We are at St John’s School, Kingston Upon Thames and offer a permanent outdoor learning space for 3 – 11 year old children from the school. The Forest School and allotment area were brought together to create a unique flexible outdoor space for all of our children to enjoy the benefits of learning outdoors.
We believe learning outdoors can foster resilient, confident, independent and creative learners that go on to use their new skills in the every changing world. In addition, the mental health and wellbeing of our students is a priority and there is a lot of evidence to support being outdoors in green spaces greatly improves mental health and wellbeing.
Children from all classes use the area as part of their classroom learning. In addition, those children with additional need access the area on a more regular basis.
There is a brand new covered outdoor classroom, a greenhouse and a fence and hedgerow to support wildlife and separate the area from the sports field. The allotment features raised beds for the growing of food and plants by all the classes. There is a small reflection and sensory garden as well as Forest School provision. We have added solar and wind power meaning all energy on-site is self generated, and the addition of a rear locked gate into and out of the area allows the exploration of the Hogsmill River to be brought more easily into the program.
Outdoor Wilderness Learning (OWL)
We have designed an outdoor curriculum that every child in St John's School, from Nursery to Year 6, experiences on a termly basis. Small groups of children visit and benefit from time away from their classroom and come to enjoy our woodland and allotment. We set small tasks with a mindfulness approach for the children to enjoy.
Children are referred to us by their class teacher or the school SENCO. We use a specialised outdoor learning approach, following the six principles of Forest School. This allows all our children regular opportunities to achieve, to develop confidence, to boost self-esteem, and enjoy a hands-on learning experience in a woodland and natural environment with trees.
We have created a safe nurturing space which allows individuals to explore their feelings and behaviours at their own pace. We challenge them, through play based activity, and support them through their decisions and processes to help them recognise how different choices and use of their emotional resilience “toolkit” may lead to different outcomes.
An intervention for disruptive children, we have created a 1:1 personal program for individuals that need extra support away from the traditional classroom environment. We tailor-make timetables and activities to engage the individual child and encourage emotional regulation, giving the child coping strategies before encouraging a re-introduction to the classroom and school community over time. These children spend considerable time with us.
We encourage outreach activity and community engagement. We have a visiting school who come for a Forest School session once a week. We have excellent links with Kingston University, and as part of our Year 3 Forest Program we visit their large woodland on Kingston Hill. We often engage architect students from the University to help us design projects on our site. We welcome students from teaching universities to come along and see our work and enjoy work experience with us.
We have a large allotment and greenhouse for the growing of fresh food. All our children have experience here and our 1:1 children benefit enormously from working with us on the day-to-day tasks here. We welcome parent volunteers and helpers.
Forest School Leader
Stephen Simpson has worked for over twenty years with 3-18 year olds in creative indoor and outdoor environments in both state and independent schools. He undertook the Level Three Forest School Leaders course in 2017. He is a passionate believer in using alternative learning methods with children who need help coping with the pressures of the modern classroom. This has led him to outdoor learning and to set up Forest Schooling UK and OWL.
Sam Taylor - Colls
Sam Taylor-Colls PhD is a Research Psychologist in Children and Families who has been working with vulnerable children and families for the last fifteen years. She has successfully written and completed her PhD looking at the relationship between a child’s social environment and their emotional development. Before joining St John’s Sam worked collaboratively with health care professionals, local authorities and educational establishments to nurture and protect children’s emotional well-being.
Teacher & SENCO
Ann is a teacher at St John’s school and is passionate about young people having the best opportunities in life. She studied in Early Years to support children in having the best start in the school environment. Ann specialises in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. In 2007 she went to Sweden to study Forest schools in their education system and was stimulated by that experience to create Forest school in an English setting. Ann is a trustee of Creative Youth, organisers of the International Youth Arts Festival.