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Sunday 10 April 2016

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 (http://www.earthforceeducation.com/). 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!! 


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