St Mary’s CE VC First School
Charminster, Dorchester

Forest School

The ethos of Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and their capacity to instigate, test and maintain curiosity in the world around them. It believes in a child’s right to play; the right to access the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment); the right to access risk and the vibrant reality of the natural world; and the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build a resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.

A long term educational process: Forest School is a long term child led educational process that promotes, observes and supports the social, emotional and physical development of children in a woodland environment. The programme supports children in becoming ecologically sensitive and encourages them to learn how to use the environment in a sustainable way.

Matching activities to preferred learning styles: Staff must acknowledge their role as a “significant other” who encourage the development of self-esteem through appropriate planning and understanding of each child’s stage of development and preferred learning style. The role of the “significant other” occurs through the long term relationship that is built up over the forest school programme. The relationship is built from the principles of risk and trust.

Continued detailed observation and evaluation: The successful matching of activities to a child’s preferred learning style occurs through the observation and assessment process. The process begins with a base-line assessment of the child which is formed in the initial weeks. As the programme continues observations are made which monitor the progress of the child, culminating in a summative assessment for each child.

High staffing ratios: It is through high staffing ratios that we are able to observe individual children, match activities to preferred learning style and work intensely with the children on the forest school programme.

At St Mary’s we run three Forest School programmes across the school year, one in each term. Ten children are chosen for each programme by their class teachers, Forest School leader and SENCo. Forest School can have a significant impact on children who have social and emotional difficulties. It is also a positive experience for children who don’t have regular access to outdoor play. Children may repeat Forest School during their time at St Mary’s; outcomes are more successfully achieved and sustained for children who have the opportunity to repeat the experience.

Sally Porter is a qualified Forest School Leader (level 3) Emma Middleton works alongside Sally during all sessions; Emma and Sally are extremely enthusiastic about the learning that takes place in the outdoor environment and passionate about the positive impact it can have on the children that participate.