A headteacher’s vision to create an environmentally-friendly school which embraces all areas of learning is bearing fruit – and vegetables! HAZEL ETTIENNE reports
APTLY-NAMED headteacher Dora Plant has helped children, staff and parents at Ashbrow Infant and Nursery create a “Forest School” in Sheepridge.
Over the last three years a neglected patch of land has been transformed into an outdoor learning “paradise” which every one of the school’s 182 pupils spends time in every week, come rain or shine.
Mrs Plant said: “Outdoor learning is incredibly stimulating and children in open spaces benefit from deep learning in a multi-sensory way.
“No two days are the same.
“They learn about the environment and how to care for the world for generations in the future.
“We teach them from an early age about sustainability and the problems which different people from all over the world face.
“Working outdoors also teaches the children skills for the future, including teamwork, leadership skills, perseverance and the opportunity to communicate effectively with others. All qualities which employers of the future are looking for.”
The garden offers a wealth of opportunities for children to metaphorically “grow” and extend their learning across the whole curriculum.
Raised beds will produce courgettes, potatoes, beans, peas, sweetcorn and beetroot during the summer months and the area’s 30 fruit trees and bushes will bear fruit in the autumn.
Hens named Shadow and Snowie – Ginger was eaten by a fox – help children learn about life cycles and bereavement.
The hens produce eggs daily which are raffled for children to take home.
The area also includes a lavender labyrinth used for games and map reading, a well-used pond, two impressive willow domes, a dragon fly mosaic, a large outdoor circle with storytellers chair, ladybird boxes and oak trees with felt life-cycle sculptures.
Whatever the weather, children enjoy the great outdoors, thanks to a well-stocked room filled with wellingtons, raincoats, hats, gloves and sunhats, for all shapes and sizes.
The school stresses the environmental message with compost and playground monitors and energy-saving initiatives, including giving up light in the dining room for Lent!
Paper is recycled and energy-saving light bulbs are handed out to parents to ensure the message is taken home.
Future plans include basket and lantern-making using the school’s own willow along with day camps and working with local junior schools to form friendships and partnerships in the great outdoors.
Mrs Plant added: “Every aspect of the curriculum can be taught outside.
“If you’re excited by what you are doing in the outdoors, you are more likely to retain and remember that for the future.”