The ethos of Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and young people and for their capacity to instigate, test and maintain curiosity in the world around them. It believes in children’s right to play; the right to access the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment); the right to access risk and the vibrant reality of the natural world; and the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build a resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.
Forest School is based more on the process of learning than it is on the content – more on the ‘how’ than the ‘what’. This means that genuine Forest School practice steps boldly out of the shadow and limitation of ‘planned activities’ and ventures collaboratively into the realms of the unplanned, unexpected, and ultimately unlimited.
Children and young people are given encouragement to direct their own learning – this often requires catalysing on the part of the Forest School leader either through stimulating play in the outdoors or through ‘scaffolding’ a child’s learning, but mostly through simply observing how children are in the outdoors.
Significantly, and on many levels, a woodland environment is central in supporting this very dynamic approach to learning: the passage of time, from the changing of the seasons, to the contemplation of an ancient tree; the dynamic nature of an outdoor environment – an infinite source of smells, textures, sounds and tastes; a range of visual stimuli from near to far, high to low, very big to very small; and the infinite layers of historical, cultural, spiritual and mythological significance that speak of our deep relationship with trees and woodland through the ages.
Aligning with our school values of Creativity, Resilience, Teamwork, Inclusion and Respect; our aims within the Forest School are to:
- Create an outdoor-focused community where children are confident, happy, free-thinking and valued.
- Present children with opportunities to use a range of tools as well as create and manage their own projects.
- Facilitate child-led activities across a variety of seasons where children will experience risks and challenges.
- Allow children time and space to reflect on learning, individually and collectively, and develop a strong, positive relationship with their natural world.
- Embody Botley School’s ‘Growth Mindset’ outlook where children are taught to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. This specialised learning approach which sits within and complements the wider context of outdoor and woodland education, enables every child to drive their own development amidst the wonder and magic of all the seasons.
The ever-changing marvels of the natural world fill every Forest School session with discovery and difference. Yet each session shares a common set of principles, aimed at ensuring that all learners experience the cumulative and lasting benefits that quality Forest School offers.
At the beginning of the year we introduce the Forest School rules for any new pupils and a reminder to any returning. The rules are then reiterated every new term.
- The Three Whistles Rule
Pupils know that when the Forest School Leader blows three sharp whistles they must immediately stop what they are doing, put down any sticks or equipment and return to the fire circle within one minute. This is our most important rule which is used to gather the children together as it may be an emergency, a new task, or the end of the session.
- The Boundary Rule
Children must not leave the boundary of the Forest School area we are using. Children must be seen across all sites as much as possible for the adults.
- The Stick Rule
We encourage the children to use what nature provides for their games and imagination. Sticks can become branches and branches can become logs so the children cannot use any sticks that are longer than their arm unless given guidance by an adult (for dens, etc).
- The Running Rule
Whilst in the Wood or the Applegrove, the children must not run. Running through undergrowth or uneven ground invariably causes an injury. No running with sticks. No running through the fire circle.
- The Fire Rule
When the fire is in use, children must adopt a "proposal position"; kneeling down on one knee to approach the fire. This allows the child to withdraw quickly should there be a problem. Sticks should only be pointed at the fire.
- The Climbing Rule
Tree climbing is a great activity for the children to engage in. Some trees on our sites are small enough for the children to clamber over without supervision. Large trees are designated "The Climbing Tree" on a rotation through the year so the tree can have recovery time and must be supervised by an adult.
- The 'It's Mine' Rule
Children often want to leave the site with sticks once the session has ended. Unfortunately, if every child did this we would have no wood left, so children are reminded of how the Wood's ecosystem works and that the Wood needs natural material to feed fungi, flora, and fauna to ensure a healthy woodland system.
As we leave the site we have a 'stick amnesty' where children are asks to hand in any sticks they may be hiding. If the session has been focused on producing an item from our natural resources then they can take this home.
- The 'Be Kind' Rule
Kindness in Forest School is one of the most valuable school values. We champion kindness to each other; children and adults alike. We teach the importance of feelings and how being kind to one another can help. Looking out for someone who is upset, hurt, or needing a friend and never leaving someone left out.