The Alternative School Review - March 2017
I work with young people who fail to thrive in a traditional mainstream, educational setting. TAS offers a different approach to schooling and I was eager for our pupils to take part in Simon’s first block of Forest School sessions. Although our pupils can at times be challenging, I was interested to see how they responded to being outside, learning new skills, on a regular basis.
Over the weeks, I have watched our pupils not only learn new practical skills such as fire lighting and cooking on an open fire but also develop personal qualities such as sharing, cooperation and team work – skills that are hard to develop in a classroom setting. Although the routine was new to them to begin with, they adapted and thrived on the routines offered to them at Forest School. Pupils remembered it was Forest School on Tuesday afternoons and needed no prompting from myself to come to school ready to go to Wood-Sage. They wanted to attend school just so they could come to Forest School.
To begin with, the journey to and from Wood-Sage was tough for staff as we had to deal with pupils wanting to play loud music to dealing with food fights in the car. By the end of the sessions, pupils were turning the music down unprompted as they knew loud music would upset one pupil in particular. Pupils did not check their phones whilst we were with Simon, something we have never managed to crack to such a degree in the classroom. Staff could not believe it when I told them that pupils were not checking their phones for over 2 hours.
Practical skills developed over the weeks and pupils could complete tasks more quickly each week. Pupils were impressed at being allowed to use tools such as knives and bill hooks as some believe that, before they came to TAS, they were considered to be the naughty kids and were amazed that Simon was trusting them to use potentially dangerous items. Simon went to great lengths to explain that they were not weapons but tools that needed to be treated with respect. They realised the respect these tools need when one pupil cut himself, after not following the safety instructions, and this accident turned into another learning opportunity as Simon demonstrated first aid.
What was more impressive over the course, was how it impacted the pupils on a personal level. One mum told me how her child could not cope to have any mud on him or be wet and that his behaviour would be difficult to manage should he get wet or dirty. By the end of session, we noted him jumping in muddy puddles. On the final session, he fell into a big, muddy stream and although he was bothered, he dealt with it quickly and tolerated it. For this pupil, this was a huge personal achievement. His mum was even more amazed when I told her that he had tried pancakes and bacon as he normally has, through his own choice, a very restricted diet.
Another pupil, who in a classroom, is very unfocused and finds it difficult to concentrate on any tasks, became a natural leader at Forest School. He was quick to master tasks and then chose to share these skills with others who had not mastered them as quickly. He also showed a previously unseen side during the Forest School sessions. He proved how he could be really caring especially when a pupil slipped in the stream as he did not hesitate to get into the water to help this pupil. The fact that he would get wet did not stop him from helping. This was a huge change as he had upset this pupil by being mean to him on the journeys back to school on the first two weeks.
The impact of these sessions is difficult to put into words as some of the changes in pupils may seem subtle to others but to those who know the pupils understand how significant they are. Forest School has been hugely beneficial to our pupils and I cannot wait to continue with them. The fact that our pupils were so disappointed when they realised that this block was over speaks volumes in itself.
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