Ciara Rush, Director of the Archway Children’s Centre and Nursery School provided training for the day to a group of Chinese early-years educators on the BIEA Overseas Teacher Tour. Ciara is a graduate of the UK Master of Education PGCE program and has led several nurseries to achieve outstanding results. Ciara was also joined by Sadie Tosun, an expert in forest courses with many years of practical experience. The aim of the day was for the overseas teachers to get to grips with the concept of a forest school.

 What is a forest school?

At the beginning of the course, Sadie asked a very important question: Why is outdoor activity important? Whether dealing with children in China or the UK, it is inevitable that TV screens, mobile phones and other screen activities take up an increasing amount of children’s time, reducing the ability and opportunity for children to walk out of the room and get in touch with nature. This problem is a principal reason why more and more nurseries choose forest courses.

The concept of the Forest School originated in 1927 and was widely disseminated in Northern Europe and introduced to the United Kingdom in 1994. It is broadly centred around adults regularly providing opportunities to achieve and foster confidence through hands-on learning opportunities in woodlands or other natural environments. At Archway the children attend a two-hour forest course once a week.

Forest schools have many advantages, including:

  • Building children’s confidence and independence
  • Improving social skills and teamwork
  • Developing physical motor skills
  • Fostering the spirit of adventure

 

Archway’s Forest Course Curriculum Practice

Sadie also brought a group of children to simulate a lesson from the forest course for the group. The teachers discussed and recognised what was safe with the children, teaching them to feel the touch of natural materials. The teachers at the same time learned how the teachers in the nursery integrated forest teaching into other areas of EYFS (for example children could compare the length of branches in a mathematics class).

 Archway’s back garden

The outdoor area of the ​​Archway Children’s Centre has been built into a large garden where children can also do some forest activities. The students took part in the activities together and had lively discussions with the teachers while they played.

The garden consisted of several distinct areas, namely: 1) Mud Kitchen:  mud shaping exercises that fostered the development of big muscles and fine movements. 2) Dancing Sticks: Children were provided with branches, ropes and fabrics of different sizes. The children used this material to make branches that could dance. 3) Pattern Making: Using open materials to let children record and express their ideas at any time. 4) Basic carpentry skills – using stumps, hammers and nails to work on stakes and learn the correct use of tools, and develop concentration.

After the end of the visit, Sadie discussed with the teachers the placement of tools in forest learning and shared the forest activity manuals and photos of the garden.

At the end of the day, Ciara shared a few touching words:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. Let the children participate, and let them get involved in hands-on activities, they can thus truly grow.”

After the trip, some of the participants attended the 2019 BIEA STEM Conference at the Royal Institution to learn about BIEA’s efforts in promoting STEM skills around the world through its global competition.