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Young children must be allowed to take controlled risks outdoors so that they can develop the skills that will prepare them for later life, education experts will be told later this month.
Teachers will be urged to remove the “safety first” shackles that restrict what youngsters can do and allow children as young as three to explore the wonders of nature around them.
That’s one of the messages delegates will hear at the Forestry Commission Wales Woodlands for Learning (WfL) team's annual conference, which takes place in the St Mellons Hotel in Cardiff on October 27 and 28.
Outdoor safety expert David Evans will tell Forest School leaders in Wales and others interested in woodland-based learning that letting children confront risk in a controlled setting is vital for their future well-being.
The conference, which will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Forest School in Wales, will hear how children in Sweden routinely learn and play outdoors as part of their early-life activities.
Magnus and Siw Linde, who launched their Rain and Shine nurseries in Sweden 25 years ago, will explain how children learn to respect and gain knowledge about nature while developing the necessary skills to look after themselves.
Members of the WfL team visited Sweden on a fact-finding trip earlier this year and were astonished at how advanced the youngsters’ life skills were.
WfL education manager Carol Travers, who is helping to organise the conference, said, “The children were aged from two to six years old and they carried their own equipment and did everything themselves, under supervision.
“The younger children learn from the five- or six-year-olds – it really was a striking contrast to how young children are treated over here.”
There was no pressure on carers to follow tight procedures, as opposed to the risk-averse culture of paper work in this country, Carol said.
“In Sweden, children are told very early on that they will be trusted outdoors. There’s a very relaxed attitude as opposed to here where teachers are pre-occupied with risks.”
The approach of letting children learn through play and active involvement rather than by filling in exercise books is in line with the Welsh Assembly Government’s approach to learning for Foundation Phase children aged from three to seven.
The new strategy says play and active learning should be an essential part of the children’s curriculum, which will be a central theme of the Forest School conference.
David Evans will also offer advice to delegates on how children can stay safe as they acquire new life skills in the outdoors.
Carol said, “A lot of people wrap children up in cotton wool and worry about what they can and can’t do with them in the outdoors.
“But the Assembly Government wants to encourage children to be allowed to take risks – provided they are well managed – in order to develop their learning.
“This will increase their confidence and improve their physical skills, as well as encouraging them to take responsibility for themselves and solve problems, as opposed to relying on someone else to do everything for them.”
In Wales, thousands of children and young people have benefited from the freedom of learning in a stimulating outdoor environment over the past ten years as Forest School has become embedded in the life of many schools and groups.
As well as celebrating the achievements of Forest School, the conference will also seek to influence the direction in which Wales takes Forest School in the next 10 years.
Over the two days, delegates will have an opportunity to visit Forest School sites, take part in skills workshops and learn a new activity to try out with their own groups.
Among the trips on offer will be:
- A visit to the Forestry Commission Wales centre at Garwnant, five miles north of Merthyr Tydfil, to see how the Rhondda Cynon Taf Youth Offending Team Project is helping 12 to15 year olds gain new skills and become independent learners.
- A presentation by Plas Derw Forest School, Flintshire, North Wales at Mescoed Mawr Woodland, Newport, on how it works with teenagers to gain qualifications in practical woodland skills.
- Ty Gwyn Special School will give a presentation on working with young people with severe learning disabilities at Fforest Fawr, near Cardiff, using a sensory curriculum.
- A visit to an inner city Forest School in Cardiff, for a presentation on how Forest School is delivered in an early years setting.
- There will also be trips to sites in Margam Park, Port Talbot and St Brides School in the Vale of Glamorgan.
New research into the long-term benefits of Forest School carried out with children from Ysgol Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd at their Forest School site near Ruthin in Denbighshire will also be presented.
The cost is £60 per day or £100 for both days. For more details about the programme and booking information, contact Carol Travers, WfL team education manager, on 0300 068 0300, email email@example.com go to www.forestry.gov.uk/Wales and follow the link to Woodlands for Learning.
Media enquiries to Forestry Commission Wales press officer Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email firstname.lastname@example.org