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January: The never ending Wishlist....

As the festivities come to an end and intentions and goals are set for the year, it is a good time to start setting your own goals for what you want to achieve within your Outdoor Learning provision. Perhaps you have a very clear vision, a 5 year plan from SLT or an over arching framework from an external provider, but if you don't have these things it can be a very daunting task to channel all that you would love to achieve into realistic goals. So, where to begin ?




Co-Working/Child's voice - If you work at, or lead, a Forest School provision, you will already be well accustomed to engaging the young people you work with in the direction of your site with varying degrees of input. From creation of facilities and play equipment to feedback and/or reflection after a session. If you are based in an Outdoor Learning provision you maybe less used to enlisting the young people in this process. However, it is a good routine to get into and there is an abundance of research out there to support that the process can have positive impact on the self esteem and confidence of young people. By engaging the young people in planning discussions you will gain insightful information as to what they believe to be the most important aspects of the provision and this, in turn can inform your planning. It is also a great way to ascertain which young people have passion and interest in certain areas, making it easier to plan for resources and ensure you have adequate equipment in place for the year ahead, there's no point in having every child wanting to grow veg with no gardening tools.

So, how do you get the children involved?

  • Good old fashioned sticky notes can be a good 'on the spot' and confidential way of asking for feedback from a group of children.

  • Chat around the campfire - the success of this will depend on the group you have and the size of the group. The conversation might lose momentum if there are a large group of children waiting to give ideas and the ideas are becoming repetitive.

  • Small group chat and feedback - you could split the children into small groups to discuss and then feedback 5 ideas/wants to the whole group. This way you can leave with a more concise list of the immediate 'would love to have' from the group.

  • If you work with EYFS/KS1 you could be brave and give them a few pages each of the likes of www.cosydirect.com or www.muddyfaces.co.uk magazines and they can practice their cutting skills at the same time. A large piece of cardboard/wood panel can be placed somewhere for them to stick their favourite items onto or perhaps peg them on a washing line around a tree. Make sure you set a limit on the items they would love to have!

  • If you regularly lead or work with KS3 children you might need to think a little more out of the box. Perhaps you could utilise tech here and create a feedback/questionnaire form with a QR code, put it on posters around school, in the playground and on the back of toilet doors etc.

What about parental involvement? Personally I think that parental involvement is just as important as getting the young people involved in the planning phase. Why you ask? because you need to get the 'buy in' from parents. Once parents are invested and understand the benefits of Outdoor Education you can try to enlist their help. Often the school community is quick to bring in external providers rather than look to people and businesses they might have within their own community. Get to know that community! Even go as far as sending out a questionnaire seeking information about parents hobbies, interests and qualifications in relation to anything you feel you may need assistance with in the future ie keen gardener, works as an arborist, wild flower grower, has an apple tree in the garden, make bird houses etc .... you get the idea! The more you can utilise from the local community the more they will feel connected to the provision and inclined to help at events, volunteer or purchase items for the provision. Remember though to thank these members of your community, regardless of whether they helped cut a tree down free of charge or popped in a packet of seeds they got free with some carrots, thanking them personally and taking a photo of the young people benefiting from their generosity and putting it on social media will hopefully reap you more of this kind of generosity.


My tips/take-aways

  • Recognise that your goals and plan of action doesn't need to be fixed or rigid, the environment in which you work is ever changing so allow your plans and aspirations to evolve too.

  • Revisit what you wanted to achieve at regular intervals ie perhaps at the end of each term. Try to factor this time into your timetable and if you do not have this time speak with SLT and ensure they understand the importance of having this time to reflect and report on the developments.

  • Take photos! lots and lots of photos then take some more! Working as an Outdoor/Forest school leader can often be an isolating role with very little in the way of recognition for your hard work so being able to look back on those tough days and seeing how far you have come can be uplifting and remind you on dark days why you do what you do.

  • Positive engagement - sing from the roof tops! Let your school community know what the young people have achieved or what you have created, invite parents to come and have a nosey at pick up times and encourage SLT to pop along.... if they have time for book scrutinies they have time to look at the new mud kitchen you and the children have just made at no cost to the school.

  • I know how hard it is not to compare what you are achieving to other provisions but try not to. Getting inspiration and sharing ideas with other provisions is such a useful tool and can be a wonderfully positive support network. However, trust me when I say that comparing or wishing you worked at other provisions isn't going to help your motivation at your site. I have led an Outdoor Provision with a £1000 budget with over 500 pupils, entirely on my own with no funds for compost, fire wood and no input or help from anyone else within the school community and so comparing what you are able to achieve and provide for the children you work with to those establishments with a whole school approach to Outdoor Learning, staff and SLT involvement and interest, a £8000 budget and 3 trained Outdoor Staff is not going to get you anywhere other than frustrated. I know!

So, set those goals, talk to the kids, get the buy in from parents/carers and SLT. Share that vision as much as possible and keep people updated on the progress. Recognise how far you have come, it is a journey.... an ever evolving one and you will probably never get all the 'would love to have' items ticked off on that list!



Get your flask of tea, grab your note book and get outside to start planning.......

Good luck x








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