Forestry Education and Learning Projects

Millbrook Primary School 2013

Millbrook Primary School have developed a unique and inspiring forest school programme that engages the whole school of 200 pupils in regular forest learning sessions covering a wide variety of curriculum sessions and outdoor experiences.

Millbrook Primary School, Stalybridge, Cheshire

Excellence in Forestry Awards Category: Schools 2013

What was the project?

At the grassroots level, the reception children are experiencing classic forest school activities from shelter building, natural art and bug hunting to child-led play and exploration.

However, things step up a gear for Year 1 children as they are introduced to tool use and basic coppicing and begin using the forest for curriculum work; in maths, the children use tools to make basic wooden counters to help them with calculations and split wooden rings are made to assist with fractions. They also use the woodland to inspire stories and poems as part of the literacy curriculum.

Activities become progressively more complex as the children get older. By Years 2 and 3, children are coppicing and weaving and using the forest for project work. For a history project on Roman life, the forest sessions were used to produce Roman tools and cutlery. The fire pit was also used for outdoor cooking with the children; cakes baked inside orange skins sounded particularly delicious!

By the time children reach Years 4 and 5, they are able to work in teams to collect firewood, manage the fire pit and are skilful in tool safety and use. The judges witnessed this group working cooperatively during our visit. The children undertake science curriculum project work on life cycles and seed dispersal and use the firepit to explore changing states.

For design and technology, the children had designed a helicopter based on a sycamore seed. The children had even managed to develop an ICT project for out in the woodland by designing their own smartphone QR codes to lead other children around the forest on a scavenger hunt. QR codes were hidden on trees, and each provided a different clue as to where to look next!

Year 6 children are able to master more complex tools such as loppers, billhooks and two-person saws. Areas of the history and art curriculum were covered in a project on Aztec culture. The children engaged in wood carving and Aztec-style natural art using mud and clay. They also explored World War Two and linked this with coppice craft to construct their own bomb-proof shelters using square lashings to make gates and shelter frames.

As well as the inspiring use of forest sessions across the curriculum, the woodland is also used for after school clubs, for teacher teamwork, for parent, family and community sessions and for other local schools to visit, experience and learn from. Sessions are also run to help specific SEN children or to ease emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Why was the project so good?

The judges were hugely impressed with the vast array of curriculum areas being met by the project. Millbrook’s forest school site is a relatively small wooded area of mixed broadleaves, yet they have incorporated it into every area of learning for every age of pupil on a regular and long-term basis. The project is an excellent example of how outdoor learning in a woodland environment can make a real and meaningful contribution to school life. A second woodland area has already been planted to secure the long-term sustainability of the project.

The creativity and commitment of the staff must be applauded. There are four trained forest school staff who have inspired every teacher in the school to use the forest for learning where ever possible. A lack of funding locally for forest school training has been met head-on by the school; the staff are training to become trainers so that Millbrook can lead the way in providing forest school training to a cluster of schools locally.

The school is situated in an area of high deprivation and consequently deals with higher than average levels of challenging behaviour. Since the forest school project began, the school has seen huge improvements in behaviour right across the school. Teamworking out in the woods has helped children get on better with each other in the classroom, children are able to concentrate and focus for longer periods, and they are more confident and engaged.

The judges saw how children were encouraged to talk about their successes and achievements at the end of each session. With the help of ‘Chip’, a smiling wooden character handed around the circle, each explained why they were proud of themselves that day. It was truly heartwarming to witness and a clear demonstration of the positive impact the project is having on the everyday lives of the children. Long may it continue!

What did we award?

The Royal Forestry Society awarded our Gold prize and £1000 to help fund the school’s ongoing activities.