Our Forest School: how the outdoors benefits our children

It has been an exciting start to the Outdoor Learning programme at RSM and hopefully an enjoyable one too, despite the wet feet and chilled fingers! I am a passionate believer that the natural world is where we are meant to be and that it has great benefits to our wellbeing.  This is doubly so for many of our young people who are super-sensitive and find the man-made environment distracting and disturbing.  Indeed how many of us instinctively take ourselves off for a walk at times of stress?  Across the educational spectrum schools are embracing the outdoor learning approach and reaping the rewards.

For the youngest students at Seashell the emphasis is on interacting with the environment through play – this is, after all the way we all learned about the world back in the day.   A proposed designated  ‘junkyard play’ area will add another dimension to the offering, creating a semi-enclosed outdoor space which will be accessible to our visually impaired students too.  It is a sad irony that very often those students who desperately need to acquire outdoor skills and strategies to keep themselves safe, are often the ones most frequently denied that opportunity because of accessibility issues.  I believe this will be of great benefit to these students in the long-term.  In the meantime Early Years children are experiencing practical science: water runs down hill, the wind will blow away feathers, stones splash in water, snowballs melt and so on.  I make no apologies for how messy we sometimes get – that’s life!

For the older students things are a little more formal and we now have a gardening and horticulture scheme running which has proved very popular.  At this stage, as the young people prepare to move into the adult world, the scheme gives them an opportunity to practise real and diverse skills which are directly linked to the workplace.  It is also a great way to learn how to work alongside others, all collaborating on the same task, not always easy for those on the autism spectrum.  I am immensely proud of my core of dedicated students who are now proficient in using wheelbarrows, brushes and rakes and some have even mastered the art of pruning. Their sterling efforts are making real improvements to planting areas around school, with hanging baskets and bulbs now coming into flower, not to mention all the veg seedlings waiting to be planted out in the next few weeks.

I would like to give my thanks to all the staff and students who have turned out in rain and snow to help in this new venture.  Without them none of these exciting things would be happening.  I would like to leave them with this thought: there is no such thing as bad weather, only different opportunities!  (But don’t quote me on that if it’s blowing a gale and pouring down!)

Jean Barratt, Teacher at Royal School Manchester