Pupils getting close to nature with ‘forest school’ scheme to boost self confidence

The rows of saplings in the grounds of Kingfisher Primary School in Doncaster may look pretty insubstantial at present.

By David Kessen
Monday, 20th May 2019, 5:00 pm
Foundation stage one children,  Arthur, Zak, Naz, Lilly, Ellie-May and Alan, pictured, planting Trees. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-12-03-19-KingfisherTrees-2
Foundation stage one children, Arthur, Zak, Naz, Lilly, Ellie-May and Alan, pictured, planting Trees. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-12-03-19-KingfisherTrees-2

Planted by foundation stage one children recently, they are just a few feet tall in the grounds of the school in Wheatley.

But they represent the start of a scheme which is set to involve hundreds of children across Doncaster and is intended to boost youngsters’ confidence and resilience in a scheme which will trust youngsters with knives and fire.

Foundation stage one children, Arthur, Zak, Naz, Lilly, Ellie-May and Alan, pictured, planting Trees. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-12-03-19-KingfisherTrees-2

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They are one of the first steps in setting up a series of ‘forest schools’ to help some of the most deprived children in the borough, by getting them outdoors and close to nature.

Kingfisher is one of the first schools to take part in the scheme, and is planting on land that is currently unused. It is one of four schools taking part in a pilot scheme that also includes Park Primary in Wheatley, Green Top Primary in Thorne, and Shaw Wood Academy in Armthorpe.

Eight more schools will be joining the scheme over the next few months as part of a second phase. Eventually, it is hoped 24 schools will be involved, potentially including secondary schools to bring older youngsters into the scheme.

The project has been set up by University Centre Doncaster lecturer Janine Ryan, based at Doncaster College at Waterfront.

Foundation stage one pupil Alan, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-12-03-19-KingfisherTrees-3

She has a background in working with children with special educational needs and disabilities.

She herself did training in running forest schools, and now is a keen supporter of the idea.

Janine applied to get funding for the scheme from the Doncaster youth organisation Expect Youth, leading to training for teachers from each school in level three forest school practitioner work. 

Trees have also been provided by a nature charity.

Janine Ryan, has set up a Doncaster Forest School Intervention Programme. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-19-03-19-ForestSchool-4

Kingfisher, in Wheatley, is one of the first schools to take part in the scheme. It may be 10 years before the trees, donated by the Woodland Trust, reach maturity. It may be a future generation of children who get the benefits of the woodland environment that they provide.

Leanne Geraghty, Foundation Stage One Teacher, applied to the Woodland Trust who donated 105 saplings to create a medium working wood, along with 30 small bushes.

The trees included silver birch, wild cherry, rowan, common oak, field maple and grey willow. The hedges will be made up of dogrose, hawthorn, hazel, crab apple and elder.

The long term project for the area of land at Kingfisher where the saplings are planted, is for the pupils to be able to engage in Forest School learning and experiences.

The idea is that it will give pupils the the freedom to explore and learn first hand what happens in the natural world. Children will develop problem solving skills which they can then apply to their indoor learning.

Special training is given to teachers like Miss Geraghty, who is running the project at Kingfisher.

The training equips the teachers to show the pupils how to use knives to whittle wood, and how to safely start fires using a striking stick, to create a spark.

The fires are used to cook over, and learn about plants and nature and how to make a shelter, and to tie knots.

The university centre is going to carry out research on what effect the scheme has on things like resilience and confidence.

All the sessions will include youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms Ryan said: “The idea is that it will improve resilience and self motivation, as well as general well-being from being outdoors. It is said that being outdoors can enhance your physical and emotional well being.

“From a behavioural point of view, it is great to see a child trying to light a fire with a striking stick, a piece of metal with flint that scouts use to produce a spark. It’s great to see them when the fire finally catches light. It may take a while, but they are so pleased when it works.

“There is a trust built up that really boosts the child’s self confidence. We’re teaching them in a safe environment to use tools. We had a child who we taught to use a potato peeler. It was the first time she’d used one. The next day she came in and said her mum had let her peel the potatoes for her. To her it was a big deal.”

Miss Geraghty is moving the project forward at Kingfisher.

She said: “We are hoping to create an area where we can run the forest school sessions, and I took part in a 12 week programme to train-up the first forest school practitioners.

“We are part of the first group of schools to take part.

“It is a long term project, but we have the trees planted now. Over the years those are going to develop. We don’t need the trees to have a forest school – we can still do it without the trees, and it will be a few years before they are of a large size. It is the future pupils who will benefit from the planting.

“The children will be able to learn about nature. As they progress they will start to use tools to cut wood and knives for whittling. We’re trained to help them on a one to one basis. It is about building skills and confidence.

“These are all skills that can help then learn academic skills.

“We’ll also be embedding rules, like having a safe circle around a fire, which we will do in the weeks before we do anything involving fire..

“It’s about the real world and independence.”