At Therfield First School, we place high importance on outside learning. We recognise that learning does not always need to take place within the classroom. We provide our children with many opportunities to learn in the natural environment and apply their learning in real-life and practical contexts. In 2017, we launched our Outside School provision. In 2018, this evolved to weekly forest school sessions. These fantastic sessions are now a highlight of the school week for our pupils.
The ethos of Forest Schools is to ‘allow children the time and space to develop skills, interest and understanding through a range of activities which provide practical, hands-on experiences in a natural environment.’ Forest school helps children with their confidence and can improve their self-esteem, emotional and mental wellbeing.
What does Forest School look like at Therfield First School?
In addition to our emphasis on outside learning, all classes receive an enriching and inspiring weekly Forest School session. All children keep wellies in school and wear weather-proof overalls during their 'come rain or shine' sessions. Each half term has an exciting over-arching theme which threads through all sessions for that half term. Sessions develop a range of practical skills (making dens, cooking around an open fire, using a range of tools etc), whilst supporting pupils to develop skills and knowledge from other curriculum subjects. This includes the fieldwork component of Geography as well as Science, Maths, English, Art, DT, History and Music.
Each session starts with a song to focus attention to the natural environment, using Mindfulness techniques. Rules of keeping safe are discussed and the learning objectives for the session are shared.
Please read below for an overview of our forest school half term units from last year and this year so far. There is an accompanying slide show of photos to give you a snippet of the awe and wonder that our children experience. For greater information, please see our weekly newsletter for a weekly Forest School update.
Autumn (i) - Superheroes (2022-23)
The children were excited to hear about our new topic ‘Superheroes’ during their first Forest School session of the year. It was lovely to welcome Honeypot class and show them a glimpse of the outdoor adventures they have to look forward to.
For this week’s session the children were set the task to ‘invent themselves’ as new superheroes! They were given a mask to decorate using only natural materials found in the Forest School space. I was amazed to see how creative the children were with their materials and designs, as they shared their ideas, it inspired others to develop their patterns. The session ended with the children sharing their masks with the class and discussing their new secret powers.
For the second session the children were given a white fabric cape to decorate using natural dyes. The children explored how blackberries, grass, red berries, carrots and tomatoes (harvested from our vegetable patch) sand, mud and charcoal (left over from our campfires) could be used to draw and colour different designs and patterns on the white fabric. The children couldn’t believe their eyes when they were drawing with carrots and grass and using the natural print from the logs to use as rubbings. What creative superheroes!
The third session focused on two different activities; making wands by whittling willow sticks with peelers and then decorating them with natural objects stuck into clay and den building. The children had to work in teams using natural and man-made materials to build a superhero shelter to keep them safe and dry. This was a great team building session and it was wonderful to see the different creative camps. During the session the rain poured down, but it did not damped the children’s spirits, if anything they loved every second!
To mark the end of our forest school topic ‘Superheroes’, the children were excited to find out that we were building a campfire to cook our superhero snack… popcorn! For Honeypot class this was their first experience of building a campfire in Forest School. The children listened amazingly and understood the importance of how to stay safe during a campfire session. As well as this, the older children impressed me with their responsible attitudes and understanding of fire safety. All the children took part in building the class campfire and enjoyed watching and listening to the popcorn pop on the fire. Their faces were a true picture of amazement and wonder as the kernels popped out of the pan. Once the popcorn was ready, the children dressed themselves with their previously-made capes, masks and wands and enjoyed their own cup of ‘superhero popcorn.’ What a tasty way to end the topic!
Autumn (ii) - The Elements (2022-23)
The children were excited to find out that our new topic for this half term was ‘The Elements.’ We talked about the elements of the earth (fire, water, air and earth) and how we can explore these through forest school. To kick start the topic we learnt about ‘air’ with a focus on ‘the wind’ this was a perfect introduction for this week with the weather being so autumnal.
The children began exploring how to find out which direction the wind was blowing by throwing leaves into the air and watching which way they were travelling. This then gave them the idea to make a wind sock using the natural materials from the forest school space. Part of the session was to teach the children how to tie a knot and thread the leaves onto the string. I was very impressed with how independent the children worked and how helpful they were to their friends. The session finished with an awe and wonder moment where the children couldn’t believe their eyes when their wind sock began to rise and move in the wind.
Next, we continued to look at the theme ‘air’. We talked about how sound travels through the air. The session started with the children listening for different sounds and identifying what they were and where they were coming from. We then discussed how the sound was able to travel, we used a skipping rope to show how sound waves vibrate. The children then used natural materials to create their own sounds. After, they joined their friends to make their own band and perform their pieces to the class. The lesson ended with a whole class drumming session which the children thoroughly enjoyed.
We then looked at the element ‘Water’ this was carried out through a floating and sinking experiment where the children learnt which materials would be best used to make a raft. The children collected natural materials and tested out their predictions by finding out what floats and sinks. Once the children found the best materials available they used their DIY skills to safely use a hand drill and saw to design their raft. I was very impressed with their final pieces.
Continuing with this theme, it was finally time for the children to float their rafts on the puddles. As we set off the sun was shining and the children in Rooks Nest class had the pleasure of enjoying the activity in the sunshine. However with a sudden turn in the weather, Duckpuddle class found themselves floating their boats in hail. As our topic is ‘The Elements’ the weather really did give children the best opportunity to bring their learning to life! There were lots of smiles to be seen as the session ended with jumping and splashing in the puddles.
To conclude the theme ‘water’ the children had the challenge to turn muddy water into clean water by making their own natural filter. Each group of children were given the task to collect a range of natural materials to create the different layers. The children were amazed to see the water change colour and become clearer each time they filtered it.
To end our Forest School session for the year, I decided to bring Duckpuddle and Rooks Nest Class together for a Christmas afternoon of games and fun. The session started with a game of ‘cheeky elves’ where the children enjoyed working in teams to come up with strategic plans to protect their presents! After all the running around, we then came together to the forest school space to light a fire and warm up some delicious hot chocolate. While the hot chocolate was bubbling away the children enjoyed singing songs and sharing Christmas stories. The children were very excited to share a warm cup of hot chocolate and a marshmallow (or two!) with their friends. What a fun way to end the year and to conclude our topic for this term ‘The Elements’.
Spring (i) - Teamwork Makes the Dream Work! (2022-23)
During Spring Term 1 the children were really looking forward to trying out different challenges with their new topic ‘Team Work Makes the Dream Work!’ The focus for this half term was to teach and develop team work through communication, listening skills and negotiation. During the first week the children worked with a group of friends to create an obstacle course using natural materials. They then explained how to move around the course as well as listen to constructive feedback to improve their creation. During the sessions
the weather became quite wild, however this did not dampen the children’s spirits, and they completed the activity with such enthusiasm.
The following week saw a change in the weather and the crisp frosty air alongside the sun beaming down created a lovely environment for our forest school session. This week the focus was orienteering. Each class was given a map of the forest school space and worked in teams to find 10 hidden pine cones (with a number attached) and to plot it on the map. Honeypot class worked in 2 groups led by myself and Miss Adams, we were very impressed with the children identifying the different symbols on the map and running to each station to find the number. In Duckpuddle Class it was amazing to see the children carry out this task with minimal adult support, they listened so well to the instructions that as soon as they could, they were off! And finally, Rooks Nest Class were set the challenge to compete the same task, but given no clues to where the pine cones were hidden and so had to use their previous knowledge and skills to find and plot
the pine cones on the map.
For the next session the children worked in pairs to make their way around an obstacle course, one wearing a blindfold and the other supporting and encouraging them along their journey. The main aim for this session was to teach the children the importance of communication. The children used their voice to guide their partner safely telling them to walk, climb, stretch, bend and jump around the course, as well as all these travelling techniques the thick mud added an extra element of fun to the course! Lots of giggles could be heard through out the sessions.
This topic has been one of our favourites, each week I have seen the children’s confidence and resilience improve when working in different teams. They have all fully immersed themselves in all the challenges set.
The final week was lots of fun as the children were asked to build a waterproof shelter using only one sheet of tarpaulin and as many pegs, bands and natural materials as they needed. They were given twenty minutes to build their creation and as soon as the time was up I headed over with my watering can to see if they had completed the challenge successfully. There were lots of cheers as the children emerged from the shelter dry and triumphant!
Spring (ii) – Wildy Curious (2022-23)
The children were interested to learn that our new topic ‘Wildly Curious’ was about asking questions and exploring the signs of spring. The first session started with the exciting news that we had a new Greenhouse. The children learned why we would need this to help with the ‘planting and growing’ part of the topic. The children then set to work looking at a range of seeds and deciding what they wanted to plant. After learning the process of how to plant seeds we discussed the importance of why we needed to use biodegradable plants pots to help the environment. The children followed the instructions well and all planted their own seeds to care for until they are ready to be planted outside.
Continuing with the theme ‘planting’ the children then had the opportunity to make their own Grass Head. The children asked interesting questions to develop their learning further, for example ‘Why would using sawdust be a better than soil for the grass seeds to grow?’ The children listened carefully to the tricky process and worked together to create their own Grass Head characters. Over the coming weeks, the school was inundated with photos of the Grass Heads in full flourish!
Next the children developed their curiosity further by learning why worms are an important mini-beast to have in our outside space. The children worked in groups to make up their own wormery using soil, sand and vegetable peelings. We discussed the job of the earthworm as environmental helpers that feed on the organic material in the soil and as they move around create rich compost that we can use to help our plants to grow. We also talked about how important the worms are in the food chain for other species like birds and hedgehogs. Once they had made their wormery they set off to dig up and search for worms, even in the snow they were lucky enough to find lots of different types of worms.
For the forth session there was a lot of love surrounding Forest School, the children were set a very fiddly, intricate challenge to make a love heart using willow. We tested out the best branches to use and discovered that willow was the most flexible. The children then followed the instructions to make two halves of a heart and tie them together. The focus of the session was to teach the skill of tying a knot, this was quite tricky and so a lot of adult support was needed and growth mind-set from both parties!!! However by the end of the three sessions the children had made a beautiful, natural willow heart to take home.
In true Forest School tradition every topic ends with a campfire and for this half term the children were excited to find out that they were having a yummy Easter treat, cooked on the campfire. The session started with a fire safety lesson reminding us of the rules of how to stay safe near a campfire. We then collected firewood and worked as a team to build and light a fire. Whilst the fire was burning we made our own yummy snacks involving an ice cream cone that contained banana, marshmallows and mini chocolate eggs. We then wrapped the cone in tin foil and placed them on the fire. Whilst our snacks were cooking the children had a jolly singsong of our favourite campfire songs. Then finally after our snacks had cooled down the children got to enjoy their delicious gooey treat.
Summer (i) – Climate Heroes (2022-23)
To launch this important theme we celebrated King Charles II’s Coronation and discussed his integral role in promoting this meaningful movement. We then looked at the three items the king would have to wear/hold during the service, this then inspired the children to design and make their own crown, sceptre and orb. The children designed their own crown and collected natural materials to decorate it. It was lovely to hear the children bring their maths learning into the session by creating and discussing their repeated patterns. When making the sceptre the children used a peeler and a saw to cut and shave their sceptre to the right shape and used the glue gun to stick their creation on the top. To end the session, the children proudly shared and evaluated their work.
Next, we reflected on pledges that we could follow to make a small difference and help save our wonderful planet. A common promise was recycling so for the following session we decided to focus on ‘recycling’ and the importance of saving trees by reusing paper. The children learned how paper is made and then had a try at carrying out the process. The children ripped up old, used paper, then mixed it with water and used a whisk to make a pulp. Once completed the children had to drain the water using a sieve and roll out the fibres onto a tray (We all had our fingers crossed that it would be dry by the next week so we could cut it up and draw on their homemade, recycled paper.) To conclude the lesson, I read the quote by Dr Suess ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to better. It’s not.’ We discussed how caring for the environment and making small changes can help save our special planet.
Once our homemade paper was dry the children decorated and turned it into magnets. The children thought about a simple logo/designs to put on their paper focusing on the theme ‘Our World’. Alongside this we continued our topic ‘Climate Heroes’ by planting a range of wild flower seeds and vegetable bulbs in our vegetable patch. It was also lovely to be joined by Mrs Barrett who was carrying out her own planting activity on behalf of the ‘Friends’ for Father’s Day! She taught the children lots of gardening tips about the different techniques of what seeds need to grow, the children then checked the soil was the right texture and there was the correct amount of space between each variety of seed.
To end our topic ‘Climate Heroes,’ we celebrated the earth by cooking plants and herbs that grow in the Forest school space. The children worked together in classes to produce their own nettle and mint tea; discussing the importance of using home-grown products. Then the children used their previous camp fire skills and safety knowledge to make a fire, boil the tea, put the fire out and then sit with friends to try the drink they had created. There were lots of smiley children clinking cups feeling very proud to try the nettle and mint tea, some children even took cups of tea to other staff members to enjoy!
Summer (ii) – Skills! (2022-23)
To end the last half term of the year, the children were excited to find out that they would be learning to use a range of tools safely to make different items using natural materials from the Forest School space. The focus for this week’s lesson was to safely use a saw to cut a disc from a large branch. This would then become the base for next week’s lesson for the children to work on. The children had to work hard to cut through the wood and were amazed to see the sawdust that was produced from all their hard work, they decided to use it for the hedgehog house.
The following week the children were set the challenge to use a range of different tools to finish off their Father’s Day medals (the disc they cut from the previous week). They learnt how to use a hand drill to make the hole for the twine and a hammer to tap a flower/leaf pattern into the disc. As well as this, the children used elderflower twigs to push out the soft centre with a skewer to make other items of jewellery. The children were very proud of their final gifts to take home and they looked amazing.
Next, the children had the opportunity to develop their understanding of how to safely use a hammer by tapping nails into a tree stump that would then form a shape. They used garden twine to wind around the nails to make the shape into a picture. The children were surprised to see that if they wound the twine in a different order they could create different pictures! The favourite part of the lesson was when the children were showing each other how strong they were when using the ‘claw’ part of the hammer to pull out the nails from the tree stump.
The children then had the opportunity to develop their skills learnt so far when using the Forest School tools. The children enjoyed the freedom to choose from a range of activities and then select the appropriate tools needed. I was really impressed to see how safely and skilfully the children used the tools. There was an extra treat for Duckpuddle Class as one child shared out his homemade elderflower cordial for all the class to try, the verdict was… it was delicious!
The last week marked the final session of Forest School for the year and what an incredible year we have all had! While sitting around the campfire the children reflected on their favourite outdoor lessons. Popular activities included using tools to develop their skills, making grass heads, making paper, learning about the different seasons, campfires, trips out, planting and harvesting our own produce as well as building dens and digging for crystals at playtimes.
The children enjoyed roasting marshmallows over the fire and then building their own delicious s’mores. We ended the session with a good old sing song of our favourite campfire songs and it was heartwarming to see so many chocolatey smiles!
Read below for our half termly Forest School blogs for the academic year 2021-22.
Autumn (i) - Senses (2021-22)
The first topic ‘Senses’ was a very exciting theme that the children looked forward to each week. They enjoyed using the natural world around them to explore each sense. A great example of this was playing ‘What’s that smell?’ The children used pots to fill with different items they could scavenge in the forest school space for their friends to guess… blackberries, rosemary and lavender were the most recognised. As well as this, when learning about ‘hearing’ the children created their own band; discovering different sounds, pitch and volume using a range of natural materials and objects which they then performed back to the group. The most favourite session for this topic was when the children harvested their own grown potatoes, cleaned them up and boiled them on the camp fire; ready to ‘taste’ with a range of sweet, salty, bitter and sour dips. The children were very sensible when learning about fire safety and all took part in building the camp fire.
Autumn (ii) - Colours (2021-22)
The topic ‘Colours’ was the perfect focus for our learning during the change of seasons. We were lucky enough to work in a space full of ever-changing shades of colours. Our first session was to observe this and help inspire us to find patterns within the environment. The children created a whole school wind chime using sticks and colourful recycled paper tape. Next, the children focused their attention on the large maple tree where we meet for each session. We looked at the very bare branches and discussed the changes it makes throughout the year. We gathered up a range of leaves and compared the different sizes and talked about the shades of colours we could see. We then created bookmarks by matching the autumnal shades on the card. To continue with the creative theme the children made autumn wreaths/decorations using natural objects found on the school field. We recapped on pattern, colour and shape. This then inspired them to plan, discuss and make their own unique design. Once finished, they proudly presented their decoration to the group explaining the pattern they had created.
An exciting lesson the children really enjoyed was when they had to make their own paint using fruits grown locally, mud, sand, grass, berries and other foliage they could find in the forest school space. The children learnt the importance of how much water was needed to create a paste as well as learning about the different pigments of colour. When creating the paint the children had to twist, squash, grind, rub and mash the different materials to bring out the dye.
To conclude our topic on ‘Colours’ we focused on the meaning ‘camouflage’. We discussed how important this is for many animals when being hunted by a predator. The children then continued to explore this by working in teams to hide ‘wooly worms’ (prey) around the forest school space, trying to disguise them by colour within the environment. The other team (predators) then had a set amount of time to try to find them. The children found that it was a challenge to find ‘prey’ hiding amongst colours like green, brown and black; whereas, the blue and purple ones were much easier to detect.
Spring (i) - Home and Shelters (2021-22)
During 'Homes and Shelters', the topic was met with excitement as they learnt about what type of shelters and habitats they would be creating. The first focus was building a shelter for a human, we explored a range of natural and manmade objects that could be used to create a hideout suitable to keep one human dry and safe. We discussed a range of designs they could use and why/why not these would be successful. The children then set off in groups to build their own shelter, it was interesting to see the communication within each group and how they worked together to build their creation. The children used leaves, foliage and bark to cover their structure.
In Honeypot Class, the children spoke about how heavy and light the different sticks/logs felt as well as how tall they were. Then the children had the opportunity to learn different techniques and skills when building shelters for hedgehogs, birds and mini beasts. The children looked at different structures and what materials they could use to help recreate their homes. We discussed insulation, ventilation and keeping themselves safe from prey, from this the children then reflected about ‘camouflage’ and why this is important. The children thoroughly enjoyed creating their shelters and we are looking forward to keeping an eye to see if any new occupants take residence.
Spring (ii) - Sticks (2021-22)
Our topic for Spring Term 2 was ‘Sticks!’ During this topic the children focused on cross curricular links with science, art and geography. The children were introduced to the focus by finding a stick and using their imagination to explain to the group what else it could be. Each week the lesson started with the same question, this then gave the children the opportunity to explore how they could use their creativity to help enhance their play when using the forest school space at playtimes.
The children were excited to hear that for the first lesson they would be working in pairs to create a maze for a mouse or a human using only sticks. The children set off and explored the forest school space foraging for a range of sticks, long, short, curved and straight. They then worked together to create their mazes which included tricky dead ends! Once finished the children then had lots of fun testing out each other’s maze!
After this, we then explored the tricky challenge of using sticks to build rafts. The children learned how to weave string to make a secure raft that would then support a pinecone hedgehog to stay afloat on the water. The children made predictions before they placed their rafts into the water to whether or not they would sink or float. There was lots of excitement and cheers when the raft they had built successfully kept the hedgehog dry. For this task the Reception children used clay to help attach the sticks to make their rafts.
Next, the children created stick families, monsters and mythical creatures. After collecting the perfect shaped stick the children in Key Stage 1 and 2 used colourful thread and in Reception biodegradable tape, to make outfits and costumes for their new little friend. Once everyone had finished their creation we sat together in the forest school circle to share what they had made. The children introduced their character and some even made up a story about them. The children enjoyed it so much that they asked to take them off to explore the space around them. It was lovely to see all the children have the freedom to use their imagination creatively with each other.
Finally, there was a lot of excitement in last session of the term when the children learned that they would be whittling sticks to make a bow and arrow or a wand. The children learned the best wood for whittling is willow, this is mainly because they are fairly soft and therefore easy to carve. The children then went off to hunt for young fresh wood to bring back to the base camp, we used our fingers and peeled off any sharp points or buds to make it ready and safe for carving.
Next the children had a masterclass in how to safely whittle sticks using our whittling tool - a peeler. I was very impressed with how sensible and cautious the children where when carving out their creations.
Summer (i) - Magic (2021-22)
This half term our exciting topic was ‘Magic!’ The children were excited to find out all the different activities they were going to carry out over the next few weeks. In different groups we discussed the term ‘magic’ and how it can be interpreted in so many different ways. With that in mind, each week had a very different focus to the term ‘magic!’ The first activity was definitely a very magical one! The children were set the task to make their own bubble wands using only natural materials. They were then challenged to see who could make the longest, biggest and smallest bubbles as well as joining bubbles together and seeing how high they travel before bursting. The awe and wonder that was created was very special, the children were all mesmerised with what they had created!
For the next session the children listened to a Scottish folk tale about a fairy boy. Part of the story explained how magical fairy faces had appeared on the trees in the village where he lived. This inspired the children to then head off into our own forest school space to use clay and forage for other natural materials to make their own faces. The children loved looking at each other’s creations and making up their own stories about their mythical faces on the trees surrounding them. The children were so inspired by the lesson that later in the week the children began to make their own mud faces during break and lunch times, by mixing the dry mud with water and then sticking it to the tree.
In the third forest school lesson, the children created their own magical lands using natural materials that they had found in the forest school space. Bark became bridges, pebbles became stepping stones and sand became the land for their characters to play. It was wonderful to see the children use their imagination to create a land full of wonder and then joining them together to continue their play with their friends. Some even enjoyed telling a story of their land to the group.
One of the children’s favourite activities to do at break or lunchtime is to play in the mud kitchen… making mud pies and other varies concoctions! They set up cafes and shops and have the most wonderful experiences together using water, mud and any other interesting objects they can find. To develop this play to a new level I decided to bring in a new dimension to their play and in keeping with the theme ‘Magic!’ The children made potions!!! The children had a mixture of containers each holding different colourful liquids and natural objects/dyes. The children were set the challenge to make their own potion and to write down the name, the power it contained and the ingredients they used. It was wonderful to witness their creative experiments and hear them using scientific vocabulary such as ‘reaction,’ ‘dissolve’ and also describing words like ‘bubbly,’ ‘colourful’ and ‘mystical’. After presenting their potions they then wanted to use the syringe to share each other’s solution and adding it to their own liquid, asking ‘what will happen now if I mix the invisibility potion with the time traveller potion?’ The imagination and creative language that the children used was inspiring. They loved making their own potions and it will definitely be a lesson that will be continued during their free play!
Finally, we were also very lucky to link one of our forest school sessions with celebrating the Queens 70th Jubilee, for this the children made crowns using willow, flowers and natural objects.
Summer (ii) - Go Create (2021-22)
Our new topic for this half term was ‘Go Create!’ For the first session the children used their class topics to create art master pieces using only natural materials that they had found in the forest school space. The children worked on their own or with a friend and were amazed to see what they could create. Honeypot looked at making a large beanstalk using logs, twigs and leaves. Duckpuddle tried to make pictures of the African animals they were learning about during their ‘creation stories’’ project and Rooks Nest created different Greek gods using natural materials. The children then shared their work and discussed their creations.
Next, we focused on the artist Andy Goldsworthy and discussed his concept ‘Land Art’ and ‘Circles/Spirals.’ Each child was given a bag to collect a range of natural materials from the forest school space, these included; pine cones, different coloured and sized leaves, wheat, grass, wild flowers, mud, sand, stones, feathers etc. They then had a stick frame that they needed to use to create a spiral/circle using their own treasures that they had found. The children found this very peaceful and relaxing and really took their time to develop their pattern. Once the children were finished we then walked around the larger frame and discussed what we liked about the different patterns we could see. Following this we then looked at the bigger picture and discussed how the art attack was a pattern all on its own. It was lovely to see the children take this learning into their play and lunch times.
For the next session, we took some time to take in our surroundings and discussed what we could see: patterns, colours and shapes. This then developed into a conversation about emotions and how different things affect different people’s feelings, examples of this - ‘Poppies make me feel sad as they remind me of the war.’ ‘I like the lavender as the purple reminds me of being at school.’ ‘The colour green is very relaxing.’ Each child was given a pallet of watercolours, pot of water, paint brush and sketch paper. The children had to choose a quiet place in the forest school space and paint what they could see. The children mixed the watercolours carefully to make the right colours and carefully took their time looking at shape and pattern.
An extra session that the children were lucky enough to take part in and fitted perfectly with our topic was decorating Father’s day pots. We had the pleasure of welcoming Laura Barrett to the sessions. The children were set the task to paint their Father’s Day pots using acrylic paint. The children discussed what they wanted to paint and Laura shared some tips on how to use the paint effectively. We were very impressed with the love and care the children took over their flower pot… they truly embraced the task and the calm atmosphere. Once the pots were dried and varnished the children then planted their flowers and wrote their gift tags. What a lovely gift to receive!