Wilder Woods

Central Somerset Outdoor Learning Partnership

Literacy Project

by Deb Millar - July 23rd, 2013.
Filed under: Funding, Information.

Ernest Cook Make your Mark Literacy Project – August 2012- July2013

Final Report July 2013

 Summary of the Project –

 Our outdoor literacy project has been full of variety with input from creative practitioners with many different skills; professional story tellers, artists, green wood workers, teachers and forest school leaders.

The project took place at two managed woodland sites (Hallr and Drayton Wood) and the main beneficiaries were:

·         19 secondary school children and 186 primary school children attending through their schools

·         In addition to this, we have held various events- including holiday schemes for children with disabilities, open days and play days where double this number of children and families have engaged with us and made use of the resources produced through the project.

 Our main aim was to improve literacy levels by offering a different approach which would especially appeal to those who may find learning in the classroom difficult.

Our greatest challenge was tackling a failure to engage in literacy in a very disadvantaged group of young people. This part of the project took place at Hallr Wood, Charlton Mackrell.

For Primary pupils (mixed ability) we experimented with one off curriculum enrichment events and some sessions involving regular visits, at two different woodland sites.

Primary Schools

At Drayton Woods, the Ernest Cook funding enabled us to offer regular sessions to 65 children from Curry Rivel School.  31 children from Year 5/6 came over a period of 4 weeks. Later we worked with 35 Year 4/5 from the same school and on the same basis. They all came in 2 groups of 15/16. 

  Activities covered

·         Expressive games and storytelling activities in the wood

·         Awareness of living things, habitat & sustainability

·         Exploring woodland areas as settings for stories              

·         Researching folklore stories relating to animals and trees (in school time)

·         Achieving through working together in small groups

·         Using cloth books and natural mark making materials (charcoal,clay, leaves etc) to document progress

·         Group story telling performance in the woodland, using spoken word, rhyme and music, sounds made from woodland materials (eg stick instruments)

We also worked with a local artist who has created wood cuts inspired by the children’s stories and will form a story trail in the woodland to inspire further groups.

Children all really enjoyed the course and all filled in feedback forms (available in hard copy). A further oak woodcut was also presented to the school by the artist as a permanent reminder of the storytelling sessions.

 School feedback; “We took part in Forest School, because it seemed to fit perfectly with the way we teach story writing in school.  We always want to make writing as interesting and stimulating as possible. Although I was at first nervous whether it would be appropriate for my class of mixed year 5 and 6, but I was soon reassured.  The woods provided a great stimulus for the childrens writing, giving them lots of ideas of how and what they could write about.  They had great fun exploring the woods and finding places to retell and invent their stories.  The children were really enthusiastic and the parents thought it was great!  I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this to other schools (in fact we want to send another class) to provide a great fun stimulus and location for storytelling and writing.” 

At Hallr Wood, Charlton Mackrell we experimented with whole class groups as we know that getting children outside is difficult for schools and there is a need for easily accessible whole class curriculum enrichment. We worked with 121 primary children including the whole of Charlton Mackrell Primary which is within walking distance. We ran mixed creative activities designed to get children making their own stories with Martin Maudsley. Feedback has been good. “The children loved their time in the woods and staff came back inspired and determined to do more creative work outside.” He also gave a workshop for adults. 

We also ran a Dragon Taming workshop for two further classes including one from Long Sutton Primary School. The children hunted for dragon’s eggs and then in groups made homes for the young dragons, describing the characteristics of each dragon.  “This was a superb day for the children who have been writing stories about dragons ever since. Not only has it enriched their creative writing, they worked so well in teams – that was lovely to see. Thank you – we would love to do more.”

 Our reflections and evaluations show that the smaller group model has the highest number of outcomes and is preferable wherever practicable. However we still feel that there were positive outcomes working with whole classes – including increased enthusiasm for story telling and writing amongst children and also the impact on teachers who maybe more willing to run their own creative writing activities outside as a result.

Secondary Schools

We worked with small groups of young people from three different secondary schools, medical tuition unit and a PRU over a prolonged period of time (whole year). The funding enabled us to plan the programme and pay for artists and story tellers to come to our regular SEN sessions.

 The pupils we worked with often have poor levels of literacy and are very disaffected from learning. We hoped that they would respond to the brief of physically preparing areas in the woodland as ‘story spots’ and trails for younger children. This was an effective strategy. The pupils initially reflected on their favourite stories – sadly mostly taken from films seen rather than from books read. This sometimes had to be done on a 1:1 basis and not all the group participated at this stage.

 Willing participants then decided on various activities and props which could help younger children create and tell their own stories as well as considering props specific to well known stories. The main stories we looked at were Winnie the Pooh and Lord of the Rings. We made maps of our wood on the lines of those we found in Winnie the Pooh and Lord of the Rings. We created a model of a hobbit house, made our own magic staffs and children built a den which they described as Eeyore’s house.

This secondary group also worked on designing our woodland stage for our performance area. This included completing drawings and measuring. The stage has become a vital asset and significantly those who wouldn’t join in with the earlier work, are happy to take part in the numerous plays which are now created and performed. Along with the Animal story trail, the stage will form a lasting legacy from this project. One child said to me “I’m too naughty to do drama at school but here I can do it every week, be the prop person.”  

 In September 2012 we held an open day with an Elves and fairies theme. It was a lovely opportunity to show case the children’s efforts and the performing area was a big success.

 Meanwhile, throughout the year we have worked with two chain saw artists on story trails and a fairy glade.  At Hallr Wood we now have a fabulous animal story trail. Each animal has had stories created about it. It was especially valuable for boys from our SEN and EBD groups to get engaged with this side of the project. It has motivated them to see the chain saw artists (neither of whom had achieved well in school themselves) enthusiastic about the children’s stories and suggestions.

Transcript of Badger’s story:

Badger is the King of the Badgers at Hallr Wood. He likes to keep an eye on things and that is why he stays at the top where he can see farthest. He is very wise. He especially hates to see anyone dropping litter because he knows some of the animals are quite stupid and could eat the litter and end up at Secret World having operations. He notices when people work hard and when they waste time chatting. He liked the badger project because he got to eat molasses and peanuts. But he didn’t like it that the dog ate some of it first. Badger has quite a lot of adventures but that is private and I’m not telling you about those because he doesn’t want me to.

 An unexpected outcome of the project was that it has aroused an interest in supporting literacy outside amongst other Forest Education leaders and we have held informal skills shares of our ideas and lesson plans.

 THANK YOU TO ERNEST COOK TRUST FROM US ALL.                                                                                

 Report by Deb Millar, Central Somerset Outdoor Learning Partnership/ Wilderwoods Forest School www.wilderwoods.org

July 2013