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Forest Schools

Creating Spring inspired crafts Bannerman Road Community Academy’s Twitter feed, @BRCACC.

Learning to safely cook on an open fire Bannerman Road Community Academy’s Twitter feed, @BRCACC.

Den building Bannerman Road Community Academy’s Twitter feed, @BRCACC.

13 April 2016

Since November 2015, Alan Kennedy and Michael Cooper, post-graduate researchers in the School of Geographical Sciences, have been spending a few hours every Monday getting muddy in the name of public engagement.

The session, organised by Bristol Hub, gets student volunteers involved with a Forest Schools project at Bannerman Road Community Academy, a primary school in Easton.

Forest Schools is an initiative to get young children outside playing and learning in the natural world, something that is otherwise becoming more inaccessible for many young people in urban or deprived areas. This can involve just about anything; from feeding chickens, cooking over an open campfire, building dens, making willow structures or simply playing outdoor games. Bannerman Road Community Academy is very lucky to have enthusiastic staff and a dedicated space for Forest Schools, and every day different classes get to explore the great outdoors, whatever the weather (literally).

While there is understandably not much communication of Alan and Michael’s research to the pupils, who are aged between 7 and 9, their enthusiasm is still highly valued by the staff and pupils at the school. Having volunteers means more activities can be run per session, allowing more direct time with pupils and more opportunities for learning and creativity, not to mention bringing in energy and enthusiasm and taking some pressure off the staff.

“Alan and Michael are committed, not afraid to get stuck in and have great, professional relationships when working with the children. Having extra adults encourages the children to ask questions and really think about what they are doing; Forest Schools would not be as successful without their help.” - Heather Beach, Assistant Headteacher at Bannerman Road Community Academy.

It is good for the pupils to get to interact with scientists from the University too, broadening their horizons of what adults ‘do’. They might not understand what being a ‘post-graduate researcher’ means or indeed anything about what they study, but they still enjoy asking questions about what the insects they have found are, why it is raining and how best to build dens.

“Alan and Michael helped us with digging and we really enjoyed looking for bugs.” - Gerard and Manuel, year 3 pupils.

Alan and Michael signed up to gain experience in outreach and engagement with a younger audience, to get an insight into local education and simply as a chance to get out of the office (essential for any geographer). It has certainly proved valuable in many ways, in terms of how to adjust language and communication methods and in providing a sense of perspective on Bristol life outside of the University bubble.

Importantly, volunteering at Forest Schools has been a reminder to Alan and Michael that public engagement and science outreach cannot only be pitched at a single level. The general public who attend the Festival of Nature or Bristol Bright Night are very different from students at a primary school in Easton, but their imaginations are valuable to capture regardless of age or level. With the worst of the Bristol winter weather behind them, they are looking forward to getting a little less muddy in the summer ahead...


Further information

More information on the Forest Schools initiative 

Volunteering opportunities with Bristol Hub