Forest School Cabins & BBQ Huts: How Two Scandinavian Ways Of Life Became A UK Educational Success Story

Posted by Victoria Parkinson on Nov 22, 2020 10:20:32 AM

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Forest School is seen as a way of life in Scandinavia.

Forest School is a child-centred learning process that offers stimulating activities and holistic opportunities for growth through play, exploration and, often, supported and calculated risk taking. It helps develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on experiences in a natural, fresh air setting.

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Since arriving in the UK in 1993, this inspirational teaching concept has grown in popularity and, in terms of the benefits it brings to pupils, it has gone from strength to strength. These benefits are particularly enjoyed by pupils traditionally at risk of getting left behind, as a result engagement levels among these groups are soaring and measurable educational gains are being reported by schools in the UK, similar to those in Finland where Forest Schools are prevalent and where educational success is inspiring educational thought leaders worldwide.

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ANOTHER SCANDI-SUCCESS – THE BBQ HUT

BBQ huts, which were the prototype for Cabins For Schools’ timber buildings, are also a way of life in most Scandinavian countries – many homes have them in their garden and in the isolated wilderness of the forests, huts can be found in clearings for all to use. These forest BBQ huts are there for communities to come together in the fresh air, for families to enjoy outdoor eating and, in the harshest of weather conditions, they can actually save lives!

And they have an educational aspect too. Writing in a recent blog for ArcticCabins.co.uk, Cabins For Schools co-founder, Virpi Marjaana Kokko, writes, “Many of them have stood for over a hundred years, some maybe a hundred and fifty, and local elders would point to tall trees in the forest that were younger. The tradition of these Finnish huts goes back even further than that though. They have their origin in Arctic Lapland where nomadic herdsmen would have lived in them and, way back, covered them in reindeer hides for shelter from the elements. You can't get more traditional Finnish than a Grillkota BBQ hut!”

It is here in the UK though, where these two Scandi-success stories are coming together – and the results are AMAZING!

FOREST SCHOOL IS GREAT … but … what if there’s no forest? What if your school is in the middle of the city? What if your pupils’ disabilities would preclude them from taking part in Forest School?

That Scandinavian ethos of education for all would not be discouraged by such challenges and, thanks to Cabins For Schools, nor should you be.

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CABINS FOR SCHOOLS HUTS BRING FOREST SCHOOL TO LIFE

With a hut from Cabins For Schools, students and staff can enjoy the benefits of Forest School – wherever you are!

The spruce aroma that grabs hold of your senses as you step inside is among the first things that visitors to our Nottingham show-site mention – it transports your imagination to a Nordic forest, it relaxes, calms and inspires.

Visitors also remark upon how ‘much more roomy’ the cabin is on the inside than they expected looking at it from outside and how shielded from the world you feel – both in terms of noise reduction and keeping the weather at bay!.

These sensory observations are among the key reasons why Cabins For Schools and the concept of Forest School dovetail so neatly - especially with children with Special Education Needs. Let’s look at them in a little more depth.

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1 - The Spruce Aroma

“A soothing or familiar scent can ease anxiety and help students get into a clearer, more mindful state for learning, which can aid in the storage of information,” says Daniela Montalto, Ph.D., a child neuropsychologist at the Child Study Centre at NYU Langone, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital.

She adds, “They may also start to associate certain scents with particular experiences, which can facilitate memory recall.”

There are many studies on the benefits that aroma can bring to learning. Be sure to make a point of mindfully taking in the spruce aroma of the cabin (and the food that you and your students cook on the BBQ grill) and the students will quickly associate it with a safe and relaxing space in which to learn and retain what you teach them.

“Mindfully attending to the scents and smells in the environment leads to a greater appreciation for the world around us,” says Montalto. “It also helps to increase the attention span of young children. It allows them to have a pause in their experience and take in more of what they’re being shown than they would have on their own.”

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2 - The Space

A recent visit from a group of teachers to our village of timber buildings in Nottingham, our show-site, gave us an insight into some of the challenges that you face when considering a Forest School approach.

Wheelchair access to the forest wasn’t taken into account by Mother Nature when she created the forests, but it can be when you consider a Cabins For School forest school timber hut.

This group were especially sceptical about how a class of wheelchair users could access the BBQ hut that they were looking at – but this was from the outside.

The audible gasp as they walked in brought a joyful smile to my face. As everyone who steps through the door of a BBQ hut does - they instantly started imagining how they would use it, how they would apply one to theirs and their pupil’s experience.

They chatted excitedly about the sensory potential, the scope for experimenting with different learning methods and how the fact that the circular nature of the cabin would allow for eye to eye contact and how beneficial this was going to be!

Emma from Springfield School in Crewe, who themselves have a Cabins For School BBQ Hut for their Forest School also counts this as a particular benefit, “The circular shape the cabin really lends itself to that sense of community because all of the students are able to see each other when we are sitting in there. They are able to hear each other, and it functions really well for group work too.” More from Emma soon.

Finally, one of the visiting teachers noticed that, despite it blowing a gale and lashing down with rain outside, inside the hut they were cosy and warm! While the weather raged outside, inside there was a perfect, peaceful calm…

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3 - Keeping Out The Weather!

You will get massive benefits from taking your children out of the classroom to learn, but you will not get the same benefits if they are wet and shivering. Your Cabins For Schools Forest School hut gives you the gains of outdoor learning without the potential drawbacks of our unpredictable climate.

The Cabins For Schools BBQ hut is modelled on those same huts you read about earlier, the ones that are found in the snowy wilderness. This makes them perfect for outdoor learning here in the UK where the weather is never predictable. As Virpi Marjaana Kokko remembers, “Even when temperatures fall to -20 or -30° with deep snow on the ground, the huts kept the cold out and the warmth in.”

But don’t just take our word for it. Ask Springfield School!

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Springfield School, in Crewe, is at the forefront of Forest School learning. The school caters for children and young people aged between the ages of 4 and 19, with Severe Learning Difficulties and Complex needs. Admission to Springfield School is for those children and young people with a Statement of Special Educational Needs or an Education Health Care Plan – these are the pupils who benefit the most from a Forest School environment but paradoxically they are also the children traditionally denied it.

Not at Springfield School! They started to offer Forest School about three years ago and have noticed measurable improvements among both pupils and staff. Then School Business Manager, Lynn Stubbs approached Cabins For Schools about an outdoor learning Cabin.

Springfield School invested in a 17m² Cabin, fitted with a central, integrated BBQ Grill. The intention was to allow all the school’s pupils to access all aspects of Forest Learning - so the Cabin was made accessible for wheelchair users.

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It sheltered the school’s pupils from the elements, making outdoor learning an all year pursuit and thanks to that splendid central BBQ grill, the cabin was a place where children could experience fire in a safe environment and stay warm on the chilliest of days.

Springfield School’s Emma Godwin told us about their experience with Forest School: “It’s been a huge success,” says Emma adding, “Recently it has been vastly improved by our fantastic new Cabin.”

Having The Cabin has made a massive difference, Whatever the weather, Emma and the children can get outdoors whilst still being sheltered from the rain, wind or snow.

“It's also made it possible for our wheelchair users to take part in Forest Learning all year round, which has been amazing,” says Emma.

Multi-Functional Cabin – Multi-Sensory Experience

As discussed, one of the greatest advantages of Forest School is the multi-sensory nature of the learning and the physical, emotional, mental and social development that it delivers. From supporting the development of fine motor skills to the improvements in language - an inquisitive child wants to ask questions about their environment, their discoveries and their experiences! Through conversations that engage and interest the child you will help develop vocabulary and listening skills.

A multisensory, child-led learning approach brings new dimensions to your curriculum.

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The Cabin Provides A Multi-Sensory Experience For Your Pupils.

As Springfield School’s Emma Godwin told us, “Learning about bushcraft. We enjoy the sounds of the fire, the smell of the wood and the different textures of the materials we use to build the fire - we even get to experience taste from the toasted marshmallows - which are a big hit!

It’s more than just marshmallows though! “Being connected with the outdoors is really beneficial to the students, they come outside into this natural environment and are surrounded by wood with windows that look out into nature and I think it makes them feel a lot more relaxed. I also believe that the sounds of the birds and trees outside have a really calming effect and help them to focus on their learning.”

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Safe Fire Learning

Among those great benefits of Forest School (that we touched upon at the start) was “supported and calculated risk taking”. Just by moving a child slightly out of their normal zone of comfort you open more doors in their mind. Sensory stimulations open them up to absorbing new information, and in our experience, few things do this better than fire. Think back to your own childhood and the wonder of fireworks and the bonfire of November 5th, or that warm glow of the fire in your living room when you came home from school, soaked to the skin.

Again, Emma from Springfield School says, “It’s a great opportunity for the students to learn about fire in a safe way, and then eventually we look at teaching cooking in the cabin as well. Which is something that the students really enjoy.”

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To read more about how Springfield School’s cabin “has taken Forest School and bush craft to the next level” click here, as Judy Colclough, Vice Chair of Springfield Schools Governors told us, “It’s probably one of the best things we’ve bought for the children to support their wellbeing and mindfulness.”

Forest school and BBQ Huts are seen as a way of life in Scandinavia but here in the UK we are at the forefront of bringing the two together – and teachers and pupils are loving the results. To be part of this revolution and to find out more about how adding a multifunctional outdoor learning room could enrich your school, your pupils and your colleagues, call us on 0800 0448 418, email or visit our show-site village of timber buildings just off junction 25 of the M1. Read the case studies at cabinsforschools.co.uk and request a free site survey.

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Topics: schools, forestschools, cabins for schools, Multi-Function Space For Schools