Woods for Learning: St Mungo Primary

18 August 2011 · 4 comments

in Nature Play & Learning

At the end of last term I had the privilege of delivering an in-set day in Dumfries and Galloway that was hosted by St Mungo Primary School. I had been looking forward to the day, not least because half of the activities were undertaken in their local woodland.

It’s such an unassuming looking wood from the roadside
This was not a Forest School set up. No member of staff have undertaken their Forest School training. Instead, the school had worked in partnership with two local rangers to develop the site and enable the whole school to visit on a monthly basis. The project has been so well done, I just had to blog about it! For me it is an excellent example of partnership working to facilitate and enable quality learning activities to happen.

I’m very fond of gates and stiles as entrances to sites. This one is very inviting!
The project began back in April 2010 when the head teacher, Ruth Anderson, wrote to the local estate asking to adopt a piece of forest. As the area had little commercial value, the owner was more than willing for this woodland area to be used by the school. It is entirely enclosed by a fence.

This sign greets you over the fence. The rangers made the letters but the children helped erect the sign.

A rather fetching trowel has been added to the welcome sign!
Jim Rae, a former biology teacher and volunteer with the Wildlife Trust at Lockerbie, was first involved with the school through its participation in the Big Bird Watch. He is one of the key rangers, who helped develop the site. A network of paths have been established by the children and rangers that allow children to roam around the whole site. The children decided to mark the larger paths with branches at either side which keeps visitors on the path rather than wandering off. The branches have all been gathered from the woods. This was specifically for an open afternoon where parents came to visit.

The whole site has been improved with very low cost measures. Below is one of many palettes that has been used as boardwalks throughout the site. These were free, donated by a local sawmill.

This is the main gathering area. Again the children, with the help of the rangers, have created enough seating for the whole school of 40 children.

Last Christmas there was a surprise for the children. The rangers had made family name tags for each bench. The children work in “family” groups comprising of children of mixed ages. These are named after the wildlife observed in the wood.

The spare wood has been left on site. I saw it used in several homemade dens and shelters tucked away in bushes.

The younger children tend to spend a morning on site. The older class stay for the whole day. When a school uses the same site on a regular basis, then consideration about how and where to let people go to the toilet has to happen. Here’s the solution at St Mungo…

Firstly, the path that leads up to the toilet is a dead end. It’s not part of any other path network. It’s identifiable by the long fallen down tree trunk.

Although it’s hard to see in the photo, there is a chicken wire fence that covers the entrance behind the base of the fallen down tree.

There is a natural dip in the ground which provides extra seclusion. A small pit has been dug and the children can use this area. The staff have found that the children tend not to need the toilet as much when  in the woods. Everyone goes to the toilet beforehand.

Throughout the site I stumbled upon interesting objects and situations. The sheep skull is near the benches for children to examine.

Several trees have been given labels so that children learn about the tree species that exist in the woods.

I’m not sure what this section is used for, but it’s crying out for a natural weaving project!

Corrugated iron sheets can be found in several places. This has been on site for many years. Animals shelter and burrow underneath, so the sheets are left alone and in situ

A couple of streams run through the site. This one was cleared by the older children for play purposes and  stream dipping!
It’s very easy for schools to develop a dependency on ranger services or other organisations and professionals to provide lessons and activities outside. Yet unless schools are willing to pay for this, it is rarely a sustainable long term option.  The document Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning provides guidance on partnership working on p16.

“Careful planning will help identify when and where staff in an establishment would benefit from working with partners or partner organisations to progress and increase outdoor learning experiences. There are many creative and stimulating ways to experience practical activities which may best be achieved by partners working in the school grounds or the local area

…partnerships can contribute to learners’ personalisation and choice by providing pathways and opportunities for children and young people to develop their learning and skills in new ways.

…specialist partners, who may be professionals or volunteers with expertise in areas such as school ground architecture, adventure activities or forest school practices, can offer invaluable technical knowledge and guidance. Volunteer partners can make the difference to outdoor learning experiences becoming viable.”

It was evident that the skills and knowledge of the rangers have been used to enhance the project. Yet the staff plan and organise the learning activities, and have sessions on-site without ranger support.

The poster below sums up the value of the project…

“Once a season, the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust and the DGC Annandale and Eskdale Rangers take the school to learn about the great outdoors. From dandelion wishes to frog spawn, and bird boxes to bridge building, the children learn in an area they can call their own.”

This past year, the Forestry Commission Scotland asked me to write a series of case studies looking at woods for learning projects taking place around Scotland. These are now available on the Education Scotland website. Read, enjoy and be inspired to take your children to the woods this year…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

KAREN GREEN August 18, 2011 at 07:30

Wow that is sensational! I can only dream! And I bet the kids just love “a bush wee”!

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Juliet Robertson August 18, 2011 at 07:43

It is a super place! the post doesn’t do justice to the special magical feel and calm that exists there. I’m so impressed…

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Kierna C August 18, 2011 at 10:13

Oh this is wonderful & so close to hand – no transport costs to stump up for. It’s great to see schools taking the first step for themselves. On the whole ranger debate, we had 3 rangers at one point in our woodland classroom & now have none & it does make a big difference. The children don’t really notice it because they know no different but the previous classes had a better experience because of the rangers expertise.

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theotheralig August 18, 2011 at 10:52

Very envious! However my large urban school does have a small copse on the field. I have got lots of ideas now on how we might use it better.

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