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    Can Schools see the Wood for the Trees?

    Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Forestry in Education Conference run by the Forest Education Network and CLOtC. Most of the delegates were outdoor education practitioners and Forest school leaders but I was really surprised to find that there was only one teacher in attendance - me!  

    It's a pity that all teachers can't attend conferences like the FEN Conference because I really think I think it would inspire them to embrace outdoor education. Spending a day looking at woodland management really got me thinking about the wonderful learning opportunities that woods and forests can offer. I learnt so much about choosing, planting and caring for trees and the different uses of woodlands and how they can be used for learning and play, attracting and protecting wildlife and for timber production - all of which would make interesting and valuable outdoor learning topics both at primary and secondary level. As well as the obvious work on habitats, tree and plant identification etc. that you could do in a woodland, it would be great to ask the children to consider how it is currently used and get them to come up with an action plan for the management of the woodland. Outdoor learning like this could encompass lots of different curriculum subjects as well as promote teamwork, environmental education and financial education.

    There are woodlands and forests all over the UK, many of which are open to the public and easily accessible. Yet I wonder how many teachers would consider arranging a school trip to a woodland? I would really love to see this happening because it's important that children develop a love and appreciation of these wonderfully diverse habitats. They need to learn about native trees, plants and wildlife, about biodiversity, about the economic aspects of woodland management and, most importantly, why we need to protect and preserve woods and forests.

    Perhaps teachers prefer to arrange visits where they don't have to lead the activities but I think this is short-sighted. As long as a thorough risk assessment is carried out and the staff have visited the site and really familiarised themselves with the layout, access, hazards etc, I can think of no better place for a school trip. It's free to visit a woodland and if you visit one that's located near to the school, there won't even be any transport costs. 

    There are some lucky schools that happen to have a small area of woodland as part of their school grounds, and I really hope they are using them regularly and imaginatively. If they're not, the staff need to access some training to enthuse and inspire them to get their children into the woods. You can contact the Forest Education Network or the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom for information and ideas about training, and the Forestry Commission and Royal Forestry Society are great sources of information about all things tree-related.

    So, my advice to teachers is to use the resources that nature has given us and get exploring. You can download our editable risk assessment here.





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