Today’s blog is a case study of introducing outdoor learning into a primary school by Rebecca Wilkinson, Teaching Trees Programme Officer, at the Royal Forestry Society.

The Royal Forestry’s Society’s Teaching Trees Programme is undertaking a two year pilot programme in Staffordshire to offer free training and consultancy to primary schools with the aim of increasing the number of teachers engaging in forest based learning. With a background in educational leadership, consultancy and teacher training, I was appointed to lead the pilot and trial new methodologies for Teaching Trees.

With a previous career as a professional coach I wanted to make sure that Teaching Trees was genuinely responsive to the needs of our schools and offered a package which could make a lasting difference to the schools that we worked with rather than a one size fits all approach to professional development. I visited, I talked to teachers, I led sessions with children from a wide range of Staffordshire schools and from this developed a package of training and support intended to meet the needs of schools wanting to introduce or enhance their outdoor learning offer. Out of this, over the past year I have delivered training to a range of audiences as well as getting my sleeves rolled up and demonstrating practical woodland management to teachers unsure of how to begin using the woodland within their school grounds.

What do we focus on? I can’t possibly include an entire outdoor curriculum for EYFS, KS1 and KS2 in a one or two day course so I don’t try. The training instead looks at what each school is trying to achieve, how to risk assess and understand their site and then to develop a toolkit of ideas to stimulate higher order thinking. From forest philosophy to the ever popular “See, Hear, Smell” game we look at a range of strategies that teachers can try out to give themselves confidence and to then adapt to their own practice.

Liz Cramp, an attendee at one of our training courses said:

Teaching Trees has provided our children with enthusiasm we don’t see in many areas of the curriculum; there is a buzz in just getting our outdoor clothing on and in the anticipation of playing the beloved 1-2-3 Hide and Seek game. Children who would otherwise lack focus and daydream are becoming more vocal, involved and noticing things in our outdoor environment, from fungi growing on branches to naming trees taught more than 12 months previously. A real concrete opportunity is being given to explore vocabulary and previously abstract concepts and a real tangible way of helping our school and local environment e.g. today, discussing how, why and where birds build nests, led to creating our own and then talking about predators, shelter and camouflage before painting birds boxes and researching where to position them on Ipads. 

As teachers we love being outside, rather than stuck in the classroom and seeing the smiles on the children’s faces, the joyful way they interact and the challenge for some to work collaboratively. For our children with ASDit presents new challenges, pushing boundaries and allowing for more sensory feedback than would normally be found in the classroom. Team building and social skills is the other underpinning invaluable lesson being given to the children in each and every session.”’

Where next? Teaching Trees Staffordshire will continue to provide support and training for schools wanting to engage in forest based outdoor learning. Building on the success of the first year of the pilot, from 2019 Teaching Trees will also be offering accredited qualifications at locations in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The Level 2 Outdoor Learning Practitioner course takes outstanding teaching and learning and translates it into the forest environment, equipping teachers to take advantage of the wide range of social, emotional, creative and intellectual benefits of engaging in curriculum based outdoor learning.

To find out more about the Royal Forestry Teaching Trees programme click here.