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Mid and East Antrim’s ‘Forest Schools’ prove a growing influence on local pupils

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BT Coleraine

A programme to encourage schools to consider their local woodlands as a medium for learning has begun to ‘take root’ in Mid and East Antrim Borough.

‘Forest Schools’ activities can be linked directly to the curriculum which allows teachers to ensure continued progress towards academic targets, while the change of venue is a great experience for both children and teachers.

The programme has recently been highlighted by the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE who visited St John’s Primary School, Carnlough, as they set off on their own Forest School ‘adventure’.

Cllr Wales said: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is committed to promoting our parks and open spaces as important educational and recreational resources and Forest Schools is a great way to achieve this. The number of Forest Schools in Northern Ireland is increasing and we are proud to be at the forefront of this initiative,” she added.

All the schools in the Borough had the opportunity to take part in the 2017 programme via the Forest School Awards with three schools selected to take part in the initiative.

Successful schools then choose a green space near their school in which to engage in outdoor learning.

The Mayor continued: “St John’s Primary School began their Forest School programme at Cranny Falls Nature Reserve, Carnlough.

“Of course, Cranny Falls includes a beautiful waterfall in a wooded valley and a disused limestone quarry, where there are cliffs, wetlands and grasslands, so it is very appropriate,” she said.

“Meanwhile, Carrickfergus Central Primary School has chosen Shaftesbury Park as their site. It is a charming old Victorian park in Carrickfergus town centre with plenty of mature tree specimens and is connected to Carrickfergus Mill Ponds Nature Reserve which is home to a wide range of wildlife.

“Kirkinriola Primary School has chosen Ecos Nature Park as their site. It is an oasis of wildlife close to the heart of Ballymena town centre. The site is 220 acres of parkland, maturing woodland, peaceful lake, ponds, and meadows,” Cllr Wales said, adding her hopes that all the schools involved will thoroughly enjoy their Forest Schools experience and learn to respect and cherish their fantastic local parks and open spaces.

Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA) partner the Council on the programme with Brian Poots from NIFSA commenting: “Research has found that outdoor learning is invaluable for children.

“Through this initiative children will be able to increase their confidence, physical skills, social skills, motivation and concentration.

“Above everything else, the Forest School Awards Scheme can help to connect children to their outdoor environment, stimulating curiosity and inspiring a love of the natural world that is likely to remain long after the programme.

“The benefits of Forest Schools are far reaching not only for the pupils and teachers directly involved but also for their families, school and local community.

“Regular, ongoing and sustained use of Council parks and open spaces will help to develop a sense of ownership and, it is hoped, will lead to a reduction in anti-social behaviour,” he concluded.

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