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PGCE Students go down to the Woods in Waringstown!

On a very cold February morning, just before ‘The Beast from the East’ struck, the PGCE students accompanied by Dr Richard Greenwood and Mrs Diane McClelland made their way down to the woods beside Waringstown Primary School to take part in a Forest School session with the school’s Year 4 children.  This fitted in well with the students’ focus on outdoor learning in Key Stage 1.

After a welcome by the school’s principal Mr Carl McCambley, vice-principal Mr Martin Gault gave the students a brief outline of how Waringstown became a Forest School Champion with evidence of their development over the last few years.  Following this the students and the year four children set to work outside!

Having previously been taken on a walk around the perimeter of the school and viewing drone footage of the school site, the children in groups were given the challenge of creating a map of their school grounds using any natural materials they could find.  The benefits of this learning experience were evident for children and students alike.

Reflecting on the session one of the PG students, Sorcha Haider, highlighted how useful it had been, claiming: “ I have always been interested in the concept of ‘Forest Schools’, so to experience it first hand was fantastic. The setting of Waringstown Primary lends itself unbelievably well to providing outdoor learning experiences for children but I also now realise that even with a limited area and with only natural resources, the opportunities for all groups of children to learn are vast. Although previously concerned about the elements of risk that might be involved, I can now see the simplicity of organising an appropriate learning experience once children have grasped three or four simple ground rules (boundaries, whistle etc.) I was encouraged by the engagement and enthusiasm of the children and found that compared to the classroom, they demanded little or no adult involvement as there were so few issues they couldn't solve themselves. The discussion among group members in the planning and gathering of resources was amazing to observe and the decision-making and problem-solving skills were evident throughout.”

Another student, Rachel McCrossan, also felt the experience had been useful in developing so many skills for the children as well as effectively connecting their learning to a variety of areas within the NI Curriculum:  “What an insightful morning! From creating boundaries to map building using sticks, stones and moss (to name a few of the ingredients), the children were completely enthralled by their third Forest School experience!  They explored the idea of a bird’s eye view of their school, and it quickly became apparent, as we have been studying in class, how outdoor learning naturally connects all areas of the curriculum. Indeed, the children illustrated many of the cross curricular and thinking skills and personal capabilities outlined in the NIC. Their creativity and teamwork skills were particularly evident throughout as they interpreted the task in their own ways and actively combined their individual ideas in practice. They took little notice of the adults around them, instead taking complete ownership of the learning experience themselves.” Rachel went on to say how insightful she had found the experience working with older children from KS1:  “Having previously been involved in working with Nursery age children during Forest School sessions, I found it particularly beneficial to discover how the children's skill set can be developed as they progress up the school. It was especially interesting to observe the children engaging in the plenary, coming up with purposeful questions whilst reflecting on and evaluating their creations.  For example, one child asked, ‘If you had more surface area, what would you add to your map?’, encouraging her peers to consider an extra dimension which they may not have done otherwise. The children responded with explanatory and visual representations, whilst questions were open ended and approached in a relaxed manner rather than directed from the teacher. In this way the children demonstrated their willingness to describe step by step processes, valuing and explaining each child’s input throughout. Seeing the value of such an approach in practice has also made me more aware of how easily a topic being studied indoors can be greatly enhanced outdoors, which has encouraged me to look for opportunities to make these links in the future.”

A third student, Stacey Eakin, found the rule setting as well as the group plenary particularly useful strategies.  Stacey commented: “ I observed the importance of setting clear boundaries and rules at the outset of the lesson and the importance of giving children the opportunity to present their work to the class at the end of the lesson, boosting children's self-esteem and enhancing self-evaluative and reflective skills.”   The last word belongs to Stacey who went on to sum up the day, enthusiastically asserting: “Overall, a fantastic and informative experience that has left me intrigued to learn more about outdoor learning and interested in discovering more ideas for outdoor lessons that I could perhaps implement within my next SBW placement!”

More information regarding Forest Schools can be obtained from the NIFSA website:



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