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Tremendous benefits of forest play

As we approach this year’s Playday (5 August), Rachel Street, Senior Education Project Officer for Newground Together, takes a look at how Covid-19 has influenced this year’s theme ‘Everyday Freedoms Everyday Adventures’. Rachel is a Forest Schools Practitioner.

Earlier this year, we had to cancel our planned celebrations of the culmination of Celebrating our Woodland Heritage, a three-year programme of woodland heritage, archaeological excavation, research and forest school activities across the South Pennines.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery, Greenbank Trust, Yorkshire Water, Newground Together and the University of Bradford, the project was co-ordinated by Pennine Prospects.

Ironically, the global pandemic that halted the celebrations might be the very thing that reconnects us to our woodlands as people discover the value of walking in green space and remember the solace nature affords.

Forest schools can go some way to replacing what has been lost to our children during the coronavirus crisis, including schooling.

As Covid-19 stole schooling, play parks and time with extended family and friends we started to understand what really matters to us; our basic human needs of safety, belonging and connection, freedom, power, and play are all threatened.

The huge inequities of access to safe outdoor places is glaringly apparent; the consequences for disadvantaged families devastating.

For those children living in homes without gardens, or access to the countryside, lockdown becomes an even greater imprisonment.

Forest schools are superbly placed to redress this imbalance, enabling schools to open safely, and to be a significant part of the green recovery. Giving space, offering a rich natural environment with time for children and young people to reconnect.

Our parent company Together Housing is backing a national campaign calling for a one-in-a-generation investment in social housing. Among the asks are for homes to be at the heart of living well and homes to be at the heart of a greener country.

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, housing associations are about so much more than bricks and mortar. We are anchor institutions that are at the centre of the most difficult-to reach communities. Invest in social housing and you’re also investing in the value-added schemes that are part of the package.

Schemes such as Celebrating our Woodland Heritage, which saw us support 289 forest school workshops across the South Pennines, working with 3,000 schoolchildren (in partnership with NatureEd, Get Out More, LiveWild, Tinderwood Trust and KidzArcaeology, and our own education team).

The Japanese have known for years that spending time in the woods is beneficial for mind, body and soul but academics in the UK are also recognising the benefits. A report published by Natural England earlier this year found a significant correlation between greater time spent in nature – at least once a week – and the number of people reporting they believe life is worthwhile.

Forest schools are fundamental in a child’s development, health and well-being. Of course it’s not just children who benefit from spending time in the great outdoors. Social prescribing, a growing movement in the NHS, can include forest bathing to reduce depression, anxiety and stress among adults.

Developed in Scandanavia in the 1950s, forest schools use the woods and forests to build independence and self-esteem in children and young adults. The sensory experiences provided by forest schools is particularly beneficial to autistic people or those with sensory processing needs.

Taking children outside of the classroom removes the pressures of academia, allowing children who struggle in the classroom an opportunity to play to their strengths and learn at their own pace. It’s such a joy to watch children who never speak in the classroom flourish when you take their learning outside, shouting for joy as they roll down hills or splash in the river.

Connecting communities with the natural environment can also build a sense of appreciation of how the natural environment can impact on our lives including climate change, loss of biodiversity and flooding.

Through activities such as building a bug hotel, children can help improve habitats for wildlife, while learning how to minimise the impact of playing.

By taking an interest in the great outdoors and learning to respect the environment, children are developing a relationship with the natural world that will help protect the environment for generations to come.

At Newground Together, we provide whole school support, whether it’s to start your environmental journey in school, or change your culture in school to be that of an ‘outdoor’ school.

We enjoy the challenge of constantly developing our range of workshops and programs to ensure they are always current and thought provoking.

Our learning is linked to the national curriculum, caters for early years and up, and is intrinsic to the Eco-School Awards. We can provide full or half day sessions, after school or holiday clubs, staff training, assemblies and support for special events. We are able to work in your school, your school grounds or even your nearest green space.

We also have our own environmental education centre – Offshoots in Towneley Park, Burnley. The site boasts on site eco-friendly buildings that are powered by renewable energy, organic vegetable production, beekeeping, a forest garden, a wildlife pond and reed bed, charcoal kiln and a backyard garden demonstration area.

For more information visit https://newground.co.uk/environmental-education/support-for-schools/

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