can I tell a story of my experience? Can I hear my friends tell interesting things? Can I just experiment?
  5. When they are valued. Can I tell you my knowledge (it may be more than the “teacher’s”) ? Can I help my friends and work in a team? Can I be told when I have done well? Please get to know me.
  • For some children, school in an incredibly challenging environment. It can be too loud, noisy, busy, bright. For some, if one of their senses becomes over stimulated, it can send them into meltdown or just a type of shut down.
  • Sensory art and science is a club in which we try, as much as possible, to follow the children’s lead. We will often have three activities on offer, all of which are optional. It is intentionally placed on a Friday, where lots of parents tell us is the day in which children have become most tired and over stimulated. Our philosophy is that education is about using all of the senses and about using nature as a source of inspiration and creativity. Kids today are also over stimulated by being digital guinea pigs. Phones, tables, computers, and games consoles are often contributing to feelings of anxiety and sadness.

By having fun, creative and sensory stimulating activities in which the children can learn together, we hope to create a feeling of calm and happiness which will linger on into the weekend. Fostering strong and meaningful connections to others is at the core of the sessions through communication and humour.

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Teaching is not about having the answers, it's about having the questions

This is what I woke up to. This is my seven year old. It is 6am.

Me: “What are you doing Zephaniah?”

Z: “I am making potions.”

Me: “Cool. Where are all those bottles from?”

Z: “From under the sink.”

Me:”Do you know what they are?”

Z: “No. “

Me: “Do you think any of them could be dangerous?”

Z: “Which kind of dangerous?”

A great question, I thought. We then went on a exploration of Hazchem symbols and talked about being toxic, explosive, corrosive and discussed volatile organic compounds. He liked the symbols of the bottles, as he hates reading. He was upset to discover that some were poisonous to wildlife.

I then pointed him to a food drawer. You can use anything you like from here. I explained. He and his brother played with bicarbonate of soda, fizzy tonic water, food dye, flour, yogurt. I gave them some Calpol syringes and eye goggles from a wood work set they had from Santa. They squealed with delight at it bubbling over and changing colour, and becoming thicker. This went on for over an hour.

“What did you do at school yesterday?” I asked casually. “I played computer games in the inclusion room and I did a bit of maths.” I sighed.

People often are curious what we do on our home school days. The answer is, all kinds of mad and unpredictable stuff. “How do you know how to teach chemistry? I would be scarred I was not covering the right stuff or telling them something wrong.” I have had this a load of times. The problem with education is to me a really simple one. We have stopped thinking of kids as just smaller adults. They are still people, and there is not fixed amount of knowledge they absolutely have to have in their heads in order to be functional and happy adults. If you want categoric evidence of this, central government change the primary syllabus every year so it can’t be formulaic.

Octopus dissection.

If you were at work and you did not know the answer to a problem or question, what would you do? You would probably google it. Or ask someone who has the knowledge, or go to a library. Teaching is exactly the same. Even teaching my specialist subject which I have been doing for a million years (well sometimes it feels like that) I do not know that answer to every question students might ask me. And it is only a good teacher who is willing to admit that to their class.

Students are not vessels which we pour our knowledge into. This would be a fixed and static thing. Students are the drivers of a mad space rocket and we are merely passengers. Our job is to make sure they don’t crash and die, or get completely lost. And if we have done our job, they should be much better drivers than we ever were. The student should and must excel the teacher. This is how humanity drives forward.

What is “Child led learning”? You would think the answer is obvious. Last Friday I took Zephaniah for his home school session. I asked his teacher what their topic was for the term: South America. Interesting, since he had thought “it was to do with planets and stuff.” Zephaniah had been really interested in a story I was telling him earlier in the week about a Phoenix. While I made lunch, he watched a short documentary about animals in South America. We then went down to the city farm and fed the goats and sheep and pigs and he noticed how llamas are not that different to sheep. We then picked his brother up and went to a small shop run by a Venuzulean family. The man there showed us his empanadas and churros and we discovered some interesting Argentinian sweets. We brought some home. Zeph and I made a collage of a Phoenix and then researched and compared South American mythical creatures with British ones. He made this …. wall hanging?!? Possibly more achieved in 6 hours than 6 weeks of school. This is child led learning. It is experiential, hands on, negotiated, fun and memorable. It involved: English, ICT, Citzenship, Geography, RS, Art, DT, Food, Science (biology) And languages. It didn’t involve a work sheet from twinkle.