How has Forest School changed my pedagogy?
Forest School has helped to broaden my own knowledge which has led to a deeper understanding of the importance of issues such as sustainability and preservation; also the need to manage and involve learners in the management of the site and the importance of creating an action plan to see that this is implemented and carried out. This has affected not only how I work during Forest School but it has also helped me to reflect and create action plans for the whole learning evironment both inside and outside.
Since leading Forest School at Featherstone I have become to appreciate the interrelatedness of everything. I think more about using recycled materials, am more eco-friendly and also more aware of waste within the classroom. As part of the children's settling in process I teach the children about the importance of using the recycling bags, composting areas and I have also mended 2 broken water butts and have talked to the children about the water cycle and the importance of water and how it should be looked after and not wasted.
Another way that my practice has been influenced by attending the Forest School Leadership course has been the use of natural materials and loose recycled parts within the classroom especially combining these with small world areas. I think more about linking the outdoors with the indoors area more now and activities and interests that have emerged during Forest School are now supported and scaffolded during both teacher-led and free-flow child initiated sessions during the nursery day. Since beginning to lead Forest School I have organised whole nursery trips to our local park, Sutton Park, each term so that the children can experience this beautiful ancient woodland park in every glorious season. Parents and families are encouraged to join us on these trips and role-modelled Forest School activities that they can do with their children that help them to think about outdoor learning and the importance of educating children to respect and enjoy the woods, nature and wildlife. During trips and the nursery day I am also much more vigilant with my risk assessments. I think role playing what to do if an incident was to happen during the Forest School training at the woodland site really helped me to visually put into context how I would take the lead and handle not only the children but more importantly designate jobs to staff. My risk assessments are much tighter now and have procedures in place for several different scenarios.
I think the greatest impact that the Forest School training has had on me is to reveal that although I thought that I had a growth mindset that actually I was quite set in my thoughts and ways. This showed up particularly when I was asked to participate in the ropes and knots part of the training. I felt completely out of my comfort zone when asked to do this part of the course believing myself incapable of ever being able to do this. I instantly put up a barrier in my mind. I felt that I did not do well with this aspect of the course and still do not understand several of the knots. This made me wonder if this is how children feel about certain tasks or activities especially if set by an adult - that they feel they have failed or will fail and are scared to try or have a go because of this reason.
My Forest School experience has made me think about how important it is to work in groups or teams and that people have their own strenghts and that this needs to be acknowledged within the team. Also I have become more aware of noticing when children and adults are struggling but maybe lack the confidence for whatever emotional reason to make this need known verbally. It is really important to tune into children and adults sensitively and give them stragegies to be able to cope and learn to express their needs without fear of failure. Several of the students on the Forest School training course were good at spotting that I really was struggling both mentally and physically to ask for help when learning the knots and picked up on this and offered to help me. I wish that I had more time to grow and develop the rope and knot skills and am determined to master at least the basic ones that we were shown. I think the Forest School training has shown me that it does take time to develop new skills and that often we put pressure on children to learn skills, knowledge and information far too quickly. Some children and adults do pick up learning quickly but for others it is a question of confidence and processing and it is the ability to keep trying, being determined and self-motivated that should be rewarded. I definitely reward this much more now that I did because I have experienced that feeling for myself during the Forest School training.
Forest School has helped me to think more about the word "challenge" and how important it is to challenge every child especially the less confident children or those who may struggle emotionally with issues such as attachment or lack of self-esteem. For these children their challenge has been to overcome psychological barriers such as putting their own Forest School clothes on or touching the soil or mud or using their fingers to make bird cakes.
Forest School has had a very positive impact in the whole of my practice as nursery school teacher. I am becoming more confident at saying yes to challenges that before would have filled me with fear and dread. I know that I do still face some challenges such as working with older children and using more tools and lighting a fire but I know that Forest School has helped me to develop the resilience to keep on trying and learning in order to be a good role model for the children, families and practitioners that I work with. Thank you to everyone for supporting me with my Forest School training.