Forest school is a breath of fresh air

CLIMBING trees, building dens, using wood tools, lighting fires and toasting marshmallows over an open flame – these are just some of the activities Ripon Grammar School pupils have been enjoying in the school's wild garden.

The ‘classroom with no walls’ activities, run by local company Outdoor Adventures Forest School and supervised by RGS staff, provided a breath of fresh air for Year 7 students, following two years of disruption to their education and social lives.

Headmaster Jonathan Webb said: “Pupils have really enjoyed the opportunity of this outdoor learning experience. With its blend of tasks and bush craft - all mixed in with the fresh air of our wild garden – I can’t think of a better way to learn the skills of team working and problem solving.”

Tabitha Kee, 12, said she most enjoyed making fires and making hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows: “It’s good to be outside with friends after lockdown. The teamwork was good.”

Beth Takieddine, 12, added: “I really like getting out of the classroom and getting to know everyone a bit more, with so much more space. I really enjoy the games that involve working as a team and have learnt a lot from that.”

Helen Mars, head of RGS’s PSHCEe life skill classes said the outdoor activities, over two weeks, went some way towards addressing the impact of the pandemic on play time and outdoor learning: "The aim is for students to have a chance to build friendships and develop teamwork skills.”

Madeleine Groundwater of Outdoor Adventures Forest School explained: “Forest school is a child-centred, hands-on learning process that supports holistic development in a natural environment. Through supported risk taking, learners develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, resilience, risk management, and innate motivation: all invaluable skills to take back to the classroom and indeed, carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“On top of all of this, they are developing a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world, helping them to have immense respect for it. They are also learning practical skills of woodwork, shelter building, fire lighting and cooking, and they are experiencing the positive mental health benefits of being in nature, which will help them enormously through tougher parts of their academic careers and later into their lives.

“Post pandemic and lockdown, we have all realised just how important our mental health, our social relationships and exercise are in our lives. We have all had chance to re-evaluate what is important to us. Looking after our wellbeing and our mental health will carry us through tough times. A happy child is able to learn, in a way a stressed, anxious or unhappy child simply can't.

“We are absolutely delighted Ripon Grammar School has seen the value in forest school and invited us in to work with the Year 7 pupils. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, for us too. Forest school really is for everyone, no matter what age.”

Outdoor Adventure Forest School has an experienced team, mostly made up of former primary school teachers and including a children’s nurse: “Each one of us is passionate about the mental health and well-being of children and young people, and how forest school can positively impact that,” said Mrs Groundwater.

“We also welcome volunteers and have been very grateful to the RGS sixth formers who volunteer at some of our primary school sessions.”

The team works in a number of primary schools in the Ripon, Thirsk and Harrogate area and also runs holiday clubs, birthday parties, event days, festivals and school staff training sessions, with plans for Teen Forest School sessions in the summer holidays.

Outdoor Adventures Forest School leaders Madeleine Groundwater and Rachel Goss