The Forest School difference
If you go down to the woods today… you may find our Pre-Prep pupils getting stuck into a creative Forest School session.
Junior King’s has been an accredited Forest School since 2008, with its own specialist Forest School Leader trained to Level 3, who is supported by an experienced team of teachers and teaching assistants, all trained to Level 2.
Long-established and loved by the pupils, the programme is an intrinsic part of our Pre-Prep ethos. Our belief is that early years education should develop the whole individual to broaden horizons, opportunities and experiences, and our Forest School provision is designed to do just that through a programme that includes elements of scouting, crafts, environmental awareness, experiential adventure activities and bushcraft skills such as fire-lighting and tool use. With a rolling schedule allowing each year group, from Nursery through to Year 2, to enjoy the benefits of a series of two hour sessions each term, all Pre-Prep pupils get the chance to enjoy time in Forest Park, the school’s own enclosed portion of on-site woodland.
In a world that is becoming more and more technology-driven, one of the obvious benefits of the sessions is that they create space for children to interact with the natural world. As an alternative to class-based work, this designated time transforms the school’s countryside surroundings into something to be explored and interacted with, rather than a backdrop to the learning experience. With activities and class discussion centred on seasonal themes, children develop an awareness of the world around them, as well as benefitting from exercise, fresh air and the relaxed surroundings of the forest, which is tucked away from the rest of the school, an oasis in a busy, industrious learning environment.
Perhaps the most radical departure from teacher-led classroom learning is that Forest School sessions are predominantly child-led, with a focus on developing independence and responsibility. A typical session will see two children allocated as leaders, whose duty it is to ensure that the class cooperates during the walk from the classrooms to the woodland. This involves making sure that the Forest School trolley is stacked safely and sensibly with the lesson’s tools and materials and that everyone gets a turn helping to navigate. Teachers are on hand to advise, but the onus is very much on the children to step up to the challenge.
Basic guidelines and safety ground rules are well-established, and once the gate to Forest Park is closed, “base camp” (represented by a circle of tree stumps and logs in a clearing) acts as a controlled zone where instructions are given out. Sessions usually involve a hands-on activity and free play time, with the latter taking place out of sight of staff amongst the trees. In the self-contained space of Forest Park, children learn to assess and manage risk, letting their imaginations dictate their play: whether it’s building dens, playing hide and seek or constructing fairy houses, the children need no instruction on what to do in their surroundings.
Discussing the benefits of the learner-led approach of Forest School lessons, one teacher observed that ‘being out of a controlled environment and given freedom doesn’t mean being naughty. Being allowed to be on their own gave them self-responsibility to make their own choices and sensible decisions and learn to behave in an unstructured environment’.
Indeed, the loosely structured environment works wonders to develop independence of thought and action, with children exploring their own capabilities, experiencing new situations, and probing at the boundaries of their own adventurousness. With educational attainment so often measured through tangible progress, one of the joys of Forest School is the focus on the child’s inner life, where essential qualities such as self-esteem, confidence, resourcefulness and resilience can be seen to be flourishing alongside the seasons.