Forest School & autism at Quorn Hall School
Forest School is a type of outdoor education that takes place in natural spaces and encourages participants to develop personal, social, and practical skills. Quorn Hall, a provision for students with social, emotional and mental health difficulties as well as autistic profiles, boasts an impressive amount of space for their own beautiful on-site Forest School site.
Forest School became a phenomenon in the UK and was soon being offered to people of all ages and abilities. Amongst those who benefited from this way of learning were participants who struggle in a traditional classroom setting including pupils with autism.
There is a growing body of evidence to prove a link between increased well-being, higher achievement, and access to nature. There are many individual stories illustrating the positive influence which Forest School has had on its autistic participants.
What can Forest School at Quorn Hall School offer children with autism?
When these approaches are brought together by an autism-aware practitioner, autistic children have an opportunity to thrive. As a result, Forest School at Quorn Hall offers:
A person-centered approach doesn’t only consider the differences or difficulties someone may have. Special interests are welcomed and encouraged in the woods and are a great way to engage people.
Quorn Hall’s Forest School staff recognise that autism brings with it various strengths. These are often selective and focused. Some participants may choose to engage purely on a visual basis by staring into a fire, for instance. As a result, they can be encouraged further by developing their fire starting skills, experimenting with a range of materials, they can be encouraged to learn about the fire triangle and how to sustain a fire. They can then go on and learn how to cook on an open fire.
The team at Quorn Hall encourages an interest in and a love for nature. Their Forest School develops participants' skills, knowledge and understanding centered around nature. It also includes learning skills about survival and bushcraft. When this comes together with the passion and focus autism brings, great things can happen.
The UK has some incredible role models for young people with autism, who also share a love of nature. Sir David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and Ray Mears are just some of our best-known wildlife, bushcraft and survival experts. As well as presenting TV nature shows and being a best-selling author, Chris Packham is also a tireless campaigner for the environment and has been diagnosed with autism which he has written about and discussed on TV.
The benefits of being in an open and natural environment. This realisation helps the practitioner to better empathise with people who are experiencing differences in their sensory processing. Sensory rooms often seem to feature recordings of running water, wind or rainfall, and gently shifting light. All of this is often available in the woods, in the breeze through the branches and the clouds slowly drifting by above the trees. Forest School works in partnership with the participant and their supporters to meet their sensory needs. There is a rich sensory environment that can be explored in Quorn Hall or, if there is a need to reduce stimuli, quiet spaces can be created in sitting spots, dens, tents or hammocks.
Building up confidence, resilience and self-esteem are central to the Forest School approach at Quorn Hall. Recognising individual achievement is hugely important. For some participants, this may be through repeating the same exercise over and over again, or adjusting it slightly. It could mean that an individual tries a different type of food that has been cooked on the fire that they wouldn’t normally try, or they show an improved ability to interact with others patiently.
Social interaction can happen at the participant’s own pace. This approach allows space for people who are becoming overloaded, and people can join in with a group activity or seek their own solitary activities. Participants may lack confidence to begin with or simply feel content just sitting and watching before deciding to take part after gaining confidence to join in on their own terms.
The Forest School ethos maintains that everyone is a learner. Teachers, support staff, and Forest School practitioners are encouraged to reflect and learn alongside the children they teach. This is a great motivator for autism learners. This process encourages the adults involved in their support to learn about the autism child and to appreciate their individuality, gifts, sensory needs, and communication needs. The relationships built at Forest School, together with the observations made, can be carried over into the rest of the child’s education and help them to reach their full potential.