Kate Ward – Holmsdale Manor
I first became involved in Forest Schools in 2008 when I attended a Level 3 training course with the inspirational Sarah Blackwell. It was a completely different approach to anything I recognised from my previous teaching roles, it gave me cause to stop and really think about what it was I wanted to achieve by working with children, and left me keen to use my new skills.
The outdoors has always held an interest for me, both in my spare time and as part of my work. I studied archaeology at the University of Birmingham, and had a particular interest in environmental archaeology, looking at the plant macrofossils and insect remains to determine what the environment used to be like- think Time Team and their drawings of what places used to look like! During my time at university, I discovered a passion for teaching, initially teaching horse riding. After working as an environmental archaeologist, I returned to university to gain Qualified Teacher Status and then worked in schools and nurseries for a while, at the same time as completing a Masters in education and my Forest Schools Level 3. I was so intrigued by the Forest Schools training that for my dissertation, I chose to focus on the impact of Forest Schools on creativity and free play.
I am now also an Early Years Professional and work alongside Leicestershire County Council Improvement Advisors to improve standards in Early Years Childcare settings. Alongside this work, and my work at the nursery where I am based, I run Level 2 and 3 Forest Schools training courses, based in our log cabin and making use of our small on-site Forest School as well as the nearby 120 acre Grange Wood. The nursery school I’m based at is rated ‘outstanding’, has a strong focus on outdoor learning and has embedded Forest Schools in the curriculum- we now have more than 10 staff either trained or training as Level 3 practitioners. In case I wasn’t busy enough already (!) I have recently had a daughter, who attends the nursery where I am based. She already loves the outdoors and making a mess- particularly with mud and water!
My involvement in Forest Schools has changed the course of my life and I’ve been fortunate enough to try out all sorts of things related to working in and managing woodland, for example hedge laying (which I very much enjoyed) and dry stone walling (which was like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle and something I won’t be trying again!) I’ve been involved with running green woodworking workshops, making living willow structures, and have even had chance to combine my love of horses with working in the woods by training my (fortunately very patient) horse to extract timber. All of the new skills I’ve developed, and those I am still developing or have yet to discover, continue to make my Forest Schools journey an exciting one. Running the Forest Schools training courses a few times a year is an exciting addition to the rest of my role, and I very much look forward to each one- particularly sampling the campfire cooking recipes as part of the development and assessment week!