The days are getting shorter, the nights longer, the leaves are changing colour and there is a definite chill in the air – autumn is finally here.
While for most children the change in season signals the time to head indoors, junior school pupils at Kelvinside Academy wrap up warm and venture into the woods for their weekly outdoor lesson.
Den building, tree planting and environmental art classes are just some of the activities available through the Forest School programme, which is part of a wide-ranging educational strategy aimed at regularly taking pupils out of the classroom to learn.
Leading the little ones through their open-air sessions are newly qualified Forest School Leaders Esther Henderson and Lynne Hill. Over the last 18 months, Esther and Lynne used their own time to achieve one of the highest qualifications in outdoor learning.
As fully qualified level three Forest School Leaders, the pair will play a key role in further developing Kelvinside Academy’s outdoor education programme, which gives pupils the chance to explore a different kind of learning, while allowing them to reconnect with nature, build fitness and develop resilience.
Since completing the course, Esther and Lynne have helped reshape the school’s curriculum by not only teaching maths and English in an outdoor setting, but by helping the youngsters learn important ‘bush craft skills’ such as tying knots and how to safely build a fire.
Esther Henderson, Forest School leader at Kelvinside Academy, said: ‘Our outdoor education curriculum is rooted in a belief that children should be able to guide their own learning.
‘Rather than telling them what they should do, or how they should do it, we let them follow their own curiosity, and, for the most part, simply observe them in the woodland environment.
‘Pupils don’t have to worry about getting the answer wrong. They look under rocks, climb trees, use tools and knives under supervision, examine different species of plants and get covered in mud – it is truly a powerful learning experience.
‘When children are constantly confined to the classroom they lose concentration and become disconnected from their creativity. In the outdoors they breathe in fresh air, are free to explore their own imagination, learn to trust their instincts and manage risk. The physical, emotional and spiritual benefits are vast.’
Linda MacBeath, head of junior school at Kelvinside Academy and Craigholme Junior School, said: ‘After completing the level three Forest School qualifications Esther and Lynne are two of the most knowledgeable teachers in the country in outdoor learning, and are expertly placed to help us further embed outdoor education within our core curriculum.’
With a Woodland Nursery in Milngavie, a Forest Kindergarten in Glasgow’s west end and a Highland Wilderness Campus – Kelvinside Academy’s outdoor learning programme is one of the most extensive in the country, offering pupils of all ages the chance to take their education beyond four classroom walls.