In a nutshell
Hidden away inside acres of Cotswold woodland, students at Rendcomb College are encouraged to get muddy every week at the college’s very own Forest School. SoGlos was invited along to an open day at the school, where our journalist made a mud pie, enjoyed a scavenger hunt and even checked out an eco-toilet with two-year-old Max in tow.
The first thing that struck me as I pulled into the driveway at Rendcomb College was the sheer enormity of the building. Set within 230 acres of Cotswold parkland, Rendcomb College dates back to 1920, and offered a stunning backdrop for our exploration of the outdoors.
Following a very warm welcome at Reception, Max and I were taken through to a waiting area filled with appropriately dressed children and parents, wearing overalls and wellies. It was at this moment I realised I had forgotten Max’s wellies. After a speedy acceptance that we’d probably be sacrificing his trainers to the shoebox in the sky, we were guided in convoy to the Forest School.
We walked for around 10 minutes (at toddler pace) to reach our destination. The well-preened lawns at the front of the College grounds quickly morphed into a wilderness of hilly, tree-lined paths. We splashed in enough muddy puddles to make Peppa Pig snort with delight and eventually located the Forest School’s entrance, marked with a large wooden sign.
What we discovered upon our arrival was an outdoor activity centre, fully prepped for pre-school aged explorers.
Children were told they could simply delve into their surroundings, play inside dens, take part in a scavenger hunt to win a chocolate egg or locate some mini-beasts for closer inspection under the magnifying glass.
As much as I tried to guide Max towards the scavenger hunt activity, at two-years-old, distributing mud between different areas of the Forest School was much higher on his agenda. But what was brilliant about the Forest School open day, is that it encouraged open-ended play, meaning his desire to carry around a carrot dipped in sludge, was absolutely fine.
In the two hours we spent at Forest School we climbed trees, played in the mud kitchen, enjoyed a hot chocolate, explored the on-site eco toilet, played hide-and-seek in a pirate den and painted a picture with Max’s new favourite artistic medium… Mud!
Pupils of Rendcomb College first have access to the Forest School from age three upwards, with classes taught outdoors twice per week, even in the snow.
Forest School activities are designed in conjunction with the national curriculum. Rendcomb says this helps students to develop physical skills, co-ordination and social skills, as well as giving them the opportunity to work in a team and express themselves as individuals.
Can you find me…
As children progress through forest school, their exploration activities become more structured. Teachers gave examples of some of the tasks they would give to younger pupils such as: ‘Can you find me something rough’ or ‘can you find me something green?’. We watched as some of the older children scurried off in delight, determined to be first back to the teacher with the desired item.
It was wonderful to see such positivity surrounding outdoor activities at Rendcomb, especially since a 2017 study by University College London found that children who have access to technology in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight than those without.
With phones and tablets at our children’s fingertips, it’s easy to see why young people are tempted to spend much of their free time indoors. This makes the dedication to outdoor play and learning at Rendcomb College even more impressive and valuable.
During our open day, children were incredibly excited at their freedom to squelch in the mud and take controlled risks. They exuded joy as they swung from rope swings and sought out hidden treasures amongst the woodland floor.
As pupils reach senior school age, they move to a dedicated outdoor education area, concentrating on bush craft and orienteering, but continuing the theme of learning through their environment.
It’s clearly a huge benefit to students of Rendcomb College to have a Forest School on site, and lovely that it’s embraced so fiercely by both pupils and teachers.
Although next time, I’ll definitely remember the wellies!
Our day of exploration at Forest School provided a number of opportunities for children to explore at their own pace. Offering open-ended play gave children the chance to climb, explore and create their own games. It encouraged imaginative play, where a simple stick could become anything from a magic wand through to a drumstick to play percussion on tree stumps. All of this combined with two hours outdoors in the great British countryside, meant we also hit our exercise goal for the day, too!
Places on the Forest School open day events need to be pre-booked in advance and often fill up very quickly. To ensure you get the chance to experience this fun open day with your children, make sure you get in touch with Rendcomb College as soon as possible to secure your spot.