Children and their families are reconnecting with nature thanks to the Forest's new Natural Play programme.
The project combats children's increasing isolation from the natural world arising from greatly reduced freedom to roam and society's increased fear of risk. By helping children to discover their natural environment The Mersey Forest is:
> rebuilding children's appreciation of nature
> providing an enriched education
> encouraging sociable, healthy & active lifestyles
> helping families spend more time playing together outdoors
Volunteers from across the region have already completed or are set to receive Forest School training, to enable them to run outdoor lessons in schools own woodland. Forest Schools is an approach which has been practiced in Scandinavia since the 1950s, helping to give pupils a more rounded education and often particularly benefiting children who struggle in the normal classroom environment.
Below are some highlights of activities taking place in each of our seven local authorities:
>> With staff at Christ Church CofE Primary School in Ellesmere Port completing certified training to lead Forest School sessions, a BTCV task day in May helped get the school's woodland ready for its new role.
>> Training has also been completed by three volunteers from Northwich community group the Friends of Marshalls Arm Local Nature Reserve, who are supported by The Mersey Forest, so that the group can use the nature reserve as a setting for outdoor lessons.
>> A cluster of six Halton primary schools (Palacefields, Windmill Hill, Cavendish, Hallwood Park, Brookvale and Gorsewood) have teamed up with The Mersey Forest to help improve their school grounds by planting over 400 trees in preparation for Forest School lessons.
>> Windmill Hill Primary School became the first of the schools to begin the Forest School lessons, with successful weekly sessions held in their woodland throughout the summer term 2009.
>> Staff from Prescot's Our Lady's Catholic Primary School are set to receive Forest School training, to enable them to run outdoor lessons in the school's own woodland.
>> Also, Daniel Wilson from Knowsley Council's Play Pathfinder project gave a presentation to The Mersey Forest Steering Group to share best practice from this exciting project to create 28 new natural play spaces within the borough.
>> The Mersey Forest is working with Liverpool John Moores University's Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences to assess the impact of Forest School sessions upon local children.
>> The final report on the project's findings is still in development, but the evidence suggests that the Forest School sessions helped develop children's confidence, social skills, an interest in nature and the natural world, and their knowledge and understanding of the natural environment.
>> At Southport's Norwood Primary School Forest School lessons were run with Year 2 pupils throughout the summer term of 2009, parents were invited to come and find out about Forest Schools at a special open afternoon, and a family den building day was also well attended.
>> Merefield Special School in Southport have planted over 300 trees for Forest School use, and landscape plans have been produced by The Mersey Forest to adapt the site for use by children with physical and learning disabilities.
>> Staff at St.Teresa's Catholic Primary School, Sutton, have completed accredited Forest School training to enable them to run outdoor lessons in woodlands.
>> Forest School lessons have been held in the school's own grounds, and Brickfields and Sutton Manor woodlands are also being prepared as venues for the coming year.
>> Birchwood's Risley Moss Local Nature Reserve played host to The Mersey Forest's taster session on Forest Schools, which was attended by three schools, a children's centre, a nursery and partners including Warrington and three other local authorities, Faiths for Change and Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
>> Mersey Forest staff were invited to speak about Natural Play and Forest Schools at a full Warrington Borough Council meeting and at Grappenhall and Thelwall Parish Council, and have made links with Warrington Children's Services, Westy Nursery - whose Forest Schools site was recently visited by Ed Balls - and Grappenhall School, who have joined the 'cluster group' of schools in The Mersey Forest who are sharing best practice on Forest Schools.
The Mersey Forest and the Friends of Marshalls Arm have also set up a Forest Schools cluster for schools across Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington.
The cluster provides a network group to bring landowners and Forest School trained leaders together to build a quality Forest Schools service across the area. The cluster's first meeting was attended by over 20 people, and many more have since expressed an interest in becoming part of the group.
Forest-wide, £42,000 funding has been secured by The Mersey Forest for the project, from Natural England's Natural Connections programme. To find out more contact The Mersey Forest Team.