Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Forest Schools in Beautiful School Grounds - A Two Part Story!

This post tells the story of two school grounds and how they have been developed to create valued learning spaces outside the classroom. A post about how buildings speak is a long time coming as it is more research based than my usual posts, but these outdoor classrooms speak for themselves. Think about your most powerful memories from childhood. Mine are mostly things that have happened outside - are yours?

Bug sculptures with my year 5/4s
Back in 2009 I organised a sustainability week at the school I worked in to celebrate (and add to) the work on developing the school grounds. 

The first tree planting
My class with our bug hotel

At this point in my career I was an AST, but was also heavily involved in a cluster sustainability project. I  worked with our school eco team to gain the silver eco award and was desperate to become a green flag school. The grounds were very sports oriented and the 'wild area' had been blocked off for a while as it was so overgrown. With a colleague who shared my passion for the outdoors we redesigned the wild area into a quiet reading and reflection area (with nooks and crannies to explore) and relocated the 'wild area' to the corner of the school away from the road, backing onto a disused barn and rough ground. A perfect position to attract wildlife. You can see some of the work in my eco blog. From the first dig, to filling the pond, planting trees and creating an organic, wild area it was a wonderful adventure.

Digging the new pond - badly!

Supported and advised by Tim the Ranger at every step

Creating an 'entrance' into the wild area

Within the wild area we had log piles, log stepping stones that we didn't step on because they were bug homes, wild flower mounds and an area at the back of the pond that belonged to the wildlife, not us. Although the area had to be fenced off, we planted trees and had wild grass areas that flowed out to keep it organic looking. Tim taught us how to stomp and cut pathways through so that we could sweep for bugs. We learned so much from him about keeping it as natural as possible whilst creating a haven for wildlife. 

The mounds 2 years on

We were very proud when our nature club won the Kingfisher Award for our nature and conservation work. 

Once established, our wild area became a haven for all sorts of wildlife, which was much appreciated by nature club and classes alike.

Our marvellous natural pond

So now to 2015 and the delightful transformation of a corner of the field at East Harling Primary and Nursery into our new forest schools area. We are very fortunate to have three members of staff with the forest schools award. I am naturally very envious of this as it was an aim of mine, but I understand that you can't do everything! I feel very fortunate that one of our passionate teachers has taken the lead in a massive way and organised the whole marvellous shebang! The photos really do not do it justice, so I will blog again later in the year when the willow has established and the trees are in leaf. My impatience won't let me keep this under wraps that long - I want others to see what can be achieved! 

Look closely and you will see the willow hedge that borders this (to be named) area
Jane is the driving force behind this and she has enlisted the support of the school community through her hard work and determination. She organised two working parties to help plant 50 established trees that were geberously donated by a local nursery - Robin Tacchi Plants - and a copse pack from the woodland trust. She has persuaded local businesses to provide natural resources and gained funding to purchase a shed and some essential forest school 'tools'.  

Broadland tree services donated the seating for our outdoor classroom and I cannot wait to teach outside! It feels wonderful out there!

Last year our lovely TA, Zoe, persuaded her partner to deliver some branches suitable for den building. We will probably still walk down to our local fen to den build, but this is wonderful for small groups of children and for nurture activities.

More seating arrived yesterday from the forestry commission. It shows just how generous people are with their time as well as resources.

The 'tunnel' of established trees leads all the way down to our pond area, which could be on the agenda for future development. 

This account is merely the bare bones of our forest school story, but I know that there will be many stories to come in the future - and lots of happy memories! Thank goodness for Jane, her vision and her determination to create an amazing outside space for our school community. Having been through that process myself, from initial planning to realising the dream, I know what a time consuming, but worthwhile and soul-hugging process it is. 

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