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Forest School: Practitioner Workshop

In 2010, having previously developed the outdoor nursery environment at this children’s centre in Coventry, I and my colleague 3D artist and sculptor Matt Shaw, were invited to develop the forest school area and then deliver some sessions there with families. Visual artist Barbara Jones also led some workshops with a focus on outdoor reflective documenting approaches.

Matt and I had spent some time developing the site with involvement from a few parents and practitioners, and we had made a wigwam,  two fir dens, a rustic low-climber, renovation of a wood-shed and others.

This training session arose out of the project that had been developed with parents and children in the local community working with us and children in the Forest School environment. We had some funding available to offer staff a development session looking at the outdoor environments available to staff working with parents and children in the outdoor environment.

After consultation with staff for a future project, through using the Creative Partnerships development framework a number of staff development points were raised:

– Not all staff had had the same exposure to training on creativity
– Some staff were uncertain about using the outdoor environments that had been developed in the garden in a creative context
– Staff were uncertain about if and how they could use the forest school environment

The session, though short, was aimed to address these areas.

Our role was to model some ideas about how to use outdoor environments with children and to offer staff the opportunity to experiment themselves. We also spent some time thinking about and raising questions about how they can work with children in a more natural and possibly ‘risky’ environment.

We wanted to share the approach we had been using in all along during the project where there was a good deal of flexibility allowing people to develop their own ideas, explore, investigate and discover things for themselves.

We set out a number of provocations such as dens, land-art examples and other ideas such as the doormat with natural items poked into it and the ‘sticky’ cards where you can collect very small pieces of natural materials and scrutinize them carefully or make small pieces of natural art.

The staff were then free to explore their surroundings with the thought of thinking back to when they were children and how they might react to the various provocations. We also asked them to look carefully and if they felt like it to start ‘playing’ and ‘fidgeting’ with the materials. Perhaps to make something but there was no pressure to make products with the emphasis very firmly on the process and the feeling of the process to them relating to their childhoods.

People also looked at our journals and books relating to working outside and spent time discussing these together.

Some people were very active and explored materials by working with them and other people chose to discuss the provocations.

We wanted the session to be informal enough for people who might not feel so confident with working outside, and flexible enough to accommodate responses to and conversations about the provocations and ideas, as well as informative giving people a good idea of what working outside might entail.