As a subject close to my heart, I thought I should give a bit of space to Forest Schools. The concept of Forest Schools has been well developed in North America, Scandinavia and Britain, but is still a new one to Ireland.
The idea behind Forest Schools is getting pupils outside, learning about their environment and opening their eyes to the wonders of the natural world. Studies have shown that children learn better outdoors and retain information more easily, as well as the beneficial impact on their physical, mental and social well-being.
One group running outdoor programmes for schools, offering full and half-day experiences is Nature School, who are based in the west of Ireland. The cost of these outings are subsidised by the Heritage Council. They can also arrange visits to your school by Heritage Experts as part of their Heritage School Scheme, which engages children on the natural and cultural world of their heritage.
If you’re a teacher, educator or just an interested person and you’d like to train to become a Forest School practitioner, you can complete courses at Earth Force Education who run a Forest School Leadership Programme, or you can attend the Festival of Outdoor Learning in Wicklow, which unfortunately we’ve missed for this year and is run by Environmental Education Ireland. You can join their Facebook page too.
The Outdoor Festival of Learning offers a fun packed weekend of workshops, varying from “Practical outdoor activities working with people with disabilities” to “Advanced bush craft” and “Taking early childhood education outdoors”. A date to mark for next year!
I remember from my own childhood how much I absolutely loved being outdoors in any terrain and I was lucky enough to grow up by the sea in a time when children were given the freedom to roam. Unfortunately we now live in a time when we must keep our children close. I only hope that programmes like those above can help to keep children informed on their natural environment and foster that wonder and joy of the natural world I experienced myself as a child.