Our senior trainer Kate Hookham tells us why she loves Forest School.
Kate is what you would describe as an outdoors person. She loves nothing more using outdoor adventures and explorations to create valuable learning opportunities. From running around with the children at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten to maintaining the tools and grounds at our centre for excellence, getting Kate to sit down with you for an interview can be quite the task. With our upcoming Forest School courses we wanted to speak with Kate about why she is passionate about the methodology.
Q: So Kate, lets talk about one of your passions - Forest School. Can you give us a quick description of what Forest School actually is?
KH: Of course I can. Forest School is an approach developed by group of students and their lecturers from Bridgewater College in England after they visited Scandinavia in 1993. They were amazed by the learning methods used and so developed what they saw into a 3 level course in 1995. Forest school, in essence, is when a trained practitioner takes a group of children to a woodland space to learn. The duration is often one afternoon a week for a period of 6 weeks. It is usually associated with bush craft and the construction of a shelter and the use of knots, tools and fire but this is not essential. Forest School Level 2 allows you to become an assistant forest school leader, whereas Forest School Level 3 allows you to become a forest school leader.
Q: What is the difference between Forest School and other Outdoor Learning methodologies?
KH: Forest school is certified or can be a qualification depending on which agency you undertaken your training with and which country you reside in. Forest School is often bush craft focused and for a 6 week block. Outdoor learning on the other hand is an ethos. The Forest School approach could be part of your approach to outdoor learning. It is one of many different and viable methodologies. Equally you could follow the Journeys into Nature approach using the elements to explore outdoor learning and teach STEAM, or even schematic outdoor learning.
Infographic about outdoor learning created from the England Natural Connections Project 2016
Q: It's a bit of a silly question, but do you have to actually have a nearby forest to take part in Forest School training?
KH: No question is a silly question! You don't necessarily have to have woodland to use as it's the methodology that's important. We use the wood around Auchlone and have found it to provide children with many different learning opportunities, however not all settings have access to such a space. You can use any type of outdoor area from beaches to forests and even your own outdoor area. So long as there are sufficient outdoor resources and you are following the methodology go for it.
Q: So how does the forest school methodology actually benefit children?
KH: It builds up their confidence to survive and thrive in an outdoor environment. We use aspects of forest school at Auchlone and you can see how quickly children build their confidence and skills. At first, some of them can be hesitant but after a few weeks they all love it. They learn how and when to undertake Benefit Risk Assessments, how to use tools, and hit all their basic physiological needs: keeping warm, dry, having enough to eat, drink and use nature as a learning tool.
Q: It definitely benefits children then, but how does it help educators and their settings?
KH: A lot of educators that we work with find the idea of taking children outdoors quite intimidating, especially if it involves taking them into the beyond and remote locations. Completing forest school training can give them confidence to take children outside to learn and play. It will even help the educator boost their own skills and learn how to step outside of their comfort zone by taking risks. It of course looks good on your Curriculum Vitae and the outdoor paediatrics first aid course is something, in my opinion, all staff who take children outside should have. Settings should also be aware that while forest school is fantastic, it's not the only outdoor learning ethos out there. Settings should consider what it is they need and go for what will work best for their staff, location and resources.
Photograph: leaves on a Talkaround Mat after Auchlone Nature Kindergarten's leaf hunt
Q: What is your favourite thing about Forest School?
KH: I am a bit of a bush craft geek and so I love learning new crafts, knots and things to cook on the fire. I love taking these new ideas to the children at Auchlone and at our holiday camps and experimenting and playing with them. For instance, at our October Camp last year I brought in some jellyfish and tried to make some jellyfish burgers with the children. They did turn out more like risotto and I don't think the office staff were too happy when I forced them to try it [she laughs]. The children absolutely loved it though and wanted to learn more about fish which is the whole point. I also really enjoy tool care and maintanence - as any of my colleagues will tell you, I am quite fussy about our tools!
Q: What would be your top forest school tips to an educator?
KH: Be prepared! Always have your kit ready and frequently check it to make sure it's in good condition. Make sure you go with the interests of the children and the weather for that day. And don't be afraid to try new things - I am constantly looking for new ideas to share with colleagues and to try out. You can never know enough about nature and bush craft. There is always something to learn and so much online or in great books.
Q: Finally, what would you say to anyone who is considering starting their Forest School training?
KH: If you love the outdoors but are a little nervous about going outside it will reassure you and justify to others why you are doing it. If you're confident in the outdoors already it will still help to sharpen your skills and understandings and will give you the qualification you need to create or support a forest school setting. It's also a tonne of fun and you get to spend time with me - you should definitely do it!