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School in the great outdoors

Autumn leavesAutumn is the season of collecting leaves, building bonfires and toasting marshmallows and popcorn by the fire. But a growing number of children are getting the chance to enjoy pursuits like this all year round.

More and more primary and prep schools are introducing forest schools into the curriculum, using outdoor activities like building dens, climbing trees and learning about nature to develop children’s confidence and resilience.

Forest schools were pioneered in the UK by Bridgwater and Taunton College. Nursery nurses from the college visited Denmark in 1993 and were impressed by the way that Danish schools take children out of the classroom and teach them in the countryside. They were so inspired by this outdoor, child-centred and play-based approach to early years education that they decided to start their own forest school. The idea flourished and now many schools across the country have their own forest schools. Estimates put the number of qualified forest school leaders in the UK at around 5,000.

Experts agree that children benefit hugely from attending forest school sessions. A recent Loughborough University study found that forest schools give children the opportunity to learn important skills that are not taught in the classroom.

The Loughborough research,
conducted by Dr Helena Pimlott-Wilson and Dr Janine Coates and published in The Geographical Journal, revealed that learning outside the classroom gives children a sense of freedom and can influence their attitudes towards learning. The two academics talked to a host of primary school teachers and pupils and discovered that youngsters also develop social skills, problem solving skills, creativity and social and environmental responsibility – qualities that prepare them for later life.

Ernehale Infant School, situated in a residential area three miles from Nottingham city centre, launched its forest school eight years ago. As well as a meadow, the forest school has a woodland, a pond, an outdoor classroom made from a polytunnel, a digging area, a mud kitchen and bug hotels to attract wildlife.

Every child at Ernehale Infant School gets the chance to take part in a forest school session for a whole afternoon each week.

The 210 pupils, all aged between four and seven, enjoy activities like pond dipping, building dens and shelters, climbing trees, whittling sticks and learning to tie knots. They head outdoors to the forest school on the school site in all weathers. The children bring their own wellies but the school provides their bright red waterproof trousers and jackets.

The sessions start with a warm-up on an obstacle course made of old tyres. Then the children move to the meadow, sit in a circle and sing their own forest school song, which they made up themselves and have learned off by heart. The song reminds them not to eat berries or seeds, to walk rather than run and to return to the circle when their teacher blows the whistle.

Headteacher Emma Johnson believes the forest school sessions are invaluable and enable the teaching staff to develop ‘the whole child’.

‘We have four school values that we abide by, making sure that the children are respectful, responsible, risk-takers and resilient,’ says Mrs Johnson. ‘Forest school is a really good opportunity to make sure we are embedding those values in the children away from the mainstream curriculum.

‘When the children go home they wax lyrical about what they have done in the forest and their personal achievements. The parents see it as such a beneficial thing for the children to do.’

Children’s book of the month

RefugeesRefugees (Palazzo, £10.99)

By Brian Bilston

Age: 6+

There’s no doubt that we are living in troubled times. But how do young children respond to harrowing news reports? Are they too little to understand the full impact of events around the world or should we explain their significance and encourage discussion and debate?

With that in mind, teachers, librarians and parents will be interested to see a new book about refugees by Brian Bilston, who’s been described as ‘the unofficial poet laureate of Twitter’.

First published in 2016, Bilston’s celebrated poem about refugees has been shared more than 20,000 times on Twitter, has been retweeted by JK Rowling and Gary Lineker and has now been turned into a thought-provoking children’s picture book.

Refugees tells both sides of the story in a measured and insightful way. The 24-line verse can be read backwards and forwards to convey two opposing views of the plight of refugees.

Beautifully illustrated by José Sanabria, it conveys the message that refugees conjure up a variety of emotions. For some people the issue inspires compassion, understanding and empathy while for others the subject provokes feelings of fear and anxiety.

This is a book that will spark lots of debate in the classroom and at home. Bilston dedicates the tome to ‘bridges – and those who need to cross them’ while Sanabria says that it’s for ‘all beings who must overcome intolerance to find their home’. We’re sure that school libraries will rush to stock this unique book.

Going up, going down

Going up going downGoing up

Stormzy effect. The number of black students taking up places at Cambridge has increased by 50 per cent this year thanks to what’s being dubbed the ‘Stormzy effect’. In 2018 rapper Stormzy announced he would fund the living costs and tuition fees for two black students annually. But as award-winning journalist Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe, who was herself the ‘only black woman in her college’ at Oxford, observed in The Telegraph: ‘Educational inequality starts early. In addition to initiatives such as Stormzy’s, there should be more scrutiny on whether or not schools are adequately pushing their most ambitious students to the top.’

University in the USA. More and more young people from the UK are choosing to study at American universities. Reasons for this include generous scholarships (in some cases these are ‘full ride’ – they cover all costs), and the broader structure of US degrees which don’t require the student to specialise until the third year. Buy Uni in the USA for only £25.00 +p&p Buy Uni in the USA for only £25.00 +p&p

Private tuition. A report by the Sutton Trust, the social mobility charity, has found that 27 per cent of UK teenagers are receiving some kind of private tuition. Rates are highest in London where 41 per cent of 11-16 year olds have tutors.

Going down

Special needs funding. A report from the ombudsman for local government and social care has warned that councils are in danger of failing in their statutory duties to provide help for children with SEND. The government has recently announced a review and an additional £700m of funding for SEND services.

Active hours. Just 8 per cent of girls and 16 per cent of boys are meeting the chief medical officer’s recommendation of one-hour’s physical activity per day and the problem is most evident in areas of social deprivation. Schemes to get children, especially teenagers, moving and to address the gender disparity include funding schools to run clubs and open sports facilities at weekends and during the holidays.

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