Karin Chipulina - October 2007 - March 2008

Forest Schools is a Scandinavian approach to outdoor learning. It is child-led and involves exposing children to repeated outdoor experiences. The technique has only recently been piloted in Edinburgh with a number of city schools but the approach has already been tried eldewhere throughout the UK and overseas.

East Saltoun Primary School bravely accepted the challenge of being the first East Lothian school to pilot the scheme. Credit for this should be given to classroom Sylvia Van Barneveld who was very interested in the idea, and to Anne Malcolm, the school's headteacher who encouraged us throughout.

The primary aims of the Saltoun Forest School were to provide the pupils with stimulating experiences which could then be carried forward into the classroom environment. We hoped to give them the chance to use their learning skills in a different way.

Forest schools suits auditory, kinesthetic and visual learners. As project leader I tried to include all three learning styles. I also tried to ensure that the children should follow their own particular schemas bringing particular tasks to the attention of those pupils who would benefit most from them.

Collecting willow for making sculpture

My learning objectives for the pupils were for them to:
• work well with others in pairs or small groups
• increase their understanding of spatial concepts
• learn new skills such as the use of tools and fire lighting,
• learn to work safety,
• learn how to identify common woodland fauna and flora
• gain a greater understanding of woodlands ecosystems
• increase their creativity and use it constructively

Generally I hoped that the children would benefit from the wide variety of activities involved in the forest school including storytelling, poetry, simple arithmetic, drama, mime, filmmaking, puppetry, and music. I also hoped that they would learn from each other and from their mistakes.

Collecting Firewood

Learning how to do and how to use knots

Steven Wray from East Lothian Council Healthy Living Service and Scott Lavery from Education and Children’s Services, spearheaded the idea of organising a forest school in East Saltoun. The primary school lies between Haddington and Pentcailand and has the advantage of being within walking distance of Strawberry Wood. The people involved in the original meetings held to set up the school were: Sylvia (classroom teacher) Beth (classroom assistant) Richard, Caroline and Leigh (Ranger Service team) Bill (Outdoor Education) Suzanne (Active Schools Co-ordinator for the area) Anne (head teacher) and myself as Forest School Leader.

Other meetings involving members of the school's parent council also took place. We also organised an Open Evening for parents so that they could view appropriate. Jenny, the Forest Schools coordinator based in Edinburgh, was also invited to explain the ethos of the project.

We also produced a small handbook that was given to every parent explaining what we would be doing during the first 9 weeks of the pilot project.

Learning how to use a Bow-saw

The school began during the month of October, with a Christmas break and then continued until Easter. This meant working in all weathers, often when it was cold but this did not seem to deter the children. There were three hourly session over a period of nine weeks starting at 9.30am and finishing at 12.00

On one occasion we put a few sessions together so as to be able to visit a community woodland in Lauder. This proved a great success as the children were able to view an area where at the area where owls had been nesting.

Most sessions began and ended in the same manner in order to reinforce repetition and familiarity. I would set up a base, review any risks concerned with health and safety and then explain what we were going to during that session. Adults were then allocated to look after particular groups. Work carried out during one week was linked to that of the next where possible and the classroom teacher would then try to reinforced what was learned when they were back at school.

During the first nine weeks the children learnt about fire, tool use, knots, shelters, the woodlands and mini-beasts. Appropriate games were played to make them think about the woodland environment. The last nine sessions attempted to bring all these ideas and skills together.

It is worth mentioning that one of the most successful sessions was one in which the children created their own musical instruments. The imagination, creativity and diversity of ideas were fantastic. We ended up with an orchestra in which with all the children took part

Making Frames using Knots