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A study into how lessons in a woodland can affect children's lifestyle choices is being carried out in north Wales.
A class of 18 pupils from Ysgol Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd near Ruthin are spending one day a week in their local woods as part of the first year-long Forest School programme to be run by Forestry Commission Wales.
Five of the children, aged seven and eight years old, will be carefully evaluated during the year to see what effect attending Forest School has on them.
Specialist researchers will study improvements in confidence, motor, social and communication skills and monitor how a Forest School programme contributes to children’s understanding of trees and woodlands.
They will look at how skills acquired or improved during the programme are transferred by the children into day to day activity, both at school and at home, and consider whether - even at this early age - this may influence them to consider a career working in woods, or with wood.
Forestry Commission Wales is also considering tracking the evaluated children over the coming years to see if their Forest School experience has made a difference to their lives and career choices.
Sue Williams, head of FC Wales's Woodlands for Learning team, said, "The evaluation will provide an understanding of the long-term benefits of participation in a Forest School programme and hopefully help us to adjust and improve our future delivery.
"We want to develop our evaluation techniques, which can then be shared by others, and it will be interesting to see what long-term benefits a year-long Forest School has for the children."
Forest School sessions - which offer children, young people and adults, regular opportunities to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning in a woodland - are often run over six to ten weeks.
The school involved in the evaluation is due to be inspected by Estyn next month (June) – and the inspectors will attend one of the Forest School sessions as part of their own evaluation of the school.
Sue said, "The school has gained funding for a teacher to undergo the Agored Cymru Level 3 Forest School Leader qualification in 2011, so hopefully other children from the school will be able to benefit from the same experiences."
The evaluation started last October and the children have already mastered several outdoor skills, such as learning how to light and extinguish fires safely and making garlic bread and Welsh cakes on an open woodland fire.
The children also raised £300 for the school by selling home-made soup prepared on a woodland fire to their parents during one of the sessions.
Parents will also be invited to attend a celebratory barbecue towards the end of the project which the children will be hosting to raise more funds for the school.
The results of the evaluation will be announced at Forestry Commission Wales’s 10 years of Forest School conference due to be held in October.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Forestry Commission Wales is the government department responsible for forestry policy and looks after the 126,000 hectares (309,000 acres) of public forests owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.
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.
Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults, regular opportunities to achieve, and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands on learning
experiences in a local woodland environment. For more info go to http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/forestry.nsf/byunique/infd-77ldzd
The research and evaluation is being conducted on Forestry Commission Wales's behalf by Wavehill Consulting in conjunction with Angles Consulting.