Outdoor learning encompasses and permeates the whole curriculum at Wood Ley School. We believe that spending time outdoors is essential to the development of the whole child and this is reflected in the things we offer both as part of curriculum lessons and our specific Forest School sessions. It has been widely documented that free play in nature, and a feeling of being connected with nature, play an important part in children’s intellectual, social and emotional development. Our children love learning outdoors in a wide variety of contexts and this is demonstrated by the extremely high percentage of children responding positively when asked how they feel about learning outdoors.
Outdoor Education as a whole has become an important part of the children’s learning experience at Wood Ley School since the introduction of our Forest School program. Staff are encouraged to use outdoor learning in a variety of lessons, where appropriate, to help children engage with their learning in a different way and so that they can benefit from being in the outdoor environment at the same time. This could include a range of activities such as pond dipping and science lessons, active maths outside, reading sessions, art sketching and any other activity that is able to be completed outside to enhance learning.
Forest School is a way of working with children that was developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s. It is a way of reconnecting children with nature, and giving them the freedom and skills to learn and develop in a natural environment. Forest School in England was introduced in the 1990s and it has since become a very popular way of engaging with children and nurturing not only their academic skills but also their physical, social and emotional development. Forest school aims to nurture the whole child, and benefits to self-esteem, confidence, social skills, creativity, emotional intelligence and overall well-being are well documented. Through a range of practical activities including things like playing with/moulding mud, whittling, tree climbing, imaginative play, fire-making, cooking and den building, children are encouraged and supported to work with each other and with nature in a respectful but fun way. Children are able to achieve small steps towards a goal in their own time scale to give them a sense of achievement and pride. They are given the freedom to choose their own path of activities and therefore to develop and engage with those areas of themselves that is comfortable for them. This can give them a sense of wellbeing and freedom that is difficult to achieve in a more structured setting. Children will often follow their own path of discovery and learn many new facts and skills often without even realising it! Often, Forest School sessions can give children a new connection with nature, helping them to value and respect the outdoor environment and their world. There is a very inclusive feel to sessions and children of all abilities and backgrounds will be able to be challenged at their own level. Through Forest School, children have access to a creative curriculum, whilst at the same time learning important life skills that cannot always be offered in the classroom setting.
At Wood Ley School, children have at least one 5/6 week block of Forest School sessions over the course of the year. The sessions are led by class teachers who have been trained and are supported by our Forest School and Outdoor Education leader. We follow a progression of skills to ensure that there are new skills for the children to learn as they progress through the school. This document can be found at the top of this page. Safety is a key priority and all key risk assessments are in place an updated regularly. Forest School sessions are a highlight of the year for many of our children, and it is a pleasure to see them develop a range of new skills.
Our Outdoor Environment
At Wood Ley we take great pride in our outdoor spaces. In recent years we have acquired a large piece of woodland to the side of our school that we use for Outdoor Learning sessions and Forest School. Each year we have adapted and improved this area to allow more of it to be enjoyed by our children. We even have a pond area to allow for pond dipping and science work. This year, we are in the process of having work done to establish the last section of our wooded area with a large seating area and firepit, along with a shelter, to enable our oldest students to enjoy longer periods of time at Forest School. We have refurbished a part of our school grounds to make an allotment and reading area. This is a quieter space containing a reading hut with books to enable children to read outside on the benches provided. Each key stage has the responsibility for a section of the allotments so that each child has the opportunity to take part in growing and looking after plants and flowers. This area also has a potting shed to enable gardening work to be completed all year round. Other developments in our grounds include the extremely popular adventure trail, gazebo, a mini meadow and a bespoke separate area for our year 5/6 children. We are always looking for opportunities to develop our grounds and will continue to do so in response to the children’s interests and needs.
Our next project is to develop a mindfulness garden using an Eco Grant kindly donated by Stowmarket Council.