From 2019-2020 ecoACTIVE ran a series of Forest School sessions for children in areas affected by local deprivation in Hackney. The activity improved their social skills, increased confidence and increased motivation in education.
We worked with a total of 64 disadvantaged children aged 7-11, working across 4 different Hackney Primary Schools.
The children were chosen for the project by teachers at their schools with our guidance. All children chosen were experiencing some kind of disadvantage. This could be: 1. lack of social skills 2.insufficient motivation to learn at school or 3. lack of confidence.
Activities at forest school included: shelter building, bird watching, bug hunting, tree identification, tree and sand-pile climbing, hammocks and rope swings, pond dipping, fire lighting, cooking on a small fire, group games and circle time for children's feedback and suggestions.
In the Summer and Autumn term of 2019 (April - December 2019) we worked with Hoxton Garden and Randal Cremer Primary Schools. These sessions took place in Hoxton Garden school ground, Shoreditch park and in Haggerston Park. Both settings are close to these schools and have trees, a variety of different habitats, and in the case of Haggerston, a big wooded area and a pond. They both lie within the 20% of the most deprived areas in England.
In the spring term of 2020 (January-March 2020) we worked with Nightingale and Kingsmead Primary Schools. Nightingale Primary School is in the Hackney Downs Ward. Kingsmead Primary School is within the Kings' Park Ward. Both are within 20% of the most deprived areas in England. In addition to this, Kings' Park Ward has the highest number of lone parent households in Hackney. We ran weekly sessions with Nightingale and Kingsmead schools before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK and the schools were closed. We subsequently developed online forest school resources and shared these with both schools.
1. Children showed improved social, verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
Prior to starting, many children participating were struggling to establish solid relationships, friendships and work well as a team. Through regular sessions they were supported to become part of a group, interact and listen to/work with each other, respecting turns. Regular activities such as making hot chocolate for the group, den-building and digging required children to cooperate, follow instructions and problem-solve together, becoming very successful team building exercises.
Child L, who started with very low self-esteem and was reluctant to take part, commented in one session: "I played with almost everyone here!"
Child B’s school mentor reported: “This has been a really beneficial opportunity to start building relationships with peers.....really good to listen to this pupil share during circle times, as this is something he has not taken part in previously.”
Child C’s school mentor informed us that ”...This pupil has established a huge capacity for humour and fun which was very much lacking previously. She takes a more active role not only during the sessions but back in school, within her peer group and class discussions. The class teacher has remarked on the hugely positive impact this experience has had on her social development and increase in active engagement, positivity and confidence.”
2. Children became more engaged and motivated learners.
Many of our children were experiencing the outdoors first hand in a way they had never experienced before. They became excited and interested in this new space and way of learning and were able to concentrate on tasks that interested them, like making sparks with fire steels, exploring the wooded area, identifying mini-beasts and pond creatures or building a shelter. Around half of the children's teachers reported increased concentration and motivation in classroom at the end of the programme.
Child ZR's mentor: "Forest School (FS) provided a huge incentive for this pupil throughout the rest of the school week and was the only part of school he cited as enjoying. It had a huge positive impact on his mood and emotional wellbeing and gave him an outdoor outlet he otherwise has no access to."
3. Children had increased confidence.
Most of the children we worked with had never attended FS before. In several cases, they don't normally have access to green spaces and often spend their afternoon playing indoors on computer games. At FS, they became part of a group and had the chance to move and choose what to do. This was an opportunity to grow in confidence, which was evident when children spoke about their wishes and feelings at circle time, in their relationship with the adults and peers and in how they could decide for themselves more easily.
Child C’s School mentor: “This pupil really benefited from the small group activities and blossomed with having the attention and support of an adult separate to the school. She has grown immensely in confidence, expressing her opinions more freely and actively within a school setting and asserting and voicing her own thoughts and rights."
Child L's story
At the start of the project "He has very low self-esteem and needs encouragement to engage with new things. He hasn’t yet developed many of his own interests and was reluctant to try the Forest school club”, L's teacher.
From the beginning he really enjoyed digging holes. He was fascinated by worms and bugs and had never held one in his hand before. He gradually started playing and doing activities with more children. He got involved with climbing on a big pile of sand which the children called “the mountain”. He climbed up and down with others and started digging with sticks. Then, they discovered trowels and worked together to build a big hole, as a door into the mountain. In a last session, he said he had enjoyed “playing with almost everyone here.”
At the end:“The club had become a passion and his absolute favourite thing…he loves all the activities, adults and structure” and “has begun to feel happy and play outside more since attending." The experience “has provided an emotional outlet for this pupil with a very challenging home circumstance, so has been very beneficial for his emotional and mental wellbeing”, L's mentor.
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