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Rockingham Forest Blog

  • Writer's pictureSami Scott

Training to be a Forest School Leader

By Sami Scott


Sami is the Learning Mentor at Our Lady's Catholic Primary School in Corby and has been in post for 12 years. Here she describes her role and reflects on what has been for her a transformative experience - Forest School training.


In my role as Learning Mentor, I help children to develop skills to break down barriers to learning, so what better way  to teach these skills than in a natural environment which naturally delivers opportunities to children. I absolutely love the outdoors and when the opportunity arose to be trained as Forest School Leader I jumped at it!


Like most people, I have many strings to my bow and I was already working with the school's eco/gardening club to develop our wild garden and mini woods planting, however thanks to some much needed funding we are able to transform our Forest School area to make it accessible and useable for children and adults alike. 


The practical training, self-study and forest school sessions, that I have run to date have allowed me to plan and try out a host of activities. Through my new practical skills knowledge, I have used tools to make woodland jewellery, musical instruments, toasting forks etc. Also I have gained survival skills such as fire-lighting, foraging and shelter-building. My increased understanding of how different people learn has given me an opportunity to try out activities such as learning through play and the use of games, stories to inspire and natural art, building both a nature connection and allowing for creativity. In addition of course I have used my newly acquired knowledge of the natural world to impart information to my groups about the diversity of flora and fauna in the Rockingham Forest area through bug hunting, scavenger hunts, observational art etc.


Just before I embarked on the Forest School training programme, I had torn the ligaments in my knee and was using crutches. I was deeply thankful that I could still participate in the training and Ali who was leading the training was amazing at adapting the tasks to my abilities.

Through various activities and challenges, I honed essential skills and had a  hands-on approach to learning that provided me with invaluable insights into nature-based education and its profound impact on development.


After the training days I was so excited, the first thing I did was to ask another member of staff who is Forest School trained, to help me run an after school Forest School activities club for one hour a week . This was because I wanted to try and practise setting and running various opportunities for children and embed the learning I had received. The club was very popular, however with my injured knee I was limited with what I could do and with shortages of staff we had to put clubs together, which meant the opportunities were very limited. I felt a bit frustrated but kept going.



 In September I went on the first aid training course and started applying for equipment and area clearing for our Forest School area. Quite quickly I had organised for Forest School session time to be on my weekly timetable and began to create the leaders' handbook and risk assessments so I could run 'full' Forest School sessions. As time passed, my time got eaten up with other school 'things' and so progress was rather slow. The funding application form went backwards and forwards a few times, so again my time went on that until October half term.


November was here and I had just formed a group of four boys to try Forest School sessions with, and stopped the after school club. Even though I was due for an observation I still had not commenced a full two hour session, I had to postpone the observation. My knee was on the mend and strengthening everyday which was great! It was great to practise on my own as a leader and I learned about putting in routines and expanding on opportunities and activities. As there were only four of them, they tended to do activities together which meant that I didn't need many activities set up.


In December I discovered that for my observation I needed at least 8 children and 2 adults - I sat down with my line manager and went through my frustrations. He was very good and helped me select the children and another adult that would be the group after the Christmas holiday. I got back on track and was fired up again!




January came and I started the first 'proper' Forest School sessions - two hours every week. I had done my planning but in between I have to collect and make resources and do my assignments for my portfolio. My life became about Forest Schools, I also had one morning a week to work from home, do my weekly session and my weekends were full of Forest School working! I finally got the grant confirmation and organised for the company to come and do the clearing of the new area. I felt in my element, getting more and more confident each week as I saw it all coming together - finally it was all making sense.

 

In February, Ali came to observe me and the Forest School session. I was very nervous but also very excited! All went very well, we got to go in the new Forest School area which was exciting and the children loved seeing her and hearing about the minibeasts.


I do feel as if I have accomplished a lot and have been on a steep learning curve but it has all been worth it! The children are gaining so much joy and happiness from the Forest School sessions, as well as learning skills such as team working, collaboration, risk assessing and friendship building. Going forward I want to look at extending Forest School sessions to other children/classes and also look into having sessions for families too.


Looking back at my training time and the initial Forest School programme, I am filled with a sense of growth and accomplishment. The journey has been both enriching and enlightening, paving the way for significant personal development and learning. As I reflect on this transformative experience, I am keen to delve into how the knowledge and skills acquired during this period that will  shape my future endeavours.


You can read more about the Training for Forest School Leaders, part of the Building the Links for Rockingham Forest Project here






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