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  • Writer's pictureLauren Kinnersley

Celebrating the last 3 years and facing future challenges together

The evidence is mounting that the effects of young people spending time in nature has positive benefits for their mental and physical health, as well as their engagement with preserving the biosphere and climate crisis. Emerging results of Forest School research are showing improvements in school attendance, behaviour, academic achievement and social skills development.

Team work at Forest school
A group of girls working together to create a shelter at Forest school

Yet the current economic environment, with ever tightening budgets in schools, is creating challenges for the forest school sector, at the very time when needs are increasing. The recent announcement of the "bankruptcy" of my Local Authority, Nottingham City Council, will have catastrophic effect on services that affect vulnerable young people, and I myself am set to lose work next year as a direct result.

There are always new opportunities, and I hope to find a creative response and develop new and existing collaborations to find a positive way forward. I wanted to take this opportunity to pause and celebrate all that I have achieved in the last 3 years since the pandemic, before I take a big intake of breath and look to the challenges of the future.

For the past 3 years I have been supported by a team of academics from the Institute of Mental Health at Nottingham University. They have been evaluating the impact of Forest School sessions on the wellbeing of children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) Special Educational Needs (SEN) from Crabtree Farm School in Bulwell. There have been some really positive outcomes, and an interim report will be available in the New Year, and potentially 2 research papers in the Summer. The team are hoping to present at the Forest School Research Symposium at Liverpool University in July 2024. More information to follow in the New Year.

Forest school symposium 2024
The first Forest school symposium 2024

This year I entered my fourth year of being a Recognised Provider of Forest School with the Forest School Association (FSA). Being a Recognised Provider helps support me to show my clients that I am taking steps to ensure I offer quality Forest School provision. It offers me a network of professional support and training, and enables me to be part of the national movement to support the development of Forest School provision. I have attended the national conference for the past 2 years, and this year offered 2 workshops on the use of puppets in Forest School.

FSA Recognised provider badge
FSA Recognised Provider badge

A new development this year has been to join the management committee of the East Midlands Forest Education Network (FEN). This is a great opportunity to become more active in supporting forest school locally. I offered a workshop at the Skills Day this year in working with puppets outdoors, and next year I intend to offer a workshop focusing on singing and music making outdoors. I also plan to offer a wellbeing day.

logo for FEN East Midlands
Logo for the Forest Education Network

For the last 3 years I have been using a beautiful private woodland near Ilkeston, at the Weleda biodynamic garden. Weleda is an international company that produces natural cosmetics and medicines, who are committed to the well-being of planet, environment and people. They invited me to work on their land, for a peppercorn rent, so that I could open up the garden to those who ordinarily may not get the opportunity. I am delighted to have just signed another 3 year agreement to use the woodland. I am hopeful that I can develop my relationship with Weleda further as I move into the next phase of my work.

Approach to forest school site Weleda in Autumn
The approach to the Forest School site at Weleda garden

For the last 3 years I have been offering a Forest School to families who are home educating, from the Weleda site. This is a vibrant little community, and it is a pure joy to facilitate a woodland learning space for them.

Hammock fun at Forest school
Home educated children relaxing in a hammock at Forest School

For the past 3 years I have been working one day a week in partnership with Sherwood Playgroup CIO, delivering Forest School on adjacent land managed by the Wildlife Trust. This has been a hugely creative journey for me as I have weaved storytelling, puppets and song into my Forest School practice. The playgroup has fully embraced the forest school ethos and has been a joy to work with. This work has been made possible through a local authority grant administered by Castle Cavendish, and is sadly likely to be a victim of local authority cuts.

information board Sherwood Playgroup CIO forest school
Our site blackboard at Arkright Meadows

I have been working with Carlton Digby Special Education School, delivering forest school inspired outdoor learning over the last 18 months. This work has stretched and extended me, as I find ways to engage with learners with many varied interests, abilities and sensory needs. I especially enjoy the challenge of this, and the creativity, attention and presence it requires of me. This year I have been studying a Level 3 Certificate in the Principles of Special Educational Needs RQF, which has supported my work. I would like to develop more work with SEND learners going forward.

Child in a wheelchair playing with a pully
A pupil from Carlton Digby Special school playing with a pully

Another new client in the past 18 months has been St Andrews Church of England Primary school in Ilkeston, where I have been working with reception children.

Since 2021 I have had the privilige of working with Derby Forest School at Whistlewood Common, the inspirational community owned woodland near Melbourne. I have learnt so much by working with the team of Forest School Leaders in the holidays, and enjoyed representing them at the Elvaston Woodland Festival. This is a really positive collaboration that I am hoping to be able to cultivate further in the future.

I have also had the privilege of working closely with Sarah Briggs, an amazing Forest School Leader and educator over the past 3 years, at my Weleda site.

Next year marks 18 years since I first qualified as a Forest School Leader, and 14 years since I left the NHS to fully embrace Outdoor Educating. It has been an incredible journey, and I feel so grateful to be doing this amazing work with children and alongside so many great educators. I hope to find ways to continue doing the work for as long as possible, and to inspire, support and nurture the next generation of outdoor teachers and learners.

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