Earlier this month, Botanic Protect caught up with Sunita Thakur from ‘Out to the Woods’ CIC (remotely, of course!) to find out about her Forest School journey and learn why this style of teaching is so popular.
- What inspired your Forest School journey?
A combination of things really. I love teaching and have done so since 2000 but have become a little disillusioned with the way the education system has developed. I absolutely adore teaching, in particular when a child has that lightbulb moment. However, I often find myself more worried about getting through content and reaching targets than enjoying the teaching and learning process.
Another factor that made me reflect on my life was my own mental health. I suffer from anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder and have done so on and off for the last few years. 2019 was quite a bad bout for me and so over the Xmas holidays I really considered my options about how I wanted my life to be like and what I could practically do to control my anxiety levels.
That’s when I began to think about what else I could do that would still allow me to work with children but would allow a more child led learning process. My school has a forest school on site and I noticed how happy, enthused and excited my children were as they talked about going into the woods with the Forest School Leader.
I got in touch with a local Forest School provider and went along to learn more about Forest School for myself. I was not disappointed and immediately became hooked!
On my first visit I watched as children persevered with fire lighters to light a fire and keep it going in order to boil water for their hot chocolate. Had we been in a classroom setting there is no doubt that children would have given up at the first failure but I was amazed at the tenacity and determination of the children to keep having a go.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit each month until lockdown and then again post lockdown to help out at the Forest School and each time I learnt something new and inspiring as well as watching and listening to the enthusiasm of the children participating. On one particular visit during early autumn, one young lad simply said “I like it here because I get to see those God rays!” He was referring to sun beans filtering through the canopy and to be honest I couldn’t have put it any better myself.
- What do you need to do to become a Forest School Leader and what stage are you at?
You must complete a comprehensive training program to attain a Level 3 Certificate for Forest School Leaders. This involves attending a number of practical skills training sessions to learn about fire lighting, tool work and how to safely put up tarps. There is a Forest School handbook to compile and a portfolio, consisting of 5 detailed units.
These units cover a range of topics from understanding the history and beginnings of Forest School; woodland biodiversity and management techniques; practical skills and learning about play, self-esteem and how children learn.
The final unit is based around a pilot project that all trainees must complete if they want to be able to practice as a Forest School Leader.
In addition to this, all trainees must have completed an outdoor first aid training program and ideally a food safety certificate.
I have completed my practical skills training, first aid and food safety certification and have completed my Forest School handbook, and Unit 1, 2 and 3 of the portfolio.
It is a lot of work but it is interesting and for the first time in my life I feel as if I’m learning for a purpose!
- Who are you training with?
Earthcraft UK CIC, based in Canterbury, Kent run by the brilliant Clare and Scott
- How long does the training take?
About 12 and 18 months.
- What is the best thing you’ve done in your training so far?
The practical skills I’ve learnt are the best – I’ve made a mallet, fairy table, kazoo, willow platter and many more items! I love that I’ve taken a piece of wood and been able to create something from it, it’s truly amazing.
I’ve also enjoyed the more academic stuff too, I always knew that being outdoors was good for you but the amount of research I have read extolling the benefits of being in the forest is astonishing.
I have become a bit of a ‘tree geek’ and am now constantly snapping pictures in order to identify them – it is truly fascinating!
- What 3 words would you use to describe Forest School?
Relaxing. Fascinating. Freedom!
7. What’s next?
‘Out to the Woods’ CIC has recently been granted Community Interest Company status and I have just been accepted on to the Kent AONB Experience Program, which is a new sustainable visitor project for Kent. I have lots of ideas to help more people enjoy the benefits of being out in the woods!
We look forward to catching up with Sunita later in the year to find out more about her Forest School..!
For more information follow Sunita on Instagram @out_to_the_woods