“The outdoor space and curriculum must harness the special nature of the outdoors, to offer children what the indoors cannot. This should be the focus for outdoor provision, complementing and extending provision indoors. The outdoors offers young children essential experiences vital to their wellbeing, health and development in all areas. Children who miss these experiences are significantly deprived.” Jan White, Playing and Learning Outdoors (3-7)
Woodland School gives all the children at Onslow regular access to our varied outdoor areas, allowing them freedom to explore and enjoy the physical, mental and emotional space outside the classroom. This space means we can work differently: our activities can be physical, messy, noisy, risky and large scale. We have room to work cooperatively in small and large groups, or to allow children to find their own personal space to work uninterrupted and away from the control (but not supervision) by adults. We provide opportunities to listen, observe, problem solve and apply knowledge in unfamiliar ways, thus building resilience and stamina. Working in the outdoor environment helps the children understand the impact their actions can have on the natural world, with the changing seasons and weather adding another valuable dimension to the experience.
Woodland School sessions are a mixture of games, free exploration and a wide variety of adult-led activities. These activities may be open-ended or directed, depending on the age of the children and the objective of the learning. There are opportunities for both independent and group working – groups may be chosen, random or directed. Whole class adult-led instruction is short, most of the learning takes place through discovery, questioning and discussion with adults and peers alike. Adults work alongside children, sharing in their discoveries and wonder, promoting critical thinking through questioning and modelling problem-solving and negotiation skills. Talking is allowed at all times except when active listening is needed. Working outside gives many varied opportunities for gross and fine motor skills practice, from negotiating the uneven terrain to tying knots during den building. The physical and practical nature of the activities helps embed knowledge gained in the classroom. Children are encouraged and supported to consider and manage risk independently in everyday situations, be it climbing a tree or deciding whether they need to wear a coat or not. Resilience is learned through being outside in all weathers and working in a different, changing environment. Woodland helpers are chosen each week to bring and collect in the equipment needed for the session. All children are expected to be responsible for any equipment they use and to leave the outdoor space as they found it.
These sessions give the children a chance to explore the natural world around them every week. There is plenty of opportunity for physical activity, discovery and pretend play. The rules and expectations of Woodland School are taught through various games and guided activities help practise the skills they are learning in the classroom. Woodland School helps our new children become familiar with all areas of the school environment. We work on building confidence and independence in simple ways such as thinking about the weather and then deciding what they might need to wear.
These sessions are based around the seasons and the changes we observe in the natural world as we move through the year. This forms the basis for a year-long project focused on a deciduous tree in the school grounds. Certain activities such as ‘Dig and Discover’, animal behaviour games and minibeast hunts are repeated in each season in order to see changes first hand. Children work independently or in small, self-chosen groups. Towards the end of the year, opportunities for team games and simple challenges are introduced.
These sessions are longer, giving the children scope for deeper involvement in activities and challenges, building on skills learned last year. Repeated den building sessions allow for experimentation and learning from both failure and the observation of others’ success. Teamwork and communication improve, as does everything, with practice. Group work, particularly where the groups are chosen randomly or by an adult, can be challenging but helps practise important life skills such as negotiation, voting, and recognising one’s own and others’ strengths. At the start of each session Year 2 record the weather, temperature and day length. The prediction for next week is also noted. This forms the basis for their year-long project in which we make graphs from the weekly record to see weather patterns and make our own predictions. We also consider the weather in greater depth through activities such as shadow games, making things that fly and puddle investigations. It is in this final year that children really start to make links between what they learn in the classroom and their activities outside. By presenting them with new challenges in a different environment we can help them apply that knowledge successfully.
Each year we ask the Year 2 children for their opinions on, and suggestions for, Woodland School via a simple questionnaire completed in class. The feedback is always overwhelmingly positive and their suggestions (where possible!) are taken into account when planning for the next year. Over time we have included more art activities and made sure we play a variety of games regularly. We also use the questionnaire responses to inform our equipment wish list although it may be some time before we get a café and rainbows! Here’s some of the things our children like about Woodland School:
“It’s fun and exciting”
“We work in a bigger area”
“Being with different people, not just friends”
“I like being outside”
“The things we get to learn and make”
“It’s different each time”
“That we get out of school and have fun!”
“We get to play games”
“Looking at the nature of our world”
“How silent it (the woodland) is”
“Every time, you find something interesting”