Thursday, 28 April 2016

Forest School, Constructing Bird Feeders

The weather today made Forest School a bit more challenging- for the adults, the children didn't mind at all!! :D

We began with a recap on last week's game "palm tag". Tuesday's group also played a game where half the group hid and the other half had to find them while blindfolded. To find them they had to call "1, 2, 3 Where are you?" While the other group responded with "1, 2, 3, I'm over here". This encourages the use of other senses.

We began to think about the birds that live in the trees above the school. The children acted out common bird behaviours- young birds when hunger/ birds under threat etc.

To say thank you to the birds for letting us use their area, we decided to create simple bird feeders. We covered pine cones in margarine and pressed bird seeds onto them. We then hung them from the trees.

One of the staff in the school took this picture of us all huddled under the shelter making our bird feeders! :) 

According to the feedback, the children really enjoyed using the messy margarine! It was a good process to press the seeds into the margarine as some children tried to loosely pour them onto the cones. Thankfully no clean up required! :) 

Pritt Glue Review

I was kindly gifted some Pritt glues to review. The children in my first class were so excited to see the parcel arrive to the school!

When I first began teaching I remember thinking I had found a great bargain in picking up some budget glue sticks; I quickly learned that you get what you pay for! Pritt is always great quality, as a teacher this is important, the last thing you want is to have to re-glue 25 pictures that are now hanging off the wall!

I began to think about the lesson I could use them in. The bag of Pritt glues reminded me of creating art as a child and the big craft sets I would get for Christmas and birthdays. As I was looking through the internet, my friend Aoife tagged me in an article.

It is based on preschools, but really at 6 and 7 years old it definitely applies to my 1st class.

"Kids at this developmental stage benefit from messing around with paints, or clay, or crayons; they gain little, on the other hand, from assembling together some construction paper shapes that their teachers cut out ahead of time."

That was the lesson decided. I cleared a table at the top of the room and left out craft materials, including the Pritt glue. I loved this freedom as a child- no right or wrong, just process. 

Included in the parcel were these glitter glues- these went down a treat! Less messy than glitter glue pens and dry much quicker.

These coloured glues were great to write with and the children enjoyed experimenting with these.

The squeezey pen was great to get the fine motor muscles working! 

I loved the total immersion in process!

This was a rainbow- you had to look into the cup to see it!

The coloured squares were scraps of paper left over from the pig races from the Heart of Ireland Festival! This boy figured that if he glued two pieces together it made a hat.

A favourite car was cut out- I was amazed at the cutting skills, the high interest subject definitely affected the engagement here.

A crown for the king! He also made a matching snake for around his neck- it was excellent!

Co-operative exploration of materials here. These boys decided to do group work and it was their own decision! 

The class really enjoyed the freedom today. They were so busy and focused on creating their own pieces. I have put a lot of energy into creativity with them and I was delighted that they were all just so happy to experiment without any reluctancy! The selection of materials really added to the lesson and the variety of glues brought a fun element to the creativity. 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Forest School Who? What? Why? Where? When?

I've had a few people ask about Forest Schools- so here's all the information!


I trained with Earth Force Education. Ciara runs this company, and has amazing knowledge in working outdoors with children. See for the information. She also runs day courses and children's camps.


Coillte have recently set up "Compass Club", this is an after school outdoor activity club for children aged  6 -12 years. The courses are run in blocks of 6 weeks and children get a hoodie, unique wristband and Certificates for each course they do.

Parents get a customised Strengths Report for their child after the course highlighting some of the great strengths seen in their child.

They also run summer camps and school tours

Check out for Compass Club in your area.

School Tours:

The Wicklow Mountains National Park organises school tours based on the Forest School style of teaching. (Hugh is a trained Forest School leader, with years of outdoor educational work. He delivered a part of our Forest School training and was very helpful with all the questions we had!)

Best of all- the tour is FREE! Booking opens on December 1st and an early reservation is recommended.

All of these programs follow the 'Leave no Trace' principles which encourage children to be responsible outdoor practitioners:

Please feel free to ask if there are any other questions!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Forest School, Constructing Shelters

Session two in Forest School began with some Sink and Fade and "Palm Tag". This is a tag game where each child places one palm facing out on their back and 'tags' another child on the palm with their index finger. When tagged the children sat on the ground and counted to 5.

Games are a great way to transition the children to being outdoors and exercise releases endorphins that trigger positive feelings in the body.

Next we put up a tarpaulin shelter as a group. This is where site and activity risk assessment is well considered. Forest School as a programme is so well structured and all risks are assessed before any activity. Practitioners must create procedures and policies for their sessions.

Each child was then given a piece of natural clay and they made their own creatures. Normally children are very tempted to copy one another, but I think with the bigger open space and such a stimulating environment, that they just went to their own space and made a unique creature. 

These were fascinating to see- so individual. This fella is 'The King'. :D Note the flag pole beside him as he guards his land! The other creature is in the shelter. I debated whether to show the children how to correctly build a debris shelter, but decided not to today as they were experimenting so much with the materials, I didn't want to take that away from them.  

Others made beautiful gardens for their creatures.

Last week the reaction to mini-beasts was one of pure disgust! However, this week the children were way more curious! 

Overall, the construction of the shelter lesson worked really well. All children were really engaged and there were many skills developed. The materials used varied in each shelter and there was great experimentation with materials in order to create form. 

We concluded the lesson with a neighbourly visit to see each other's shelters and a minute long 'sit spot'. Each child took three deeps breaths and reported back with something they could hear in their sit spot. 

   A spider!

Our self assessment booklets

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Forest Schools Land Art

We began our forest school programme today! Yay!

We moved into the area and played 'sink and fade' as well as learning our forest school names (I'm Claire Caterpillar!). Boundaries were established and red ribbons were hung to mark these.

Using jeweller's loupes, the children began to become more observant of the environment.
"Teacher! This tree has fur on it!"

They loved this activity and became so focused on it. As the Forest Schools ethos is very child led, there was a lot of "Look over here!". This provided great learning opportunities and encouraged the children to really take charge of their own learning.

"Sink and Fade"
Activities like this keep the children in close proximity as well as bringing them close to the feel and smells of nature.

What's inside the tulip? This was found by one of the children and she called us over to have a look.

Examining the Gorse. This plant smells like coconut and is also safe to eat!

Yummy primrose! We tried this- the children couldn't believe they were allowed to eat this! 
This really brought a multi sensory approach to creating art.

Our finished Land Art piece. Inspired by artists like Andy Goldsworthy. Even though we were focused on the process, the product ended up being much stronger than when I competed this lesson before.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

School Self Evaluation Visual Art

Our union has placed an embargo on SSE paperwork at the moment, but the Department of Education are requesting that SSE forms a part of their summer CPD courses. 

Teaching and Learning in Visual Arts:

Three themes:

Learner Outcomes:
Purely curriculum learning outcomes.
Checklists that I have posted could be used- these are purely curriculum objectives.

Learner Experience:
Learner environment, Engagement in learning, Learning to learn.
Using questionnaires will help gather evidence. The PDST website has a great tutorial to create an online survey- Forms

Teacher's Practice:
Preparation, Teaching approaches, Management of pupils, and Assessment (

Then there are six steps to the SSE process:

1) Gather Evidence (consider developing, analysing, comparing, discussing surveys, interviews, self-reflection, team-teaching, copies, samples of work, tests, cuntaisí míosula)

2) Analyse Evidence (using evaluation criteria outlined in SSE document in link below)

3) Draw Conclusions (strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement)

4) SSE Report (Focus of evaluation, context, findings, strengths, areas for improvement, legislative requirements)

5) School Improvement Plan (targets, actions, person(s) responsible, measurable outcomes, timeframe, review date)

6) Implement Actions and Monitor Targets (actions at class level, actions at school level, progress on targets and changes)

Sample reports and plans are available here:

Forest Schools and how is it linked with Art?

While visiting my sister in England last year, she mentioned that her son would be starting a primary school that was a "Forest School". I was intrigued! I visited the school (Holly Trees, Brentwood, Essex) to see how it was run and the vice principal Byron was just so enthusiastic about it. He described the positive effects it had on the children there.

Forest Schools is all about bringing children outdoors to partake in constructive play. They are taught skills like knot tying, fire making, shelter building and knife use. These sounds terrifying as a teacher- liability and insurance were the first thought! But because Forest Schools is a FETAC level 6 course, there is a good bit to the training. Risk assessment is a must- and activities are so carefully considered before implementing. 

The Forest School programme is also built upon theories from Montessori, Steiner, Waldorf, Jennings, and Gardner to name but a few. It is child-led. The leader has an outline of the lesson, but similar to "Floortime" and play therapy, if the child finds something that they are interested in the learning goes down that path. The Forest School children to adult ratios are kept small for this purpose. 

When I came home I started researching it in Ireland. It is more popular in preschools at the moment, but there are a handful of primary schools running it. I came across Ciara in Earth Force Education- she facilitates the training in Ireland ( After attending a few day workshops, I knew I needed to bring this to the children in my class! 

Meanwhile, I was working through my MA in Art and Design Education. We were completing the module where we had to make our own art. I had rented a space in town to use as a studio and was trying to awaken the creativity in me! :D I kept going outside- and looking at nature. There is something so healing in working with nature. There is also a great satisfaction when you have minded a plant so carefully throughout the winter and spring and it blooms in summer. Nature demands patience. It cannot be rushed. For me, this linked with the process of making art. I felt the same stillness. There was the connection- I wanted to bring this feeling of stillness to the classroom.

Looking back at curriculum objectives in visual arts, I started to think about the strand that was my least favourite in the classroom; Construction. The mess, the organisation, the chaos... the clean up. What if this could be brought outdoors and natural objects used? There would be no sellotape knots, no material box scattered across the classroom and no frustrated children with half a rocket! 

So I began to design a six week intervention. I begin this week! I have split my class in two, the learning support teacher will take half the class for Maths Recovery while I bring the other half out to the school garden for an hour lesson. I'll keep you updated with how it goes!!