Forest School and Growth Mindset
Forest school provides an opportunity for children to explore the outdoor environment, develop a connection with nature and improve a whole range of skills from personal, social and emotional, to physical development and communication.
It embodies the growth mindset outlook by teaching children to love challenges, to understand that mistakes are the way we learn, to enjoy effort/hard work, and the joy of continuously learning. Every child is encouraged to take responsibility for their own development through the diversity of all the seasons. The changing state of the natural environment ensures that each Forest School session is full of discovery and difference. However, each session shares the common set of Forest School principles, the purpose of which ensure that all participants experience the growing and lasting benefits that Forest School can bring.
Forest School principles (and how this links to growth mindset at Heatherley)
- Forest school is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session
Groups of children from KS1 and KS2 are taken out weekly for 2 hour sessions. To allow the long-term process to be implemented whilst affording as many children as possible the opportunity to access the programme, the school year is split in 2. Therefore, each group should get approximately 24 weeks outside, experiencing the changing seasons and allowing for confidence to build and be sustained, and for initial frustrations in failure to be overcome.
- Forest school takes place in a woodland setting which children cannot access during break times; this supports the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world
Children are taken to our ‘Forest School’ area which is fenced off from the playground and not accessible during breaktime. The area has been developed to provide plenty of natural play and wildlife – this is ongoing with the introduction of a pond area in the coming months, together with a wildflower meadow. Although not a true woodland, we are fortunate enough to have many trees and plants and wild areas for the children to develop a relationship with the natural environment.
- Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning
By providing a wide range of play opportunities (including hammocks, a dig zone, bird watching, a slack line, den building, natural musical instruments, loose parts play, mini beast exploration, wildlife identification, a construction area, woodland puppets, climbing apparatus) children are encouraged to challenge themselves, learn new things, stretch their imaginations, and generally do things they may not otherwise have experience of. A community of learning is supported by encouraging teamwork. To champion other’s successes, and to be inspired by them, rather than feeling threatened by them.
- Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
Resilience/confidence – children are encouraged to see that mistakes are not failures, just the way we learn, and that by keeping going and trying again, they can succeed but if they don’t, that is ok too. Not everyone is good at everything, it’s about learning what they are good at and what they need to do to achieve their goal. Understanding that effort and attitude are everything. (good example – fire lighting with flint and steel/whittling and using the slack line).
Independence/creativity – see above re. opportunities for self-directed play – by observing this, it determines guided activities to challenge and stretch the children away from their comfort zone. For the children to learn things they may not have thought possible (again fire lighting, whittling, knife work, making things or even just bird watching/identifying wildlife, learning birdsong – all things they may have initially thought unachievable)
Children are encouraged to believe that they can learn anything they want to – it just takes determination and a positive attitude (example whittling pegs, making bows and arrows, natural dream catchers, building dens from natural materials)
- Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves
The idea is that we do not say no to an activity, we say, ok, why do you want to do it, what benefits will it have, what is the worst that could happen and what steps can we take to minimise the risk – dynamic risk assessing with the children. By doing this, children are taught to take responsibility for their actions, how to stay safe and how to keep others safe, and in doing so build their confidence and resilience. Again, not having a ‘I can’t do that attitude, but a ‘I can’t do that yet, but I will find a way to do it safely’
- Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice
Mrs Woodhouse is currently studying to become a Forest School Practitioner. She is also part of local network of forest schools within primary schools to develop practise as well as attending regular meetings with forest school practitioners from different areas (online)
Adults working in/volunteering at Forest School are encouraged to lead by example with the children – to show their own growth mindset in learning new skills, preserving at difficult tasks. Adults are also encouraged to share with children praise for how hard they are trying rather than how clever they are – promoting the idea that we are constantly learning and developing.