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Forest School Underway!

In this blog Joanna Hinson, Forest School Leader at Chartham Primary School in Kent celebrates getting the new school year underway as she oversees three forest school sites within the grounds of the primary school, offering regular forest school learning for all children.

I feel like we should break a bottle of champagne over a fire-basket or something (that's not going to happen, I'm not wasting good wine!), but we are now up and running and have three separate, different, Forest Schools on-site! It's taken a while in the planning, and although I'd like to claim it's all part of some master plan, it has simply evolved as Chartham Primary School has embraced Forest School and made the most of the opportunities that have come our way! The children started back at school this week, and all three sites have had classes for full 2-hour sessions. For those who aren't aware, we are a 2-form entry Primary on the outskirts of Canterbury in Kent. Our building was originally designed as a Secondary school and has been adapted for use. It comes with a huge playing field, a car park, a 'School Garden', raised beds, and a strip of woodland around most of the perimeter. Oh, and there's room for the independent Nursery behind our building! We have 14 classes (including Reception - EYFS), plus two satellite SEND classes from St Nicholas' school who share our building.

Last year we had one Forest School set up. The site allowed for three but maintaining and delivering sessions by moving around the school grounds was problematic. All classes, 16 of them, had a shortened Forest School Session outside for 90. This year all three sites are in use, we have three Forest School Leaders available, and each has taken on responsibility for one site. We are covering PPA so each year group has a morning or afternoon allocated and although two classes come outside, they have a Forest School site and Leader each. Add into this that St. Nicholas has a qualified Leader too and then we really do seem to feel like a Forest School Department! As yet, we do not have all three sites in use at the same time, but that doesn't mean it is not a possibility! Currently, the Forest School Lead has no other role in school and is not timetabled for anything beyond providing sessions (plus paperwork, liaising, sourcing, tidying, gardening, building, etc etc etc!). The other two Forest School Leaders have duties within the school so their time to prep, plan and assess is more restricted.

Obviously, we cannot function without own PPA. Our 'carpets' need mowing. Our 'walls' grow prickles and stinging nettles'. The floor becomes mud, the weather interferes with our displays, and you can imagine what birds do to equipment! This needs checking and dealing with EVERY session. Yes, we want to make the spaces we work in attractive to children, but first and foremost we have to make them safe and fit for purpose. As each site is a different environment: There's The Copse (at the edge of a field with access to a strip of woodland)

There's Under the Trees (entirely amongst mature trees)

and the Wildlife Garden (by a pond with many saplings and wildflowers)

Each can focus on different aspects of Forest School while still offering many of the same activities, and always following the ethos and pedagogy of Forest School.

As this inaugural week comes to a close we are happy to say we're off to a great start. The children have responded well, the Forest School Leaders feel confident and enthusiastic in delivering their sessions, and the timetable has needed very little tweaking! The children have responded well to being back in Forest School. They were a little dubious about new sites and new Leaders, but quickly realised that it was a bonus and just got on with exploring!

We have barely scratched the surface of this school year so we don't know how it will turn out, but at the end of the first week, after twelve 2 hour sessions, there are three weary, happy, and damp Forest School Leaders ready to take on the rest of the term! Being able to step straight into full Forest School provision in the first week of term, without any hiccups is mostly due to the hours and hours of practical and paper work put in over the summer break! The success will partly hang on communication between sites, Leaders, School, and Forest School, so with that in mind, and with an eye on that bottle of champagne mentioned at the start of this, our meetings will be off-premises... and involve pizza!

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