The great outdoors is providing endless education opportunities for Harlow youngsters. The four primary schools within the Burnt Mill Co-operative Academy Trust – Roydon, Freshwaters, Cooks Spinney and Little Parndon – are signed up to the Forest Schools initiative. The scheme sees groups of pupils spend time working outside every week, to inspire creativity and broaden their horizons.
Barry Wolff, English and drama teacher from Burnt Mill Academy, in First Avenue, is leading the sessions. He said: “By taking children out of school and into the outdoors, we can encourage imaginative play, creative storytelling and relationship-building. They learn new social skills by mixing with new people and get to use up their energy in a positive way so they are ready to sit and learn when they go back into the classroom.”
Each school is interpreting the scheme in a way which suits its children and surroundings. Parents are also being invited on some sessions to learn more about how to enjoy the outdoors with their children. Mr Wolff said: “We are using the forest as a classroom to develop our children’s senses, encouraging them to look, to hear, to smell and to touch what they find in the outdoors. Children are encouraged to say what they are thinking and to ask questions and make suggestions. To a certain extent, the sessions are guided by what we find and what the children are inquisitive about.
“It’s a privilege for our children to be able to enjoy our wonderful environment. I want them to go with their instincts, rather than be told what they should feel or think while we’re in the forest.
“The children are so excited. Many of them do not have gardens at home or rarely go out to the park with their families so this is all new and intriguing to them. I am also finding young experts who know more about the outdoors than me!”
Children are all given a forest name and refer to their teacher as Woodpecker.
Mr Wolff, who enjoys outdoor activities himself including running, football and cycling, said: “In an ideal world, the outdoors would be a part of every day for every child. If this is successful, the schools will not need me in the future as this will become a natural part of their culture.”
Gill Doyle, headteacher at Roydon Primary School, said: “The education we provide our pupils with needs to be creative and promote curiosity and problem-solving. Forest Schools offers all of that.”