It's been a full term of the whole class non directive sessions and when we started the woods were lush and green and there were nerves all round about what would happen when 30 pupils were taken outdoors and allowed to choose how to spend their time. The only real rule was
"Keep yourself, each other and the grounds safe."
We travelled through a fine autumn,lucky with the weather and found some fine fungi for the pupils to identify.
Although sadly the snow waited until after our final sessions together, by the end of term the woods were noticeably bare of leaf and much cooler.
Below are some of the elder groups comments about their time in the woods.
*Having our own time to do what we want and being able to learn what we want to learn
*Digging holes because it's fun and allows us to use our imagination
*Experimenting, like using sticks to make different things
*Working with people you don't usually work with
*Learning to use equipment safely
*Boys and girls can work together
*I can get on with people I don't always get on with
*Some people annoy me and now I can deal with my anger
*You can be alone and feel sad and it feels peaceful and it helps you
*You don't have to have technology to have fun
Those comments alone would have made it all worth while but the staff feedback has been fantastic:
* I really enjoyed the whole experience
*Sessions were very beneficial to pupils AND staff
*The children's play in the woodlands often reflected their mood
*New friendship groups were formed
*Pupils took their learning from class outside and vice versa
*Children who struggle in class found something they enjoyed and brought that confidence back into class
*I will definitely continue to use the woodlands whichever year group I am with, I think it's great.
It's sad to say goodbye to those classes, they have come such a long way in a term but it's so great to hear that the staff in those year groups are going to continue working outdoors, with whole classes, allowing their pupils to decide how they want to spend their time.
I can't wait to hear how they progress and next term I get to start again with two more classes to prove the worth of an hour in the woods...
So we went to Scotland to hunt for eagles-sadly no joy, although we did get some great views of a Peregrine Falcon bathing at Caerlaverock. My two were disappointed but that didn't stop us having some fun, with a little bit of work thrown in!!!
They sat in silence to listen to the geese arriving...
...and big sister shared her knowledge (at home she's known as the next Kate Humble!)
There were some creations too; this was made from different coloured reeds...
Whilst this frame proved useful to show off some randomly collected items:
William spent quite some time tracing the shapes he found on these lovely seats, useful for a young boy whose doesn't like letters as they are "work!"
And the weather and the scenery were stunning-just what the doctor ordered!!
Well six weeks into the new term and its been a rollercoaster ride.
Getting to know lots of new staff and pupils, working out how to get around the new schools, finding keys to all the locks that nobody has used for months and eeking out corners to store equipment. Its taken a while to feel settled and safe. As usual sessions with the children have provided an anchor. Feeling that they are being supported and in some cases enjoying the sessions makes all the rest worthwhile, although it can be hard to hold onto that sometimes!
This weeks highlights have included: some environmental art...
a dinosaur footprint...
and some earthworks to defend the den...
It hasn't all been positive outcomes though. We had a failed attempt at a fire which the year 6 (non directed) group had asked for so they could make hot chocolate. But the two pupils(out of 30!) who stayed the distance were pretty close to getting it going. Fingers crossed they are keen to continue the challenge next session, they had worked well together and problem solved each time it didn't work. Now they need to keep trying and see that the effort of learning was worth it!
They had a lot of peer support too although the class were frustrated when the whistle blew that it was the end of the session and they realised they weren't going to be served hot chocolate.
It will be interesting to see how many volunteers there are this week to create the fire...
Well a few weeks in and the pupils are really enjoying the sessions, not without trial and tribulation, but all keen to continue and asking for longer.
The younger class have been really independently creative; fairy wands, fishing rods, a washing line and some environmental art...
There was lots of requests for help to tie the knots required but with only a little encouragement they all managed to tie their own. Cue a discussion amongst staff about the old tie a shoelace boards and books with the teacher thinking of making one for her classroom.
The older class have taken longer to feel settled, maybe struggling with looser boundaries than they are used to, maybe struggling with lack of direction, we've certainly had a couple of "I'm bored!" in that group. We've also had more segregation of the sexes, with one staff member wondering if it was due to the fact that the school is a feeder for single sex secondary schools and the pupils are starting to unconsciously disconnect from their opposite sex peers. It will be interesting to see if that continues. These signs are to warn the girls to keep out...
We've also had a lot of digging, which I've blogged about before, again it was instigated by boys and certainly they were the ones who were showing great excitement when the shout of "Treasure!!" went up. Of course if you don't find any treasure maybe you can add some of your own to your hole...
But there were also real sparks of creativity, this beautiful bark bracelet...
...and this "awesome" ladder...
There has also been some great conversation amongst staff, who are finding it unsettling, and difficult, to be non directive. But the great thing is they really want to try and they are already appreciating the benefits for their pupils, and themselves. I have had times of great uncertainty and anxiety about whether this would work, and I'm still not sure whether the school will feel the benefits to their pupils is enough to warrant the time out of a busy curriculum. But with amazing experiences after only a few weeks I'm determined to keep trying...
...and we talked about how to keep ourselves safe in the woods. The teacher asked if anybody had any ideas what they might like to do and the talk turned to den building. Several of the boys wanted to build a den for all their male friends so two of the pupils counted how many boys there were, and then of course we had to count how many girls there were so we knew how big their den would need to be!
But during the counting movement began to occur, which got a little confusing, however it was the cue that everybody needed and suddenly they were all up and away. Nobody seemed uncertain or unsure, they were off to explore...
There were some crude weapons;
and hanging out with friends;
The only complaint: it didn't last for long enough!
One of the key principles with my sessions is that they are child led and as non directive as possible, apart from keeping ourselves safe. That's manageable when I'm on a 1:1 or 1:2 but how about a whole class?
I met at teacher at an IOL conference last year who had taken her EYFS class into the woods for non directive sessions but I stupidly didn't get her name or number. Does anybody have any experience of a totally non directed session, in a wood, for a whole class of KS1 pupils?
I'm hoping the only discussion prior to the session would be some safety rules agreed by the class and then we would move to the woodland and see what happens. The staff to pupil ratio should be quite high, maybe 1:4.
A very experienced forest schools trainer suggested I start with a directed activity which then naturally progresses to a more independent exploration and experience. I am struggling with this because I see the benefits of being self led within sessions, am I naive to think I can recreate this in a whole class setting?
finding fossils(this is a diplodocus bone apparently!),
and getting cold and wet
its time to reenter the world of work.
And the start of this new term is a new start for me in lots of ways;
although I love horticulture and am passionate about its value as a therapeutic medium, for me, personally, I've found I have to be too directive within sessions when the pupils I work with are growing plants.
Yes plants want to grow, and will do everything in their power to do so, but if you want a plant to grow well there are so many things to consider-time of year, light, heat, compost type, watering, the list goes on. And there are so many pests and diseases that might cause sickness or even death it can be fraught getting a plant to reach its potential(the parallels to raising children are not lost on me here!!)
I've found with my pupils that to avoid regular disappointment required me to offer my opinion too often for me to feel comfortable. My work is always about process not product but I've found it too difficult to repeatedly allow my charges to plant seeds at the wrong time or in the wrong place, knowing that those plants wouldn't succeed.
So this year I am concentrating entirely on nature as a therapeutic medium.
Last year I trialled this approach with 11 pupils, they could choose to do whatever they wished within the school grounds, which included some horticulture. We also:
made art with items we found
and watched wildlife
I can't wait to see what the coming years sessions bring.
I'm looking forward to being in the here and now, whilst wondering where I will find myself in twelve months time...
It feels like a summer holiday should, warm and sunny(well mostly) and with seemingly endless time to spend together, mainly outdoors, enjoying whatever experiences come our way. So far this summer we have...
...walked amongst thousands of tiny frogs, trying not to step on them or harm them with our 3 and 4 year old boundless enthusiasm!!
We worked together to create a den, so involved in the building we only had a few minutes to play inside...
Then we visited Cannock chase and found a whole village of dens that somebody had made, but somehow they didn't have the same attraction as our self built home!
We've flown kites at the seaside...
...and rescued a bee that got caught in our conservatory overnight and needed a honey reviver, watching fascinated as it drank through its proboscis.
We've spent hours playing pooh sticks...
...and several more sliding down this bank, until most of it ended up in our shorts!!!
But most of all we've spent time with people we love, enjoying life...