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Forest schools flourish when young people log off and learn from nature | Schools

After more than a year of shutdowns, with limited access to nature, Magdalena Begh rejoiced when her six-year-old daughter returned home from forestry school and told her she had found three rat skeletons. One of them, Alia said, was “pretty fresh.” “These little observations are very crucial to their learning – it’s amazing,” Begh says.

Since Alia and her nine-year-old sister Hana started attending the Urban Outdoors Adventures in Nature after-school club in north London in June, they have been using clay, learning about insects and making campfires, jams and bows and arrows.

They are part of a wave of children across the UK who have joined forest schools since the start of the pandemic, many since September.

Of the more than 200 forest schools surveyed by the Forest School Association (FSA), about two-thirds said that the demand for their services had increased since March 2020. Among the reasons mentioned was increased awareness of the benefits of the outdoors, especially in relation to stress. and anxiety, Covid security, and dissatisfaction with the school curriculum after months of pandemic homeschooling.

“I never think it’s been more popular,” said Gareth Wyn Davies, executive director of the FSA, who expects demand to continue to rise. But there is still some way to go. “It is a fairly young sector, just over 20 years old. And it’s a grassroots moment – it’s not the top-down government’s attention yet. “

Forest schools, which focus on unstructured play, exploration and inner motivation, arrived in the UK in 1993. Inspired by the outdoor culture – or outdoor life – in Scandinavia, sessions are usually held either entirely or mostly outdoors and are intended to supplement, rather than replace, traditional education.

State schools are increasingly holding forestry school sessions for students during the school day because they are considered to be beneficial to mental and physical health, behavior, and academic performance – as well as being relatively “covid-safe.”

Begh says that when she grew up in a village in the middle of nature, she was always keen to enroll her daughters in forestry school. So when she heard about someone nearby, she put their names down right away. “After the first session, they were very excited – I have never seen them so happy after doing such an after-school club.”

A woman with children gathered around a campfire and pushed with both hands
Abby Sutcliffe, Director of Urban Outdoors Adventures in Nature. Photo: Andy Hall / the observer

Abby Sutcliffe, director of the Urban Outdoors Adventures in Nature Forest School, which works with 100 children a week in after-school and 60 students in schools, says there has been a “massive enrollment” in the past year. “It’s a combination of the shutdowns and people realizing that being outdoors is actually pretty good for your mental health.”

During the first lockdown, they held free sessions for local children, and they have just completed a year-long youth program with bushcraft, blacksmithing and herbal care. While some forest schools are held on National Trust land or private forest, Sutcliffe’s is operated as an urban forest school in public spaces, including a nature reserve and a park by the canal. The benefits of mental health and well-being are “tangible,” she says.

Schools are turning to forestry school to teach children social, emotional and physical skills that have become rusty during lockdown, says Vicki Stewart, director of Brightwood Training near Swindon. She says the forest school is also being used to meet the needs of children, which has changed since the 1990s, but which has been particularly accelerated by the pandemic.

“Kids use technology indoors to talk to their friends instead of going outdoors, and they’ve relied more and more on technology – since Covid, it’s happened even more.”

She teaches children old-fashioned group games such as hide-and-seek, roof and grandmother’s footsteps because they do not know how to play them – partly, she says, because of Covid, but also because of security concerns about playing outside. and pressure to reach academically.

But while forestry schools take children away from technology, it “sneaks in” through their imagination, says Kent-based forestry school principal Anna Bell. “When a child now makes a camp, there will not always, but much of the time, be a flat screen TV, which is a piece of wood, which will be a remote control, which will be an Xbox or something.”

Shutdowns were “a chance to get off the treadmill” for families, says Lewis Ames, co-director of Devon-based Forest School Children of the Forest. They have seen an increase in the number of applications since the beginning of the pandemic, with about 150 families on their waiting list for toddler groups and 50-60 children on the waiting list for their forest school for homeschooled children.

“That break gave many families time to think and go, ‘does this work? Or do we just survive and get through?’” Says Ames. “Which then made many of the families who started with us go ‘actually no, that’s not quite right ‘. “

Forest schools, which focus on unstructured play, exploration and inner motivation, arrived in the UK in 1993. Inspired by the outdoor culture – or outdoor life – in Scandinavia, sessions are usually held either entirely or mostly outdoors and are intended to supplement, rather than replace, traditional education.

Source: https://newsofamerica.org/2021/10/31/forest-schools-flourish-when-young-people-log-off-and-learn-from-nature-schools/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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