27 March 2015

On Thursday 19th March, a cold but sunny day, YMCA St Paul’s Group deepened the partnership they have with the Surbiton primary school St. Andrews and St. Marks by providing a fun and educational Forest School shelter building day for over 90 pupils and school staff members. 

Shelter building on the timetable

The afternoon forest school session in the dense woods of ’60 Acre Woods’ in Chessington was delivered by Myke Catterall, Emma Wiles and Victoria Workman from YMCA LSW’s Children and Family Work Team.

YMCA St Paul’s Group has been providing after school care, classes and activities for children from St. Andrews and St. Marks for many years and the Association has built up a great relationship with the staff team at the school.

In early February, Year 6 teacher Lisa Bartlett contacted the YMCA to discuss the possibility of the Association delivering a forest school session. The children’s spring DT topic predominantly revolved around shelter building, which is part of the national curriculum.

“Having worked in collaboration with Myke Catterall and the YMCA for several years, I was confident that the Forest School team would be able to deliver a high quality, educational experience which complimented the lessons that had been taught in school,” Lisa says.

“The children not only relished the opportunity to be taught different knotting techniques by Myke prior to the trip, but also enjoyed the session led by the team in the woods. Well organised, structured yet explorative, the children were able to actively implement the skills that had been taught whilst working as a team and having fun,” she explains.

Forest School qualifications

Emma, Myke and Victoria of YMCA St Paul’s Group are currently working towards gaining their Level 3 Forest School Practitioners qualifications.

“The woods provides children with the freedoms to play intrinsically; with each other or to immerse themselves in their own imaginations. I love to watch children first arrive in the woods, with a little apprehension at first to then observing the transformation to being inspired by the woods,” Emma says.

“The children did a marvellous job of working together and building their shelters, there were a lot of creative minds at work, which is what we ultimately want to nurture and encourage all to feel confident in expressing themselves whilst at forest school,” she adds.

Learning opportunities in the forest

With a passion for providing children with opportunities to play and learn in the great outdoors, Myke too, was excited to work with the school in delivering the shelter building session.

The session provided a great opportunity for the children to do some real life hands on shelter building in the woods. I believe that it’s this hands on experience and being outside that really allows children to flourish in this type of learning,” he says.

One of the children, Alexandra Lambe, said:  ‘It’s the best trip we’ve ever been on!‘.

Escaped lions and sink holes

Before the session started, the children were told a story to encourage them to start thinking about the type of shelters they were going to build.

One class were told that the lions from nearby Chessington World of Adventures had escaped and that the children had to build shelters to protect themselves.

Another class were told that whilst on route to the woods there had been some breaking news about sink holes appearing and the area they were in would now become an island.

The excitement from the children after being told that they needed to build a shelter to protect themselves from lions was genuine! It was wonderful to see the children’s faces light up at the mere prospect of collecting pieces of wood and tying them together in a tepee shape,” Lisa explains.

And with that, they were off! Throughout the woods you could see the play and learning taking place. Shelters continuously cropped up and the imagination of the children was truly established. Children were building shelters with drawbridges, windows, fencing to make the shelter welcoming and camouflage to merge into the woodland.

Benefits from a different learning environment

“For some children, the learning environment in a classroom can be a real challenge. In the woods, however, there is often a real change in the behaviour of some children who often display challenging behaviour,” Myke explains.

The woodland activities truly allowed all children, particularly those who can find concentration in the classroom a challenge, the opportunity to experience hands-on learning in a natural environment. The children were able to achieve the learning objective of building a free standing shelter without the usual constraints of a classroom,” Lisa adds.

Accessing the great outdoors

Victoria, Children’s Work Co-ordinator at YMCA Hawker in Kingston fully believes in the Forest School ethos, adding that “Forest School is about allowing the children to freely access the great outdoors, allowing them to exploring and maintain curiosity in the world around them.”  

She goes on to explain that Forest School focuses on the process of learning more than the product. We allow children to self-direct their own play and learning through unstructured activities and experience a range of healthy emotions through the challenges the unpredictable woodland brings.”

As the session came to an end, all the children had successfully built a shelter. By observing the smiles on their faces, the high fives to each other and the pats on the back of their friend it was visible that each and every one had had a fantastic afternoon.

“I think that we worked really well together as a team to build our shelter,” said Fahim Dhebar, a year 6 pupil at the school.

Planning a Forest School programme in Kingston

The Children and Family Work department at YMCA LSW are currently planning the next stage of implementing a Forest School programme for schools and local community groups in the Kingston Borough. For more Forest School updates and programmes, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.