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Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Role of the Forest School Leader in Promoting a Childs Social and Emotional Development.

The ‘natural flight of steps’ pictured in my earlier post illustrates the hoped for progression in a child taking part in Forest Schools from a disinterest and poor understanding of nature or worse a fear of nature to a good understanding of the natural world. This improved understanding will allow young people to have an influence on society but perhaps more important than their newfound understanding are the social skills that will allow them to put their views across. Without the emotional development and promotion of social skills that Forest Schools facilitates a child may develop a lifelong interest in nature but never be able to articulate that to a wider audience.
There have been several studies commissioned by the forestry commission which indicate that benefits of Forest Schools for the participants can be summarised by these seven headings:
  • ·         Increased self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • ·         Improved social skills;
  • ·         The development of language and communication skills;
  • ·         Improved physical motor skills;
  • ·         Improved motivation and concentration;
  • ·         Increased knowledge and understanding of the environment;
  • ·         New perspectives for all involved.

These benefits were also observed to be imported back to children’s other settings and homes. (O’Brien and Murray 2004; 2005; 2006; 2007; Borradaile 2006; Hughes and Jenner 2007; Knight 2009)

 Case Study:
"One child who was very intimidated if asked to speak in front of the class-volunteering to explain the rules of a game to a group of visiting children from another class and doing a very good job. Another child who was reluctant to engage in the classroom and also reluctant to do any physical activity, he became extremely motivated both in the woodland and back at the school, he played with a number of different members in the class" (Archimedes Training Ltd.).

The social and emotional development of children is fundamental to the ethos of Forest School and the Forest School Leaders role in all this potential development in their students is an important one. With such great potential for development the Forest School Leader has a great responsibility to give children the best experience they can. Much will depend on the choice of activity’s, the preparation of material and the forest school site, the leaders own experience and expertise of nature and their approach to delivering the Forest School program, but also not least the way they interact with the children and demonstrate social skills.  One of the most important roles of a Forest School leader with regard to the emotional development of children will be combatting low self-esteem by helping children succeed at tasks and increase their confidence. There is a need for children to be provided with small, achievable and progressively more challenging tasks which they are likely to succeed (Maynard 2007).

"We believe that if children feel good about themselves then they will become more confident and so you can give them little challenges knowing they will achieve…and begin to feel that they can push themselves" (Bridgewater College).

Choosing appropriate activities for the individuals and adopting a relevant approached to the delivery, including differentiating activities to children with different abilities, interests and potentially special needs will be key in promoting this improvement in self-esteem.

 "Offering learners a variety of ways of engaging with content does seem to beneficial in terms of both outcome and motivation" (Becta, 2005: 4).

 I consider it an essential quality in a Forest School leader, being able to differentiate activities for children who will not always have the same needs or interests. I have had experience of dealing with participants who want nothing more than to be able to build ‘animal houses’ out of leaves and other woodland debris and would be quite happy spending all their time doing that. In a Forest School setting that is fine but it will be up to the leader to ensure that he or she gets the most out their house building as possible by linking it in with opportunities to develop. Other participants may want a more structures approach and again it will be the leaders responsibility to plan and prepare for the more structured elements of Forest Schools, the games, scavenger hunts and lessons that will take place.  Again there must be an element of differentiation here as well, some children may be able to read the information on the ecology of a bird or animal from the back of the each one teach cards, other may not be able to read much of it and other won’t be able to read it at all and can be encouraged to describe the animal, to say where they think it lives, and what it likes to eat just by looking at the pictures. Sometimes this will lead to a child telling their class mates in no uncertain terms that they have a cormorant on their cards and it’s favourite thing to eat is salad. Differentiation is not just allowing the students to choose the activities they take part in or making sure there is a something for everyone to get involved in regardless of ability or age, it will involve the Forest School leader involved in the delivery of an extended forest schools course planning and preparing for the specific requirements of the group which they will come to know over the weeks they are involved with them.
Another of the keys in encouraging the social and emotional development of children involved in Forest School is that they are encouraged to take part in activities which may be perceived as risky. These activities help children gain a sense of responsibility for their own actions and towards others (Maynard 2007). Not only does taking part in these activities help increase confidence and ability but with success will also allow a Forest School leader to praise real achievement which is more beneficial to a child’s self-esteem than heaping indiscriminate praise (Baumeister et al 2003).

A leaders responsibility then is primarily to facilitate real achievement in an environment which will allow children to conduct their own explorations and manage their own learning building their self-esteem, confidence and independence and encourage them to build relationships with other their own age as they discover the need for working as a team to achieve more than they may have been able to alone. A leader will at all times demonstrate exceptional social skills in dealing with colleagues and children and at all times act as a role model for the children giving praise for successes and help when required. In carrying out these programs in a natural environment all the social and emotional development goals of the program can be met while increasing the children’s understanding of the natural environment and environmental issues. 


For a full reference list see my full essay at; 

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