P6 PUPILS from Hollybank Primary School made the short trip to Monkstown Wood last week for their final ‘Forest Schools’ session before the summer break.
Throughout the year, the children have undertaken a series of activities under the guidance of Madeleine Kelly, a Forest Schools Practitioner from Groundwork Northern Ireland. The activities have ranged from using the trees for a maths lesson, to wood whittling and making ‘bug homes’. They also built a shelter big enough for the whole class and tried their hand at nest building.
Hollybank Primary is one of several Newtownabbey schools that have been involved in the Forest Schools programme.
Lindsay Matthews, Biodiversity Officer with Newtownabbey Borough Council, explains: “The council is working to promote its parks and open spaces as important educational and recreational resources. Forest Schools is a great way to achieve this - giving children a sense of ownership and pride in their local green space. Each school that is involved in Forest Schools chooses a park or green space that is within walking distance of their school, which not only provides additional value in terms of exercise but ensures sustainability as there are no transport costs to consider. Also, by using local green spaces, it is hoped that the value the children place on these green spaces, as their Forest School site, ripples out to parents, siblings, friends and throughout the community.”
Brian Poots, Director of the Northern Ireland Forest Schools Association, added: “The Forest Schools programme is a great way to encourage schools to consider their local woodlands as a media for learning. The number of Forest Schools in Northern Ireland has increased in recent years, but this initiative in Newtownabbey was one of the first.
“With so many Forest Schools activities that can be linked directly to the curriculum, teachers really appreciate the break from traditional classroom work and most children love the experience of being outdoors.
“Collecting litter may at first glance seem unconnected to the curriculum, but the children were restricted to a small area and they used ‘tally marks’ to count the different pieces that they found. They were able to work out how much litter to expect to find over the whole woodland and drew various graphs to illustrate what they found and calculated fractions of types of litter and percentages. Other subjects that can use woodlands include art, drama, geography and environmental studies.”
The next programme of Forest Schools in Newtownabbey will begin in September thanks to funding secured by Newtownabbey Borough Council from the Heritage Lottery Fund.