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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

If you go down to the woods today…

Den building at Copythorne Common
If you go down to the woods today… you’re sure to find children enjoying the New Forest in ways not seen before.

The New Forest National Park Authority introduced the Forest Schools initiative to the National Park to encourage children to discover more about the natural world on their doorstep. The scheme, based on a Scandinavian concept, is designed to improve children’s self esteem, bolster language skills, encourage team working and increase independence.

The National Park Education Team organised introductory Forest School training events for teachers and outdoor education officers within the National Park, including staff from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, who have gone on to become qualified leaders in the scheme.

Children aged six and seven from the Infant Schools at Copythorne, St Michael’s in Lyndhurst, and Netley Marsh recently enjoyed a Forest Schools course run by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s staff at its Copythorne Common Nature Reserve, opposite Copythorne Infants School.

They built shelters, made bridges, crafted decorations from materials they found in the Forest and cooked toast on an open fire with tools they had made.

National Park Education Officer Amanda Elmes said: ‘A lot of research has shown that children don’t get as many opportunities these days to explore the natural world. These children are the future guardians of the New Forest and by enjoying and understanding what makes the National Park so special, we hope they are more likely to care for it as adults.

‘Another spin-off is that we know children bring their experience home and ask their parents to take them outdoors at the weekend or in the school holidays. Parents’ interest and attitude towards the outdoors also changes as they see the impacts on their children.’

Research has shown that learning new skills in an outdoor setting has been particularly successful in motivating children who have challenging behaviour in the classroom.

Jill Gower, Deputy Headteacher at Copythorne Infant School, said: ‘Generally children are always being told to be quiet but here they can run and shout and kick leaves and it doesn’t matter. There are strict rules about safety and it is all carefully guided by adults but the children are encouraged to take
responsibility and set the boundaries, which are good life skills.

‘During the Forest Schools programme, some children who can be quite challenging in the classroom became completely engaged in building dens and their behaviour was totally different – they were very involved and it was giving them success in something perhaps they would not normally find success in, which was a real boost to their self-esteem. The children suddenly seemed to blossom more outside.’

Sam Dawson, Education Officer at the Wildlife Trust, said over 90 children from the three schools had taken part in the programme.

Wildlife Trust education officer Jim Day and
National Park education officer Amanda Elmes

She said: ‘We worked with the children over six weeks and they get very comfortable in the environment and it often helps to open up the emotional and social skills that you are trying to draw out in the classroom. The children are given the scope to explore and assess their own risks.’

If you would like to learn more about the Forest Schools initiative in the New Forest National Park, contact the Education team on 01590 646680 or email education@newforestnpa.gov.uk.

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