The Heart of England Forest charity in Warwickshire has been helping local schools by offering limitless space outdoors for learning and play.
First on the phone was Alex Finch, the Head of Mappleborough Green CoE Primary School who realised that, with only enough space at school to bring back the priority year groups along with key workers children, the Forest offered an opportunity for the school to ‘check in’ with children in years 2 - 5 who would otherwise have no contact with their teachers for over six months.
For the children who weren’t in school, we wanted them to spend two days together in a familiar environment to have fun, to support their transition into their new classes and to enable them to do some collaborative learning together, which is difficult to facilitate through home learning.
From a safeguarding perspective, it was also a chance to explore the mental health aspects and share experiences in lockdown. We knew that some children would just have gone out for an hour for daily exercise and then spent the rest of their time on the PlayStation, some would have had no siblings to play with, and some would be very anxious or may have suffered a bereavement during lockdown.
We knew that the opportunity to see their friends again, to bathe in the forest and chase butterflies would be fantastic for the children. We also felt that the environment would help them to open up about any worries.
Many of the children shared that they had a nice time during lockdown, which was reassuring for me and the staff. We noticed that to start with the children were hard to engage because they hadn’t been using many of the skills for learning they use at school such as discussion and collaborative learning, but the forest environment gave lots of opportunities for working with other pupils in a socially distanced way.
“From a headteacher’s point of view, it was wonderful for me personally to get away from all the decisions and anxiety.”
We also bought the children of key workers to the forest to enable them to get away from the quite intensive learning environment of working alongside each other on separate desks at school.
Space is very restrained at school, but we had more freedom in the Forest.
The children of key workers have been under a lot of stress and worried about their parents but the Forest gave them a bit of time away to play without having to worry about mum and dad.
The families were very positive about coming to the Forest because they are so familiar with the environment.
There was a bit of initial concern, but the shared risk assessment and the infographics explaining how everything would work helped the school make the case.
We have had fantastic feedback from parents on social media, in emails and verbally.
Mappleborough staff spoke of the mental health benefits to them, away from the weight of procedures and everything you need to think about at school – ‘it’s just not normal but despite the additional procedures in the forest it doesn’t feel as different as it does at school’.
“I like coming here instead of school. You get to basically have fun and sometimes you have to do a bit of work, but it’s completely different to school.”
“I feel excited when I come here because we do loads of cool stuff.”
“We do different things here, there are different areas to run around. There is more space and lots more different wildlife.”
“I 100% know more about wildlife, I would never have heard of a Marbled White!”
To find out more about the Heart of England Forest’s Learning and Skills programme visit www.heartofenglandforest.com/get-involved/learningandskills/