Well that was an odd year! Despite the lockdown and all the restrictions, we felt extremely lucky to be working outside with all the children, albeit with one or two small changes. Our colleagues at St John's were indoors dealing with massive changes and their physical spaces were reorganised beyond recognition. Fortunately the weather was good and with so much open space put to good use to accommodate those at school, we all adapted to the changes very quickly with as little worry to the children as possible.
Those at FSUK worked full time and we made it as fun as we could for all our "bubbles". From climbing in the woods and completing lots and lots of gardening tasks. For those at home we developed online learning ideas and nature themed competitions and activities that the children engaged with very well. We even had a 'virtual garden' online.
A big thank you for all those have supported us over the year and especially those that helped with our allotment fund, we really couldn't have done it without your help.
You can have a look through some of what we got up to during 2020 below.
The advantage we have with the groups being small at OWL is we were able to adapt our plans in line with the restrictions. Once the children returned we switched all of our planning to wellbeing and mental health activity. We did find some of the children were anxious about the current global situation they find themselves in. One of the most popular exercises was making "worry boxes' these were fun to make and collect and opened all sorts of conversations and ideas surrounding feelings and concerns. The second half of the year we decided to set a challenge that involved the groups building a waterproof shelter as teams. Of course a big storm came along in the shape of a huge yellow bucket of water to test the dens - needless to say some children got wet!
Forest School News
Our Forest School went from strength to strength this year, with St John's introducing a third weekly session to enable us to work closely with even more children. With the introduction of a working allotment on the site we certainly had lots to do in addition to all our usual activity. We follow the six principals of Forest School and continue to be completely child led in our two hour sessions whatever the weather. It is greatly encouraging to see the children want to take part and help out across all areas of the site. We have seen great improvements in behaviours, resilience and group play across the sessions. In addition we've seen confidence grow and characters develop.
1:1 Learning & Alternative Provision
We are proud of the great progress that has been made in all the 1:1 sessions. Our site allows for exploration of surroundings, emotions and behaviour. The children are allowed to take time to rest, think and discuss with us how they might deal with challenges they face. We run a five step program leading to a return to mainstream school.
In March we found ourselves contemplating using online platforms with our children. This felt alien as we are very much an outdoor hands on provider. Very quickly we developed an active online platform and the children really engaged well and provided us with lots of content and interesting stories to enjoy and share.
We have archived the resources here
During the lockdown and summer we kept everyone up to date with video bulletins, which developed into OWL TV. We had huge fun making them and keeping everyone updated on all the work you had carried out during your home learning and the work we were doing at school with some of the children. We will continue to make bulletins over the next year. You can catch up on the episodes here
After a great growing season you may know we completely revamped our allotment this term. We waited until after the main harvest during the summer before launching a fundraising campaign to raise the £1000 we needed to rebuild, reorganise and increase our growing space massively - we couldn't believe it when we reached our target in a very short two weeks - thank you so much! This enabled us to start and complete all the work in the Autumn term, meaning that after the Christmas break we will get going with all our growing plans. You can read all about it here and view the before and after pictures - we think you will be impressed.
Over the year we achieved national recognition. We became Forest School of the Year 2020 at the Woodlands Awards. We achieved our Silver Award from the Woodland Trust, reached Level 2 in the RHS School Gardening Scheme. We also came joint first in our category at the Tolworth Garden Festival. We are delighted that all the children's hard work has been recognised by these respected outdoor institutions.
Our Outreach and Projects
We continue to welcome King Athelstan School to our site once a week, so they too can benefit from small groups using our Forest School. Not only is it brilliant for the children, it is a great opportunity for staff to share ideas and good practice with each other. We have had great fun with them this year and really do enjoy having them with us. The 121 Collective and Kinston University Architecture students managed to complete our treehouse project despite COVID restrictions and the children have loved playing amongst the trees and further adding to the design as time goes on.
Looking Forward to Next Year...
During 2021 we will be looking forward to growing even more food in our allotment. We will be exploring ways of distributing fresh crops to those that need them and encouraging enterprise ideas from our young people.
We have exciting plans for a chicken coop and are working with an architect on an exciting design that will compliment our site and allow the children to access it easily. The chickens will also be viewable from the public footpath that runs along our allotment, allowing for the local community to visit safely. We are seeking funding from business and community organisations. Keep an eye on our news page for updates.
We are inviting designs for a purpose built classroom & outdoor education centre that will allow us to work with more children in a fitting environment. This is a long term project and we are exploring funding options.
We have fabulous support and lots of volunteers in the community that help us keep our projects going. Inevitably some items cost money and we operate as a non-profit organisation. We are hoping that some of our supporters may want to make small monthly donations to help us buy our regular firewood, bird-seed and hot chocolate and well as other sundries. If you feel able to help please follow this link, remembering to click on the "make this a monthly payment' checkbox. Your information will be confidential and any amount helps.
Our Forest School Social Media Accounts
Please don't forget to follow us on @forestschooling. We post daily and have lots of interest from around the world.
These sites allow us to communicate much more about day to day life in Forest School; the kind of detail that wouldn’t normally be enough for a newsletter or meeting. We believe that by using these sites, we will be able to keep parents and carers more up to date, Social media also allows us to connect with other professionals and organisations pertinent to the growth of Forest Schooling and therefore of benefit to our children. You can read our full social media policy here