Forest School brings smiles to their faces

Forest School brings smiles to their faces

In our latest blog, Senior Education Officer Martha tells us all about a Forest School session she attended recently at Hazel Primary School in Leicester. Martha speaks with the Forest School Leader and the class teacher about how the sessions are having a positive impact on the children. 

Senior Education Officer Martha Rose recently had the privilege of visiting a Forest School session run by her colleague Sophie. Martha tells us about the session and the positive impact it has had on the children at Hazel Primary School in Leicester. 

Sophie has been working with a group of 12 Year 1 children from Hazel Primary School in Leicester, delivering a 2 hour Forest School session with them every week for 9 weeks at Attenborough Arboretum, owned by the University of Leicester. Our programme of Forest School sessions with inner city children is made possible thanks to the generous support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery through our Wild Forest School project.

After immersing myself in the session and talking with Sophie, the teaching staff, volunteer Rowan and of course the children themselves, it’s obvious what a positive impact the Forest School has had.

Forest School aims to improve mental wellbeing, by developing self-esteem, boosting confidence and building resilience. We want children who take part in our sessions to be happier, healthier and more creative.

Forest school children

As soon as the children arrived, it was clear how much they enjoy Forest School. They bounded out of the coach, running towards Sophie and Rowan for hugs, with their faces beaming. When I asked Ahmed why he liked Forest School he said: “Because we get to do everything that is fun.”

Whilst the children are having fun and, as Ahmed describes, getting “to do lots of playing and fun activities”, they are becoming more confident, by trying new activities, taking managed risks and working together. 

As Sophie explains: “Importantly, each child has a voice because we're such a small group and I really try to work on that. There are some very shy children who, when I first met them, wouldn't say their name, even in the circle time. And now they all say their name and they will happily chose an animal to be and say it out loud. Also, it's a real opportunity for them to work together as a group helping each other, whether we're setting a fire, making a swing, making a shelter or playing games, which really benefits them.”

Forest school children

Miss Choudhury, who has been accompanying the children to the sessions, agrees how helpful being in a small group can be: “In PE at school Abiya is very quiet. But at Forest School she is swinging on the rope swing – she wouldn’t do this at school. Small group working helps her be more confident – she’s not scared to try new things.”

Miss Choudhury has also noticed the children demonstrating skills not previously seen at school: “The children thrive in this environment and you can see a different side to them. Three of the boys have shown what good physical skills they have.”

Forest School gives the children an opportunity to be outdoors, spend time in nature and learn about wildlife, as Kulsum says: “I learnt about plants and all the different animals”.

This is something that Sophie thinks that many of the children don’t get to do in their day to day lives: “I think Forest School is important for the children who take part because it's essentially about giving them opportunities that they don't usually have to explore natural space. And very importantly, to make a connection to the natural world.”

Miss Choudhury highlights the importance of this: “The children love to explore. Forest School has benefitted the children by [giving them the chance to] explore though outdoor learning – the children need it.”

Forest school children

At Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, we want 1 in 4 people across our two counties taking action for nature by 2030. A first step along this road is enabling children to experience the natural world. As Rowan rightly says: “With global warming - children won’t see the point in protecting the world if they haven’t had hands on experience in it.”

It’s not just the children that Forest School benefits. Rowan discovered how calming Forest School activities can be: “[I have most enjoyed] getting out of the city and into nature and all the of the creative things. During one of the sessions we had to find different colours in nature. I never noticed how many there were before. So Forest School is quite mindful.”

And Sophie finds her work very rewarding: "I love my job and I particularly love my role with the Leicester City school children. Most children really thrive in this beautiful, natural place, particularly children who perhaps don't do as well in a classroom setting. Being outdoors is fundamental to, I think, human beings’ good physical and mental health. And if I can be a small part of allowing some children to experience that and have opportunities for that, then that's why I love what I do.”

Forest school children

I had such a good time, being with such a delightful group. The children played games, looked for native woodland soft toy animals, swung on rope swings, created beads out of elder wood, made leaf prints, stacked wooden blocks and dug holes, all in two hours! Each child takes away something from Forest School, whether it’s a feeling, a skill, a new experience or something physical. Rebecca is very pleased with the elder bead choker she made and said she will “hang it on my bunk bed so I can remember Forest School.”

Miss Choudhury concluded: “Forest School allows the children to have fun and be themselves. It is a great experience. They are so excited when they go back to school and tell the others about it. The children really enjoy it.”

This was their last session and Sophie is sad that they will not be meeting in the outdoors again (she will see them at school the following week to give them their certificates), so refuses to say goodbye!

But all of the children are looking content and happy as they leave. Sophie has done a brilliant job, and the children know how important it is to her that they’ve enjoyed their time together. Because as Kulsum says: “Sophie likes children having smiles on their faces” and this is exactly what they have.

Find out more about our Wild Forest School project here. 

Forest school children