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It only has 23 pupils, but a small school in mid-Wales is the focus of a year-long study to measure how visiting a local woodland can help children’s development.
More than half the pupils at Ysgol Syr John Rhys, in Ponterwyd, are being monitored by Forestry Commission Wales Education Officers during weekly visits to the nearby forest centre at Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian, nine miles from Aberystwyth.
The Woodlands for Learning (WfL) team runs one year-long Forest School programme every year as part of its wider delivery of outdoor education to thousands of children all over Wales.
This year, the progress of 13 pupils in the junior class at Ysgol Syr John Rhys, aged from seven to 11, is being evaluated by WfL Education Officers Kate Jones and Leigh Denyer, who are both qualified Forest School leaders.
They will assess the children’s natural instinct to play and explore, their interest in and knowledge of the natural world, as well as their confidence, physical skills – and how they feel about getting dirty.
The woodland activities the children will try out during the year have been planned in partnership with class teacher, Rhian England, to ensure they help to deliver National Curriculum objectives.
One afternoon each week, parents ferry the children from the school to Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian’s Forest School site, which is located in the woods beside the lake.
Rhian said, “The children look forward to Forest School every week. They enjoy learning through the hands-on, practical activities, which help them to retain information better.
“By learning outdoors, we are able to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and also enjoy many other benefits, including the fresh air.”
The activities are closely linked to the school’s science lessons featuring the topic, “materials”.
The children have already made charcoal on a campfire, which is permitted because the Forest School is run by qualified leaders. They will also learn about materials by measuring the temperature of the lake at Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian, building fires to melt chocolate and heating ice on the campfire to observe the changes.
So far, the children have also:
- learnt Forest School rules to keep themselves safe in the woodland
- made cooking sticks to cook marshmallows, toast and bread spirals over the campfire
- learnt about knots to build a den
- been on a 5km walk around Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian
- made popcorn on the campfire and written a poem about it
- held a competition to find out who can keep water the warmest by insulating it with woodland materials
- drunk lots of hot chocolate made with a Kelly Kettle to keep warm.
Before starting the programme, the children and their parents filled in a Forest School questionnaire and will complete a similar questionnaire when the exercise concludes at the end of the summer term in July 2012.
Education Officer Kate Jones said, “We want to see if the programme has made any difference to how often the children visit Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian, how much time they spend outdoors and whether their interest in the natural world has changed.
“The initial findings show that all 13 children have shown significant development. They are able to explore the woodland safely and confidently, are more competent in using tools, have increased physical stamina and cope well with physical tasks.
“They have also learnt about tree species and their properties and are not so scared of spiders or getting their clothes dirty!”
Caption: Ysgol Syr John Rhys children work with Education Officer Leigh Denyer to build a den at Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian.
NOTES TO EDITORS
A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
The Woodlands for Learning team delivers woodland based learning experiences throughout Wales, supports the development and delivery of Forest School and facilitates the Forest Education Initiative on behalf of its partners.
More information about Forest School is available at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-77ldzd
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Visit News at FC Wales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.
Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email email@example.com