At Woodlanders we follow closely the ethos and practices of a forest school curriculum. Forest schools in the United Kingdom have been adapted from a Scandinavian approach to learning. They originated in Sweden in the 1950s and first came to the UK in the mid-1990s when a group from Bridgwater College in Somerset visited Denmark and witnessed children playing outside, leading their own activities, cooking on open fires, climbing and using tools. They were inspired by what they saw and started to run their own forest school sessions in the UK. Since then, forest schools have become increasingly popular across the country.
The ethos of forest school and also our own Woodlanders here at Longmead, is based on the fundamental respect for children and young people and their capacity to investigate, test, and maintain curiosity in the natural world around them. It upholds the rights of children to:
- Access the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment);
- Access risk;
- Experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.
Woodlanders is based more on the process of learning than on the content. Children are given encouragement to direct their own learning and the adults are encouraged to see themselves as scaffolders and facilitators of that learning journey, and as co-learners alongside the children and young adults. Play and the importance of play is an underpinning principle for Woodlanders. We see play as an essential part of every child’s life and vital for social, emotional, intellectual and physical development (our play policy is included on page 34).
Woodlanders strongly supports and reflects the whole farm’s underpinning ethos: family therapy at Longmead is based upon Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of well-being and happiness which develops 5 core elements; Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. Our woodland learning is a natural extension of this model and encourages the children to:
- explore connections between humans, wildlife and the earth;
- regularly experience achievement and success;
- reflect on learning and experiences;
- develop confidence in supported risk-taking (being risk-aware rather than risk-averse);
- develop personal and social skills;
- work through practical problems and challenges;
- use tools to create, build and manage;
- discover how they learn best;
- pursue knowledge that interests them;
- learn how to manage failures;
- build confidence in decision making and evaluate risk;
- develop practical skills;
- develop language and communication skills;
- improve physical motor skills;
- understand the benefits of a balanced and healthy lifestyle;
- explore the world through their senses.
What happens in a typical session?
Typically, groups of individuals take part in a programme of extended weekly sessions lasting for at least 2 hours. The sessions involve practical hands-on activities which aim to build up participants’ skills, abilities and confidence week by week.
All sessions are designed and led by one of our Level 3 Forest School Practitioners; however, Woodlanders strongly encourages participant-led learning. As the weeks progress, learners are given more freedom and responsibility to explore their interests and, therefore, initiate and increase choice in their own learning.
At Woodlanders we use natural resources to stimulate imagination, creativity and investigation. Activities can include:
- shelter building
- natural art
- fire lighting
- animal tracking
- bug hunts
- tree investigations
- climbing and balancing
- woodwork using tools e.g. musical instruments, jewellery, decorative items
- creating bug homes and bird feeders
- collecting, identifying and sorting natural materials
- team games
Our sessions are suited to all ages and abilities. The aim is to develop the person as a whole, increasing self-confidence, resilience and well-being through learner-inspired experiences.
Our sessions are designed to:
- foster care, appreciation and respect for wildlife and the natural world;
- help participants to develop self-confidence, resilience and well-being;
- develop physical abilities and help participants stay active and healthy;
- heighten self-awareness and improve emotional and social skills;
- promote co-operative and group working;
- encourage participants to take care of themselves and others;
- broaden knowledge and understanding of the natural world;
Children are always encouraged to ‘leave no trace’ and minimise their impact on the site. This will include:
- Finding out about the different animals and plants that live in the woodland.
- Learning to respect animal homes.
- Careful observation of live animals.
- Leaving deadwood lying in place.
- Taking all materials and litter with them when they leave.
- Ensuring that the site is left as they found it.
- Giving back to the environment through planting, creating habitats and being involved in the natural management of the site such as coppicing, path maintenance and species protection.