Forest School Fun With The Endeavour School

By Wendy Pike

Pupils in Drake class absolutely love Monday mornings.  It’s Forest School day.  Switching the classroom and formal lessons for structured activities and games in the woods, these Endeavour School pupils start their week, whatever the weather, at Forest School in nearby Thriftwood. Ask any one of them and they’ll tell you it’s enormous fun.

“Forest school is the best. We do fun activities. I like to cook marshmallows. We made a face out of leaves. I made a face sticking their tongue out,” said Chloe in Year 6.

Classmate Morgan said: “I like everything about forest school. I like drinking hot chocolate and when we play a game, Deer and Wolves.”

Among the subjects chosen by pupils for their woodland leaf-art creations were numerous rabbits, a disco ball and an angry man. Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Luke Sywalker made an appearance too.

“They’re learning about team working. We’ve done art without them realising and there’s been lots of conversation and social interaction, which is really nice,” said class teacher Miss Jodie Messenger.

Anthony Hattam, Deputy Headteacher believes Forest School has much to offer.

“The children can run though the woods. They’re not in any danger, they’re completely safe.

“It’s just a great experience for them all rather than sitting at a desk all day long and I think they learn just as much by these experiences.”

Forest School - fun learning through play and exercise

Woodland adventures

Who wouldn’t want to start the week with a walk in the woods, playing games, enjoying the fresh air? But isn’t Forest School just simply playtime?

“They love being outside and just playing. That’s what they see it as. But outside, they don’t realise they are actually learning.

“In the classroom they can feel learning is quite forced whereas at Forest School, Mr Jackson’s here as well and I’m not the teacher, so we get a different relationship,” said Miss Jodie Messenger, Drake class teacher.

Leading Drake class’ Forest School adventure is former primary school teacher of 25 years John Jackson of Billericay Bushcraft.

“It’s more than playing because they’re learning all the time.

“They’re learning about different animals and how to interact with nature but also loads of scientific evidence proves that being outside in green areas like the woods is really good for your mental health,” said John, also known as Grizzly.

Everyone has adopted a Forest School name. On Mondays the Drake class register reads duck, eagle, snake and tiger, to name a few.

Serpent aka Vinnie said: “I kinda like the creatures around here and how we can do stuff in the forest.”

Joyful shouts, chatter and laughter. Rustling leaves and twigs snapping underfoot. These noises contribute to the forest soundtrack of the children playing a game.

“They’re learning hiding and camouflage techniques and teamwork but they’re learning all sorts of stuff about how animals would interact in the wild.

“We link a lot of the games to animals. We play a game like rock paper scissors but it’s called Salmon, Fly, Mosquito, so they learn about what eats what in the food chain. It gives them a bit more of an experience than just playing a game,” said Grizzly (aka John).

“When they first come into the woods, they go off to their own quiet spot and actually listen. They’re properly engaging with their senses – smells, sights sounds, feeling the wood, how different it feels. They all come back and share what they’ve done.

“It helps them to understand the seasons,” said learning support assistant Tansy ‘Tawny Owl’ Cook.

Grizzly added: “As the spring comes we’ll be looking at plants growing up and maybe find some edible plants which we’ll teach them about. As we get into the start of summer we’ll be looking at the bugs and animals that are around.”

Forest School & wonders of the natural world

The great outdoors

As well as learning about the natural world and keeping fit, what do the children get out of Forest School? Well they’re building confidence and resilience, learning teamwork, social skills, communication, co-operation, practical bushcraft skills (the list goes on) … and the children have a great time.

“The biggest thing they’ll get from this is confidence because all the activities are designed to be small, simple, achievable. And they learn resilience.

“Sometimes they’ll find things hard. We need firewood, so we have to go out and find it. It isn’t just given to them like a lot of the stuff in the modern world is.

“So they found sawing the wood quite tricky to start with but then they have to apply themselves and learn it. Nothing’s too difficult but a lot of things won’t be easy to do straight away. If they fail in the forest, what does it matter? Try again next time,” added Grizzly.

“A lot of the children just cannot do this where there live. Some don’t have access to country parks and woods.

“I think it’s great. I think all schools should be able to have the freedom and luxury to be able to do this,” added Mr Hattam.

Chloe ‘caterpillar’ concluded: “This is the best day of my life and there’s hot chocolate!”

For Ride class, Monday afternoons, when it’s their turn to enjoy Forest School, are the best.

© Wendy Pike November 2016

This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette.

The Endeavour School Brentwood www.endeavour.essex.sch.uk