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Outdoor learning helps pupils

25 January 2023

Forest School can give lifelong confidence to pupils with learning disabilities, says Kisharon’s Alfredo Sanguino.

Activities in the outdoors make children balance risk over benefit, and encourages them to take risks, finding confidence as they do so.

“These children will go on to live independently and one day will need to take all kinds of risks. Forest School is all about teaching the children to analyse these risks for themselves,” said Alfredo, Forest School Leader at Kisharon Noé School.

Every child participates in this relatively new educational approach. Pupils spend a half day every week without computers or any other school equipment in the outdoors, usually 20 minutes walk away in Dollis Brook woods, where they work together building a den which is covered by a tarpaulin.

Inside there’s circle time where the children are encouraged to share their feelings. There are arts and crafts activities – designed to broaden vocabulary or improve maths skills – and using found natural materials to avoid deforestation. Often there is time for the children to explore on their own or with friends.

An indoor space has been created at the school that mimics the natural environment outdoors, where those with profound disabilities can take part in Forest School activities.

Borrowed from the Scandinavian educational system, Forest School was developed in the UK in 1993 and adopted by Kisharon Noé School only after the pandemic. Alfredo explains: “Especially vulnerable children couldn’t even go to the park during the lockdowns. What faith can there be for the future of these children if they couldn’t interact with the outside world?

The pupils are given protective clothing to stave off the cold and should the weather worsen quickly, there is always a quick route back to school, critical given their vulnerability. But no children complain when the weather turns cold. Alfredo says: “The pupils are always happy at Forest School and enjoy the experience.”

He finds that children with learning disabilities who struggle with light and sound benefit from the chance each week to listen to the birds, leaves and the wind. Many sit and think and simply enjoy the calm.

Class teaching assistants accompany their pupils to Forest School with Alfredo and Forest School Assistant Ranny Di-Mampova. But the approach they take is very different to that used in the classroom. Alfredo explained: “At Forest School, teachers say ‘Would you like to…?’ And not ‘I want you to…’ If any child doesn’t feel like doing a particular activity they don’t need to. The result is not important. Progression and having fun is.”

Alfredo was already on the school staff when the opportunity arose to train as Forest School Leader. A natural for the job, his love of the outdoors stems from his upbringing in a mountainous area of Spain and family camping trips. Years in the Spanish merchant navy made him an expert in tying knots – a skill he teaches to pupils on their Forest School excursions.

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Pirkei Avos
“The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness.” Kisharon looks at the person not the disability, teaching Torah, Middos and Mitzvot embracing and cherishing everybody’s special talent and bringing out the best in them.