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Pilot scheme allows pupils to get in touch with nature

04-02-2008

04/02/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

A learning initiative that aims to inspire children through positive outdoor experiences is being piloted in the north.

Forest schools encourage pupils to work as part of a team, build their confidence and self-esteem, explore their senses and develop communication skills.

The Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA) has now been set up to introduce children to 'sylvan' education.

The development of forest schools began in Britain and Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

It is based on a Scandinavian idea that considers children's contact with nature to be important from an early age.

Studies of children involved in forest schools show them to be more confident, demonstrating a huge growth in self-esteem.

They also develop more sophisticated uses of both written and spoken language prompted by their visual and sensory experiences.

In addition, teachers gain a new perspective and understanding of the children as they observe them in a different setting and identify their individual learning styles.

An outdoor education programme is now being piloted in Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Newtownabbey and will run until April.

The leader, Brian Poots, ordinarily works for the Woodland Trust but is taking a sabbatical one day every week to help Hazelwood develop its programme.

Mr Poots secured a grant from UnLtd, which enabled him to receive training as a forest school leader in England.

Participants tackle small tasks set by the school leader - they may search for slugs and snails while pretending to be a hedgehog preparing for hibernation.

Pupils from P1, P2 and P5 take part in sessions in which they learn how to light fires, build dens and use tools.

On a typical day, children will change into outdoor clothing before being taken from school to a woodland site.

While walking to the forest, stops may be made along the way if a child notices something such as a rabbit hole, which can lead to an impromptu lesson on wildlife and habitats.

Once pupils become familiar with the site they may run and lead the way to the forest school site, so while they are learning to deal with the uneven terrain of the woodland floor they are also developing a sense of independence in being outdoors.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for the school," Jim McDaid, a P7 teacher at the school, said.

"We have been working with Brian for the last few months to get this up and going.

"After being involved with the first session and seeing the enthusiasm of the children I am really looking forward to it."

 

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