This research is under review for publication, pending minor revisions in The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.
Fig. 1 Land Art
Forest Schools is a concept, or intervention to traditional educational settings, backed up by research and built upon long-standing theories that children engage with nature naturally and that learning becomes more relevant to the student when they can relate it to real life scenarios that theorists such as Steiner, Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia described. Educators wishing to become Forest School Leaders must complete a level three qualification (UK). This includes obtaining an outdoor first-aid certificate. Trainee Forest School Leaders conduct a six-week block of practice and must submit a portfolio of work that is approved by an accrediting body.
Forest School (FS) is based on six principles:
- FS is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.
- FS takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
- FS uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.
- FS aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
- FS offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
- FS is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice. (ForestSchoolAssociation.org, 2018).
Forest School is a process that builds on an individual's innate motivation and positive attitude to learning, offering them the opportunities to take risks, make choices and initiate learning for themselves. ‘Nature may inspire different kinds of creativity and different art than the built environment’ (Louv, 2005, p. 97). During Forest Schools, children engage in activities such as building shelters, cooking on campfires and identifying plants and wildlife. The focus of the scheme is on the whole child and their experiences, therefore developing the child’s independence and self-esteem through their engagement with the natural environment (Murray and O’Brien, 2005).
Maynard describes the possible tensions between the Forest School leader and the class teacher and the possibility of a contrast of two educational goals. ‘With a movement [Forest School] that has spread so far and so fast with little written material to support it, there is a clear danger that the original idea will be lost through lack of understanding’ (Knight, 2013, p.13).
Fig. 2 Bird Feeders
The question for the research was ‘To what extent can the Irish Primary School Curriculum Visual Arts Construction Strand Objectives be achieved through the Forest School Framework?’
The sub questions explored were:
- What outcomes were observed from implementing the framework? Pedagogy or otherwise (social/emotional).
- Were the ‘Construction’ Curricular Objectives met?
- To what extend were the children engaged in the learning process?
The main methodology was Action Research, as described by McNiff (2009). This methodology was appropriate as I wished to improve my teaching of the ‘Construction’ strand. It was a qualitative inquiry that featured multiple viewpoints to create a triangulation of data. Data was collected through video, photographs, journals, informal interviews and observations. Data collection was systematic, and clarification of research bias and critical reflection is evident through the teacher journal and discussion, stated in the research paper, as highlighted in Sullivan et al. (2016). Kemmis (2009) notes that this process is one of self-transformation, in which the researcher remakes the practice for themselves
The children explored and experimented with the properties and characteristics of making structures in accordance with the Irish Primary School Visual Arts Curriculum ‘Construction’ curricular objectives. They discovered how some materials help create or suggest form and how structure and balance are created. Different parts of structures were used to create a whole structure and materials were joined together. The children constructed imaginative structures from natural and reused objects. They also responded to each other’s work.
Fig. 3 Whittling with Food Peelers Fig. 4 Wooden Discs
‘Pre-academic’ or social/emotional skills were also recorded through the thematic analysis of the written, visual, spoken and observed data. These skills were evident in the areas of resilience, responsibility, independence, happiness in achievement and in the child’s awareness of the surroundings. The details of these findings are explored in the research paper submitted to The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, which isurrently pending minor revisions.
Fig. 5 Student Self Reflection
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Marie Claire (Claire) Murphy works as a lecturer in Education (School Placement) with Hibernia College, Dublin. She is a Structured PhD candidate in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Claire is a primary school teacher and worked in a variety of primary school settings over the last ten years. She holds a degree in Geography and an MA in Teaching and Learning and a second MA in Art and Design Education. Claire is a trained Forest School leader and her research focuses on the implementation of this framework in the Irish Primary School setting.