Stewardship of a Woodland

20 January 2013 · 0 comments

in Community Involvement, Nature Play & Learning, Whole School

Recently I was undertaking a professional site visit on behalf of Grounds for Learning to Muirtown Primary School in Inverness. As part of the visit, I was asked to provide advice about a patch of woodland, the school adopted seven years ago. It is situated just over a mile from the school within the larger Dunain Community Woodland which is on the Great Glen Way. It is a very good example of how a school can become involved in the care of a piece of ground for the benefit for the children and the public.

On the way to the school’s woodland area
The patch used by the school is managed by Mr Robert Bowie, who is a Supporter of the Community Council and Jill Knowles, one of the class teachers, who undertook her Forest School training several years ago.  They fund raise for specific projects such as one which created this entrance sign.

An artist worked with a class on developing the print work and text. It is going to be replaced shortly and funding to enable a similar project is currently being sought.

They also liaise with local businesses such as UPM Tilhill, the Forestry College in Inverness and local joiners and other tradespeople to donate man hours and machinery to undertake the practical maintenance within the site.

This is the area where every child plants a tree.
I particularly liked the tradition that began from the outset which involves every child planting a tree in the woodland in the year they arrive at the school. Each tree is numbered so that a child can identify his or her tree.

The classes normally catch a public bus up to the entrance of the woodland. Each child contributes £1.40 for this purpose. After a session in the woods, the children walk back down the hill to the school. When at the woods there is a healthy mix of free play on the logs, tree swings and area in combination with structured lessons linked to project work and the seasons.

Outwith school hours, there is use of the area by local people. Occasionally community events are organised too such as hiring a professional story teller.

There are two designated fire pits and toasting marshmallows and other snacks is a popular activity. Until recently there were also two wooden xylophones. These have just been vandalised and this is the first incident in the history of the school’s use of the woodland. There are fine views and the woodland has a friendly, cared-for feel to it.

The children who accompanied myself, representatives from the Parent Council and Mr Bowie were really enthusiastic about the woodland. They were disappointed about the recent vandalism and said how much they enjoyed the visits to the woodland as part of the ongoing school activities.

Plans are now afoot to further increase the use of the woodlands by all classes more often in recognition of the benefits that the children gained from being there and caring for the woods. So watch this space! It is particularly exciting in that this is a good example of Learning for Sustainability. Research suggests that

  • Adults are more likely to spend time in natural places if they have visited such places regularly in their childhood
  • Access to places with a feeling of wildness matters and can help children develop pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes when they become adults
  • Playing in woods and other natural places precedes saving them. We will only save what we care about. A top down moralistic approach is less effective
  • Acts of stewardship and others ways of children being involved in activities which empower them to take action are helpful
  • As children grow older, bigger concepts need to be explained through experiential learning about the environment
  • Children need adults who can model appropriate behaviour and actions when out and about such as expressing joy, being curious, disapproving of destructive practices and being willing to pitch in with community work.

Perhaps it is time every school had its own forest, beach or other natural space in the community… hmm.

(NB: The research cited above is my own interpretation. For a more accurate account have a look at the research section of my website.)

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