A blog post from Leah Duffy, St. John’s NS.
What is Forest School? “Forest school is an approach to learning that takes children into the great outdoors whatever the weather to explore the natural environment, a long-term, nature-based outdoor learning program that focuses on holistic development and growth in children” – Leah Duffy.
I first became interested in the Forest School initiative by the enthusiasm for it shown by my niece, Hazel. Her school, DSP, Co Dublin, was an ‘early adopter’, and I then met their Forest Leader, Jenny Dungan, who kindly gave me a full briefing and ignited my enthusiasm. I became very excited; I contacted the Irish Forest School Association and began training in June 2017 with Circle of Life Forest School. I wanted to start it without delay at my own school, St Johns P.S Ballybrack, so asked Dun Laoire – Rathdown CC for permission to use a local site. This was granted – a bit of a walk away – but it made a great start.
I then investigated an overgrown area within the grounds of our own school. With the encouragement of our new and progressive principal Catherine Coady, my husband Paul and I, together with Philip Herrman, laboured over a weekend in September 2018, painstakingly removing brambles and accumulated rubbish. It was very hard to source funding, but persistence pays! Over the past few years, we have sourced logs and mulch and so the site took shape.
Then, a wonderful surprise! As the children reported home about this new venture, in Sept 2020, our “St Johns Parents Committee” very generously gave us a cash subvention. “Windy Nurseries”, the neighbourhood garden centre, gifted us a discount on our purchases, stretching our euros and enabling us to install, with the help of our previous workforce, birdfeeders, chestnut fencing, fairy doors, and bulbs.
The Forest School has been a work in progress for some years now. It has two parts, the Forest area, and a Grassy area. I conduct Forest School with my class; the other classes use the area as an outdoor classroom. When you ask the children in our school what their favourite things at school are, this tops the list – some calling it the Fairy garden, some the Forest area.
Our Forest Fairy Garden is full of imagination, excitement, and possibilities. I have a wish list of additions – a ‘wishing chair’ to gather round and hear stories from, knives to start whittling, and palm drills -we have not yet got enough for a full class. At present, due to Covid restrictions when we use any materials, we must follow the disinfecting protocols.
But I am oh so delighted to have come thus far, to have our own Forest school area so handily beside us at school, seeing the children so engaged and immersed in their activities. It is uplifting to see their eyes light up when we head up to that space beside the school gate, for Forest School.
My Irish Forest School Training was an incredible learning experience that really helped shaped me as a person and even as a teacher in my own classroom. Having recently trained as a Mindfulness teacher, my next step is to combine that with the principles of Forest School.