09 November 2023, The Tablet

Catholic primary sets up ‘forest school’ to enhance well-being

Catholic primary sets up ‘forest school’ to enhance well-being

Teacher Jess Jones with pupils at the forest school.
St Augustine’s school.

A Catholic nursery and primary school in a deprived part of Cheshire is running a Scandi-style forest school to enhance pupils’ mental well-being.

The 137 pupils of St Augustine’s School, Halton, in Runcorn  now enjoy lessons in how to cook over an open fire or grow fruit and vegetables in the school allotment.

Every pupil, aged 3 – 11 years old, can explore the on-site School, which includes a self-heating tree house in a wood and an adventure centre housed in a repurposed shipping container.

Tree climbing is encouraged to develop core strength, while younger pupils learn to count spotting bluebells sin the school meadow.

For many pupils, the forest school offers a rare opportunity to explore the outdoors in a safe environment, John Marciniak, the acting headmaster told The Tablet.

“Children in other areas might be more accustomed to learning in an outdoor environment. We’re on the outskirts of an area with high deprivation and a lot of social housing. Many parents live in small flats and children don’t have access to wide, open spaces.”

According to the Office for National statistics 35 of the 79 neighbourhoods in the local area of Halton are among the 20 per cent most income-deprived in England.

“Our school tagline is ‘join the adventure,” said Marciniak. Initially opened in 2022, St Augustine’s version of the Forest education model pioneered in Scandinavia “brings pupils into contact with the wonders of God’s creation”, added Marciniak.

Jessica Jones, who recently qualified as St Augustine’s first forest school facilitator says it “also benefits pupils’ mental health’.

She tailors lessons to meet pupil’s needs, especially those of the most vulnerable. “What I teach also depends on the individual child’s interests.”

Typical activities might include building bird-feeders, hunting for ‘mini-beasts’ or crafting crowns from natural resources.

 “We are helping pupils’ learn practical life- skills and develop motor skills,” said Jones, whose classes support the PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) element of the curriculum.

Already, she has noticed the pupils’ “sheer excitement” about the forest school: “Hands shoot up when I ask who wants to come.” Future plans include opening an outdoor dance club.


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