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 2021-22. 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) - Senses
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
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
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
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
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
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!