Stephanie Smith and Catriona Henson take to the outdoors

At The Cavendish School, our students are driven to succeed, but are unable to thrive in a conventional  educational setting. Going to school can be a challenging experience for students with autism, because of the sensory stimulation of the school environment, or their experiences in their previous educational setting. 

Our school first opened its doors in 2021, but planning began many years before this. At each stage of our planning journey, and looking forward, we wanted to ensure that we rebuild our students’ trust in education, where necessary, and create a positive learning environment where everybody can thrive. Students benefit from access to additional support  including Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy and music therapy,  but one of the most successful provisions we have implemented is Forest School. 

All students enjoy a weekly Forest School session, which has enabled them to develop skills to thrive in life, learn about life outside of the classroom, and put them at the centre of their learning. 

Nurturing teamwork through nature 
Forest School provides the perfect environment for students to develop relationships, make friendships, and improve their social and emotional skills including communication and empathy. In each session, there are opportunities to take part in activities that allow them to embody the Forest School values (respecting ourselves, each other, property, and nature) to support their learning and personal development. Each session includes a group activity; such as  blindfold trust exercises, ladder climbing or group mathematics challenges, such as guessing how many leaves are in a pile. We begin and end each session with group reflection, where students can share their thoughts and feelings with their classmates. 

Learning skills for use outside and inside the classroom
By growing something from seedling to crop and sharing the responsibilities of nurturing the plant through the growing process with their classmates, students gain a greater understanding of the individual and group responsibilities of looking after something.

These activities are much more than just getting muddy or gardening. One of the highlights of Forest School  is our fire safety sessions. Learning how to safely light and manage a fire instils a greater awareness of their own responsibilities for looking after their community. 

Through Forest School, we are also able to take subjects, such as Biology, and present them to our students in more engaging ways than in a traditional classroom setting. Our students are learning about nature in ways that offer sensory stimulation in  an environment that can reduce stress, and improve feelings of calm and wellbeing.

Forest School for all
We have a purpose-built horticultural building, which provides a warm, quiet space for children that are currently not keen on joining in with the group sessions. This area helps children to practise self-regulation, benefitting from the therapeutic wellbeing element of Forest School.

As each student has agency over how they prefer to spend their time at Forest School, we have created an environment where our students are able to participate in activities in their own way, developing bonds and trust with teachers. It gives me no greater sense of pride than to see our students opening up and thriving in a safe setting. 

Introducing Forest School to The Cavendish School was certainly one of the best decisions that we have made to date, and I, for one, can’t wait to see the lasting impact that it will have on our current and future students. 

Stephanie  Smith
Author: Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith
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