07 Sept 2020
When you think of a school classroom, you’ll probably picture four walls, chairs and desks. But what if a classroom had none of that? Just trees and foliage, lakes and fields, open sky for a ceiling, and learning materials strewn around on the woodland floor. Now imagine how much fun that would be for any enquiring young mind.
That sort of experience is just one of the benefits that Walhampton brings to a child’s education. Nestled within its 100-acre grounds, the school has a Forest School site and an outdoor classroom, providing unrivalled opportunities for practical open-air learning.
Walhampton’s Head of Pre-Prep, Claire Holly, comments: “We embrace the benefits of outdoor learning right across the school, but it all starts in our Pre-Prep with weekly Forest School sessions. Forest School was first pioneered in Scandinavia, back in the 1950s, and they have been producing impressive educational results ever since. Our happy little version may be a lot newer - but is just as wonderful.”
She continues: “The benefits of Forest School extend beyond the joy of exploring nature. The outdoor activities complement, extend and enhance the academic curriculum. During weekly visits to Forest School, children develop resilience, perseverance and a determination to succeed. These characteristics of effective learning are then transferred to the classroom and directly support their literacy, numeracy and other academic development.”
Outdoor learning is increasingly embedded in all areas of the curriculum and year groups, with Years 3 to 5 now having weekly sessions timetabled.
By exploring nature and working together – doing things like climbing, collecting, shelter building, cooking and fire lighting – the children have opportunities to make independent choices and take risks in a safe and controlled environment.
Children are natural-born adventurers and want to learn anything and everything about the world around them, so it is important that schools help them do this. This can help them to develop early approaches to problem-solving and year on year Walhampton sees a significant boost in self-awareness, independence, motor skills, confidence and importantly at this time, well-being. The outdoor curriculum also ensures that children develop communication abilities through collaborative-working.
Walhampton’s Head of Outdoor Learning, Simon Westerman, says: “More than ever, our world needs looking after so we aim to help our pupils discover the natural world and develop an understanding about how to protect and preserve it for future generations. We are lucky enough to come to a school with stunning grounds, packed full of wonder, and we make the most of every inch of our 100 acres. The school also owns a small property on Mull, which pupils in Year 8 visit annually to experience real challenge and adventure.”
Claire Holly concludes: “We often see a change in children’s behaviour once you take away the physical walls of the classroom. Most go home feeling inspired, often encouraging their parents to help gather materials for their next lesson and sharing their experiences with them. As adults, we often say of the world: ‘It’s a jungle out there’. Well, if it is, what better place to prepare yourself than Walhampton’s forest of ideas.”